bookmark_borderTrump orders creation of National Garden of American Heroes

President Trump continues to fight back in the war on statues. Yesterday he signed an executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a statuary park called the National Garden of American Heroes.

The executive order reads as follows:

America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices. Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before. Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens… In our public parks and plazas, we have erected statues of great Americans who, through acts of wisdom and daring, built and preserved for us a republic of ordered liberty.

These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal. They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten. These works of art call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation. These monuments express our noblest ideals: respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union. They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes. In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come. To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance. In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed. Some local governments have responded by taking their monuments down. Among others, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, Ulysses S. Grant, leaders of the abolitionist movement, the first all-volunteer African-American regiment of the Union Army in the Civil War, and American soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars have been vandalized, destroyed, or removed.

These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn. My Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory. In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.

It is not yet clear where the National Garden of American Heroes will be located or when it will open, although Trump’s goal is to have it opened before July 4, 2026. Funding and administrative support for the garden will be provided by the Department of the Interior. The garden will enable the public to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and learn about history. Trump specifies in his order that the statues should be realistic, as opposed to abstract.

Trump provides the following list of specific people to be included in the garden: “John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright.”

He also provides the following list of more general categories of people who should be considered for inclusion: “the Founding Fathers, those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad, heroes of the United States Armed Forces, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Presidential Medal of Freedom, scientists and inventors, entrepreneurs, civil rights leaders, missionaries and religious leaders, pioneers and explorers, police officers and firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty, labor leaders, advocates for the poor and disadvantaged, opponents of national socialism or international socialism, former Presidents of the United States and other elected officials, judges and justices, astronauts, authors, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.”

And importantly, he points out: “None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying.” Amen to that.

In addition to the garden, this executive order also directs funding towards the commissioning of new statues to be installed in cities and towns where statues of historically significant Americans have recently been removed or destroyed.

My only criticism is that no Confederate historical figures are included in the list. Hopefully a few of them will make it into the garden as well. Interestingly, the executive order mentions the possibility that the task force might “encourage and accept the donation or loan of statues by States, localities, civic organizations, businesses, religious organizations, and individuals.” Does this mean that statues that cities and towns have decided to remove might find a new home in the garden? I hope so, because it is a shame for beautiful, magnificent statues to languish in storage instead of being on display where the public can appreciate them.

bookmark_border“A sad day for America” as mob cheers removal of Confederate statues

For anyone who truly loves art and history, the events that took place this week in Richmond, Virginia have been dismaying and demoralizing. Mayor Levar Stoney used his emergency powers to order the immediate removal of the city’s Confederate statues. Work crews promptly removed a statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on Wednesday. Then on Thursday morning, they removed a statue of Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury. There are a total of 11 magnificent statues that the mayor has ordered to be taken down.

Local news station 8News captured a heart-wrenching scene in which a lone individual ran to the Stonewall Jackson statue and stood in front of it, begging the work crews to let it stay. Nearby individuals swarmed around him, and officers led him away. Disgustingly, over the course of the day, thousands of people gathered to chant and cheer as the statue was taken down.

One member of this mob, Mac McLeob, said: “I’m just so proud. Proud that the city of Richmond, which was once the Capital of the Confederacy is now the Capital of Equality and people can be proud to be from this area.”

Another mob member, Jasmine Howell, said that she “literally had chills just watching it.”

Another, Janice Scagnelli, called the removal of the Maury statue “amazing.”

Senator Tim Kaine expressed similar sentiments, tweeting: “I am proud that my hometown is removing these painful symbols. No need to honor those who tried to destroy the USA so they could perpetuate slavery.”

As for the mayor himself, he said at a press conference: “Once we remove the remaining monuments, we can officially say that we were the former capital of the Confederacy.” Earlier in the day, at a city council meeting, he said: “It is time to fully embrace the righteous cause. Time to get rid of racist symbols. Frankly, it’s time to heal.”

Nothing could be further from the truth than these sentiments. I can think of no cause less righteous than the removal of Confederate statues. I can think of nothing less healing and nothing less worthy of pride.

The Confederacy fought against the United States government for the right to form their own country. They were rebels who fought against government overreach and tyranny. This is something that every person should admire and celebrate. Individuals who fought for the Confederacy absolutely deserve to be honored. The anger and hatred that people today demonstrate towards the Confederacy are particularly objectionable because the Confederacy was and is the ultimate underdog. To many people, it is not enough that this small, agricultural country was beaten into submission by the more industrialized and populous United States, its cities burned, its population decimated, and its rights taken away. Apparently, it is also necessary to ban its flag, desecrate the graves of its soldiers, destroy its statues and monuments, and completely obliterate its memory. In today’s United States, displays of admiration for the Union – whether in the form of statues, memorials, flags, or depictions in popular culture – are far more common and accepted in our society than those for the Confederacy. But apparently, when it comes to studying and memorializing the Civil War, even the tiniest amount of diversity cannot be tolerated. This is why those who call for banning the Confederate flag, re-naming things that are named for Confederate leaders, and tearing down Confederate statues, are the true bigots and bullies. Ironically, the Black Lives Matter movement, which claims to be motivated by concerns about diversity and inclusion, is in reality stamping out every last iota of diversity and inclusiveness in America.

