On September 11, a new monument called the Generals Bridge and Park was officially unveiled in Quincy, MA. The park contains approximately life-sized statues of three generals from Quincy: General Joseph F. Dunford, General James C. McConville, and General Gordon R. Sullivan. There are bronze busts of four additional generals and stone carvings honoring eleven other generals, all from Quincy, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The sculptures were made by Sergey Eylanbekov, who also sculpted the statues of John Hancock and John Adams at the nearby Hancock-Adams Common.
As someone who used to love history and public art, this is something that the old me would have thought was really cool. I might even have decided to take the T to Quincy to watch the unveiling ceremony and take photos of the statues. But I don’t love history or public art anymore. Over the past year and a half, our society made the decision to destroy the public art that I love most. This destruction has been so hurtful to me that I can no longer enjoy the statues and monuments that still exist. Instead of being awe-inspiring and beautiful, they serve only as reminders of the brutal and unjust losses that have been inflicted. My pain has been made even worse by the decision of Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen to frame the unveiling of the general statues as a fitting complement to the destruction of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, which took place the same week. After reading Cullen’s column, I will forever associate the Generals Bridge and Park with what happened to the Lee statue and with the harm that this action caused.
“In the same week that the biggest monument to an American traitor came down, a new monument to genuine American patriots will be unveiled,” Cullen wrote. “In the same week that a monument in the capital of the Confederacy dedicated to an American traitor, General Robert E. Lee, came tumbling down, Boston is hosting Medal of Honor recipients at their annual convention, and Quincy will unveil a monument honoring military leaders who never dishonored the Constitution. In a year that has tested American constitutional democracy, and as other reckonings take place, real patriots are being recognized and traitors shunned. It’s a monumental, welcome change.”
I could not disagree more strongly with these sentiments. Lee was not a “traitor,” and anyone who calls him one is an authoritarian and a bully with no concept of moral right and wrong. Lee was a genuine American patriot, and he did not “dishonor the Constitution” as Cullen implies, but actually honored it far more than any of the people Cullen cites. The mean-spirited destruction of the Lee statue, as well as the destruction of the statues of countless other historical figures who fought for the Confederacy, has inflicted enormous damage on me and on others who love Confederate history. Cullen chose to respond to this situation by compounding my suffering and rubbing salt in my wounds.
Nothing against Medal of Honor recipients, generals from Quincy, or those lost on 9/11/2001, but Robert E. Lee is more remarkable and more worthy of being honored than any of them. Lee demonstrated true courage by rebelling against a powerful government and fighting for an unpopular cause against overwhelming odds, something that cannot be said of any of those cited by Cullen as allegedly more worthy of celebration. The statue of Lee that the mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia chose to destroy was more beautiful and more glorious than any 9/11 memorial or any statue of a general from Quincy could ever be.
But in today’s America, everything that is beautiful and glorious has been obliterated. Americans used to recognize the fact that rebellion and resistance to authority are virtues that deserve to be celebrated. But now, any historical figure associated with these attributes is condemned as a “traitor” or a “seditionist” and is symbolically murdered by having his name stripped from buildings, streets, and holidays and his statues and monuments torn down, smashed to pieces, urinated upon, kicked, hanged, and/or set on fire. The only personal qualities that are valued are compliance, conformity, and obedience to authority. Everything that is unique or different in any way has been violently destroyed, leaving only the blandest historical figures to be honored with statues and monuments. The art in our public spaces no longer lends distinct identities to cities, towns, and states, nor does it reflect a wide range of cultures or viewpoints. Instead of a country in which a variety of perspectives are embraced, America has become a nation of conformity, in which the majority has imposed its values on everyone else and stifled all dissent. Those with unpopular views, such as myself, are no longer allowed to have anything that we find beautiful, anything that resonates with us, anything that brings us joy, in the public spaces around us. What Cullen characterizes as a “reckoning” is in reality an eradication of diversity. To say that this is a demoralizing, hope-destroying turn of events is an understatement, and it’s despicable that anyone would treat it as something positive to crow about. Contrary to Cullen’s claim, no change could be less welcome.
The Generals Bridge and Park is something that would have brought a smile to the face of my old self, but thanks to Cullen, it is nothing but a painful reminder of all the statues that should be here, but aren’t. Every Confederate statue and Christopher Columbus statue that used to exist should still exist today. Without them, there is no point in creating new public art. Given the horrific events that have taken place, the unveiling of new statues is not an occasion for celebration but an insult to the statues that have been cruelly taken away, the amazing historical figurers that they represent, and the people who love them.