bookmark_borderConfederate statue removed in Charlottesville, Virginia

Yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia, a statue of a Confederate soldier known as “At Ready” was removed from outside the county courthouse. The statue had stood since 1909, but county supervisors voted to get rid of it in August after Governor Ralph Northam signed a law giving local governments the power to more easily get rid of statues.

Disgustingly, crowds of people celebrated this erasure of history by cheering, dancing, and playing music, according to the Washington Post. They voiced their happiness and satisfaction with the removal of the statue and expressed how offensive they found the statue and its pedestal to be. “This is a magnificent moment,” said community organizer Don Gathers. “Now we’re moving the needle in a positive way.” State Delegate Sally Hudson said, “These statues have been haunting the community for decades… Taking down this statue is one step in reclaiming these public spaces.”

Nothing could be further than the truth. As I’ve written numerous times on this blog, the removal of Confederate statues and other Confederate symbols is intolerant and bigoted. This politically correct assault on the Confederacy and its iconography is essentially the winning side of a war beating up on the losing side. The removal of the “At Ready” statue, like all instances in which Confederate statues are taken down, is a mean-spirited act of bullying, and every person who supports it is a bully. It is the furthest thing possible from a magnificent moment, and it is moving the needle in a negative way, not a positive one. As for Hudson’s comments that Confederate statues have been “haunting” the community… speak for yourself. People who like Confederate statues would not characterize themselves as being “haunted” by them. Similarly, the statue’s removal does not reclaim public spaces for everyone. Those who like the statue will now feel less, nor more, welcome in the public space around the courthouse. But as usual, opinions and wishes that do not conform with the current requirements of political correctness are completely disregarded.

One silver lining to this demoralizing moment is that the statue was given to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which is figuring out a plan for a new location. But naturally, even that tiny piece of good news was intolerable to some anti-Confederate bigots. “We feel like it’s just basically toxic waste disposal in another community,” said Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

To call a beautiful statue “toxic waste” is not merely incorrect, but despicable and reprehensible. Schmidt’s comment is beyond disrespectful to the brave soldiers represented by the statue, as well as to the artist who painstakingly sculpted it. Confederate statues belong not only on battlefields, but in front of courthouses, in parks, on city streets, and everywhere. The fact that Schmidt and those who share her views unjustly got their way is bad enough, but for them not to accept even one tiny consolation for their defeated opponents demonstrates the depths of their intolerance. Confederate statues, flags, and names are being removed all across the country, and it’s not okay for the minority of people who like this statue to have a place where they can go to admire it? It is disturbing that such a nasty, thoughtless bully was able to get a job as an associate professor. Jalane Schmidt is a piece of toxic waste who deserves to be fired.

bookmark_borderBoston City Councilors on preserving public art

Boston City Council President Kim Janey had some interesting comments on public art this week, after a mural called “Roxbury Love” was destroyed during the process of building a new housing complex.

“There was a missed opportunity in terms of residents being able to come and say goodbye to the mural,” Janey said. Although Cruz Companies, which is building the complex, had told the city that the mural would need to be demolished and is considering incorporating elements of the mural into the building, citizens did not know ahead of time that it would be demolished on that particular day. Even the mural’s creator, Deme5, said in an Instagram post that he was saddened at the loss and would have appreciated a heads up about the demolition.

Janey called on her fellow council members to discuss “strategies for ensuring intentionality when it comes to preserving murals and public art.” She expressed admiration for the murals that she grew up around in Roxbury and the South End during the 1970s and 1980s. “It was an important part of what it meant to live in the community that I lived in,” she said. Another city councilor, Liz Breadon, described public art as “a wonderful, vibrant expression of the community that lives in that place.”