In the same press conference at which he announced the removal of the statues, the mayor announced plans for a new school, saying: “This is the sort of monuments moving forward that we want to erect to our children here in the city of Richmond. This is a testament to what we can do when we all work together. Although you all know that we are removing monuments that, I think, exemplify hate, division and oppression, we’re going to build these monuments to opportunity right here. That’s our commitment.”

The mayor also promised to replace the Confederate monuments with “symbols that represent our city.”

These comments completely miss the point. Schools are not a replacement for Confederate statues. Statues are beautiful, amazing, glorious, and magnificent, particularly Confederate statues because of the values of rebelliousness and freedom that they represent. The sight of a statue of a brave leader or warrior from history stirs and inspires the soul. Schools are important, but there is nothing glorious, magnificent, or soul-stirring about them. They are simply a part of a city’s infrastructure. Every city has them. They do nothing to make a city unique or distinctive.

What symbols does the mayor plan to replace the Confederate statues with? No statue, monument, or symbol could be as good, or as fitting for the city of Richmond, as the beautiful Confederate statues that the mayor so cruelly ordered taken down. Being the capital of the Confederacy is part of what makes Richmond unique. The statues on Monument Avenue are essential to the city’s identity, and without them, Richmond is a city that stands for nothing and has no values, no culture, and no heritage. How could anyone think that a city without Confederate statues is better than a city with them?

Andrew Morehead, a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, called this “a sad day for America.” He also said that his organization is reluctant to publicly protest against the removal of statues because of concerns that the protests could devolve into violence.

If I was asked to comment on this issue, I would not be so restrained. I believe that the removal of any Confederate statue, or any act of violence or vandalism against such a statue, is despicable, and I condemn it in the harshest possible terms. Thanks to the mayor’s order, Richmond has gone from a city filled with beautiful, glorious, and magnificent statues of brave individuals who fought for freedom to… nothing. It is incomprehensible that someone could be happy about this or consider it something to be proud of. Each and every person who cheered as these statues were removed is a bigot and a bully with no soul.

It also says a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement that organizations with dissenting views do not feel physically safe to voice those views publicly.

If Confederate statues do not represent the values of the people of Richmond anymore, then that is a poor reflection on the people of Richmond. It is difficult to think of any positives in this situation, but one tiny positive is that because so many people in Richmond have proven themselves to be intolerant bullies, then the people of Richmond were not worthy of having these magnificent statues. My hope is that the statues can be displayed on private land somewhere where the few people remaining on Earth who still have souls can give them the admiration they deserve.

bookmark_borderChristopher Columbus statue destroyed in despicable act of bigotry

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In a despicable and disgraceful act of bigotry, someone beheaded the statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston.

Every time I hear about a statue of a historical figure being vandalized, torn down, or otherwise damaged, my blood boils and my soul aches. I love history and I love statues. I believe that a historical figure does not need to be perfect to deserve having a statue in his or her honor. I believe that it is important for a nation to have a wide variety of statues representing a range of different ideologies and viewpoints. I believe that destroying a statue is one of the most morally repugnant actions a person could do. But this one really hits home. To me, this statue is not just any statue. It is a statue that I know well and have a particular affinity for.

This statue stood in Christopher Columbus Park, on the edge of the North End, the Italian neighborhood of Boston. My office is near the statue, and before the Covid-19 apocalypse hit, I walked by it nearly every day during my lunch-time walk. Christopher Columbus Park is beautiful. It has an elegant trellis, colorful flowers of various kinds, and a view of Boston Harbor. The statue has always been the focal point, overlooking the grass, flowers, and water from his pedestal in the center of the park. The fact that someone could see this statue and decide that it would be a good idea to rip his head off is completely incomprehensible and disgusting.

Additionally, I find this act of destruction to be particularly reprehensible because I am half Italian-American. Christopher Columbus was not perfect. But he is a symbol of Italian-American pride. It is no coincidence that his statue stands at the entrance to the North End, welcoming Bostonians and visitors to the Italian part of Boston. The destruction of the Christopher Columbus statue is an act of hate against Italian-Americans. I consider it to be an attack on me personally, as well as all who share my ethnicity.