I wholeheartedly agree with these comments. Art is an essential part of the identity of a place. But when reading them, I can’t help but think of the beautiful statues across the country that have been destroyed by mobs or taken down by local governments. These statues were just as crucial to the identity of their communities as the Roxbury mural was, and their removal just as damaging. Rampaging, politically correct protesters have also deprived people of the opportunity to say goodbye to beloved works of art, as have cowardly public officials who have ordered statues removed under cover of night. Boston’s Italian-American community did not get the chance to say farewell to the statue of Christopher Columbus that was brutally beheaded by a despicable excuse for a human being. Richmond residents who are proud of their Southern heritage weren’t able to bid adieu to the magnificent statues of Confederate generals that Mayor Levar Stoney abruptly ordered removed. So while I completely share the sentiments of these city councilors with respect to the importance of preserving public art, the same consideration needs to be extended to all works of art, not only those that happen to be favored by the political establishment.

bookmark_borderState Senator and others charged with felonies for destroying Confederate monument

Finally, a small step towards some semblance of justice. On Monday, various people, including a state senator, were charged with felonies for destroying a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Virginia. On June 10, a mob surrounded the monument, covered it in profane and insulting graffiti, decapitated the four soldier statues standing on the monument’s base, and pulled down one of them. (If you have a strong stomach, photos of the destruction can be seen here.)

According to local news station WAVY News 10, the following people were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, as well as injury to a monument in excess of $1,000 (also a felony):

  • LaKeesha Atkinson, Portsmouth School Board member
  • Amira Bethea
  • James Boyd, Portsmouth NAACP Representative
  • Louie Gibbs, Portsmouth NAACP Representative
  • LaKesha Hicks, Portsmouth NAACP Representative
  • State Senator Louise Lucas
  • Kimberly Wimbish
  • Dana Worthington

And the following people were charged with injury to a monument in excess of $1,000:

  • Raymond J. Brothers
  • Meredith Cramer, public defender
  • Hanah Renae Rivera
  • Brenda Spry, public defender
  • Alexandra Stephens, public defender
  • Brandon Woodard

The Portsmouth Police Department is asking for help identifying 13 additional people involved in the destruction of the statue, and they are asking for anyone who recorded video during the incident to share it with them.

Lucas’s attorney, Don Scott, accused the police department of “doing what they always do which is they weaponize the criminal justice system against black leadership.” The ACLU of Virginia demanded that the charges be dismissed because the police department directly asked a magistrate to charge the defendants instead of going through the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. (Police Chief Angela Greene said that her department did this because discussions with Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales “did not yield any action.”) Governor Ralph Northam called the charges “deeply troubling.” Former Governor Terry McAuliffe described Lucas as “a trailblazing public servant who isn’t afraid to do and say what she believes is right” and praised her “opposition to a racist monument.”

I could not disagree more strongly with these comments. The felony charges are 100% justified. Destroying a monument to the outgunned, outnumbered, losing side of a war is an act of bullying, bigotry, intolerance, and authoritarianism. Anyone who participates in such a despicable action is a bad person and deserves to be severely punished. A Confederate monument is not racist, nor is the decision to hold people accountable for vandalizing it. For Lucas’s attorney to accuse the police department of racism is deeply wrong – any person who damages a statue deserves to be criminally charged, regardless of his or her race. Does he think that his client should be able to destroy statues with impunity because she is black? As for the decision to bypass the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, the police department should be saluted, not criticized, for its determination to seek justice. Does the ACLU believe that people should be able to destroy statues with impunity because the Commonwealth Attorney refused to do her job?

It is particularly disturbing that people in positions of leadership  – a state senator and members of the school board, NAACP, and public defender’s office – would vandalize a statue. As Jazz Shaw at Hot Air points out: “When your average citizen does something like this it’s bad enough. But when an elected official such as a state senator is caught red-handed, you’re talking about someone who was placed in a position of trust by the public to uphold the law.”