In his comments today, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh failed to take a strong enough stance against this act of destruction and bigotry. “We don’t condone any vandalism here in the city of Boston, and that needs to stop,” he said. Walsh mentioned that the Columbus statue has been vandalized twice before in 2006 and 2015. He also added, “Given the conversations that we’re certainly having right now in our city of Boston and throughout the country, we’re also going to take time to assess the historic meaning of the statue.”

In other words, because the statue has been repeatedly targeted by vandals, he is considering getting rid of it permanently. This somewhat contradicts his statement that he does not condone vandalism. Removing the statue permanently is exactly what the vandals want and are attempting to accomplish through their acts of vandalism. Giving in to the demands of the vandals would essentially be condoning what they are doing. It would also be an act of cowardice. I hope that Walsh stands up for the Italian-American community and all people who value true diversity, as opposed to caving to the bullies who believe that only politically-correct views deserve to be expressed and that some lives matter more than others.

The excuse for a human being who did this should be found, arrested, and punished to the fullest extent of the law. This is a hate crime and should be prosecuted as such. The Christopher Columbus statue needs to be repaired and restored to his rightful place, with a round-the-clock armed security guard protecting him at all times. The excuse for a human being who did this reprehensible deed should be made to pay for the repairs, as well as for the security detail. This excuse for a human being should be sentenced to as many years in prison as possible, and when he or she is released (hopefully never), statues of Christopher Columbus should be erected all over his or her neighborhood so that he or she is forced to look at Christopher Columbus at all times for the rest of his or her miserable life.

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bookmark_borderGerman soldiers’ graves are part of history and should not be removed

Two members of the House of Representatives have decided to use Memorial Day as an occasion to demand the removal of the graves of three German soldiers from veterans’ cemeteries.

There are two headstones for German soldiers at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, each of which features a swastika inside a German cross and the phrase, “He died far from his home for the Fuhrer, people, and fatherland.” Another similar headstone is at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who lead the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie which read in part:

Allowing these gravestones with symbols and messages of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide is especially offensive to all the veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life… a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest. Families who visit their loved ones, who are buried in the same cemeteries with the Nazi soldiers whom they fought against, should never have to confront symbols of hatred that are antithetical to our American values… There is no excuse for VA to continue to maintain these headstones.

The gravestones were created before the Veterans Administration assumed responsibility for the two cemeteries, and the VA has left them in place because of a federal law requiring protection of historic resources for the benefit of present and future generations. But Schultz and Carter called the failure to remove them “callous, irresponsible and unacceptable.”

I completely disagree. Unless I am misunderstanding their letter, Schultz and Carter are demanding that headstones for dead soldiers be taken down. That is nothing short of unconscionable.

It is true that the government of Nazi Germany practiced hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide, as Schultz and Carter point out. But the three soldiers whose graves are in question did not necessarily do any of these things. And even if they did, do Schlutz and Carter believe that any person who is not perfect does not deserve to have a gravestone? I doubt any of the American soldiers buried in these cemeteries was a perfect person; no matter how heroic or honorable, every person has flaws. Not to mention the fact that the U.S. government and way of life are far from perfect as well. Where do Schultz and Carter think the line should be drawn between those who deserve a gravestone and those who do not?

I fail to see the problem with allowing three graves of soldiers from the losing side of a war to exist among thousands of graves of soldiers from the winning side. There is no rule that only graves of soldiers from the winning side of a war should be allowed to exist. There is no right to go through life without ever seeing something that you dislike or disagree with.

To describe the graves of three German soldiers who died far from home as a “stain” on hallowed ground is ridiculous.

Not only is it incorrect for Schultz and Carter to say that there is no excuse for the VA to maintain the gravestones; there are actually two completely valid reasons for the VA to do so. First, as the VA has argued, the gravestones are historical artifacts, and the world would be a worse place without them. Second, removing the gravestones would be incredibly disrespectful to these soldiers who fought bravely for a cause that they believed in. Obviously, their cause is one that the vast majority of people in America and the world today do not believe in. But that does not justify trashing the memory of these soldiers by desecrating their graves.

Ironically, Schultz and Carter are demonstrating hatred and intolerance by calling so vehemently for the removal of these gravestones. To remove the gravestones would truly be callous, irresponsible, and unacceptable.

Every soldier deserves to be remembered, no matter which side he or she fought for.

bookmark_borderNew National Civil War Memorial is exactly what America needs

In Taneytown, Maryland, plans are afoot to possibly build a brand new Civil War memorial. Sculptor and historian Gary Casteel is lobbying to build a timeline of the war  – which he hopes will become America’s first official national Civil War memorial – including 20 sculpted panels, 17 bronze statues, and 32 portraits of various significant people from the war, including Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, George Meade, and John Wilkes Booth.

It is the inclusion of Booth that has caused some controversy.

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