Lucas might be a person who is not afraid to do what she believes is right, as McAuliffe claims, but in this case, what she allegedly did was 100% wrong. There is nothing honorable about openly and unabashedly doing a morally repugnant action. There is nothing brave about being an intolerant bully who tramples on the underdog. And that is exactly what Lucas, and all the other individuals who were charged, allegedly did. Assuming that these defendants were actually part of the mob that destroyed the statue and this is not a case of mistaken identity, every one of these individuals deserves the harshest possible punishment. 

bookmark_border“It’s not vandalism,” says man who helped tear down Jefferson statue

I recently came across an interview that Willamette Week did with one of the people (and I use that term loosely) who tore down a statue of Thomas Jefferson in Portland, Oregon. According to this account, a group of about 15 people tied ropes around the statue of our third president outside Jefferson High School and used a car to pull it off of its base and cause it to come crashing down. People then chopped at the statue with axes.

This man, who bravely chose to remain anonymous, described the destruction of the statue as necessary and morally correct. “It felt like the community just spontaneously got together to do this thing that needed to be done in that moment,” he said in the interview. “We were doing this thing that should’ve been done, that people in charge aren’t doing. It’s direct action. We need to not have this statue sitting here. It’s not right.”

I vehemently disagree with the claim that the destruction of a magnificent statue is something that “needs to be done.” Statues are beautiful works of art that give cities and towns character and identity. Their existence is a good thing. Taking them down is not only unnecessary; it is morally wrong and makes the world a worse place.

In a dubious stretch of logic, the anonymous protester denied that the destruction of the Jefferson statue constituted vandalism: “It’s not vandalism, you’re doing something by taking down this image. There wasn’t rage… We can’t just watch and let people call them vandals. That’s not vandalism.” I wasn’t aware that rage was a requirement for an act to be considered vandalism. Nor did I know that an action was exempt from being called vandalism if its perpetrators believe they are “doing something.” Destroying property that does not belong to you – and statues certainly qualify because they belong to the people as a whole – is vandalism. You can argue that vandalism is morally right in this case (and I would disagree with you wholeheartedly), but you can’t really deny that what happened was vandalism.

This man also expressed support for the destruction of Portland’s George Washington statue, which occurred in a separate incident. “We no longer want to let those things just exist out in the open,” he said of the statue of our first president. He also condemned Mt. Rushmore, one of the most iconic outdoor sculptures in the United States, calling it a “travesty” and a “shitty thing.”

He even questioned the idea of building monuments at all: “Should we be making statues of people? Is anybody worth having their figure being a permanent presence somewhere? It’s a powerful thing to think about. It’s a bit magical to have a lifelike body of an individual being a permanent presence. That’s a high school. It shouldn’t exist there.” And he characterized support for statues as a “fantasy about these figures that we were trained to have so much respect and admiration for.”

I could not feel more differently. We absolutely should be making statues of people, and the fact that they are permanent, and somewhat magical, is exactly why! A person does not need to be perfect in order to deserve having their statue become a permanent presence. They do not even need to be respected and admired by the majority of people. There is something beautiful and inherently enriching about having monuments to historical figures dotting the urban landscape. Remembering and learning about notable people from the past is intrinsically valuable. As people learn about history, they will come to a variety of different conclusions about which historical figures are and are not worthy of admiration. No person, group of people, or even society as a whole, has the right to get rid of a statue merely because they don’t find the subject admirable. Believing that statues should exist is not a “fantasy.” It does not mean that one thinks that the people depicted in the statues are perfect. It is, ironically, a matter of respect for diversity. Instead of creating a homogenized society in which everyone conforms unquestioningly to the social mores of the present, we should acknowledge and value the wide range of different ways of thinking that have existed in the past and exist today.

Maybe it’s because I have loved history since I was ten, but I find it incomprehensible that so many people prefer a world without statues of historical figures. A world in which the only thing that anyone cares about is the present might function okay, but it would be a world without culture, without identity, without joy, and without meaning. Why would anyone want that? Statues of historical figures absolutely should exist, not only at high schools but everywhere.

bookmark_borderHypocrisy and overreaction to Portland arrests

In response to aggressive and destructive protests in Portland, Oregon the federal government sent law enforcement officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection to restore order. “Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14,” explained Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.” These federal officers have come and gone, but their actions and the response to them still merit discussion.

Those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum have predictably erupted in outrage, describing these arrests as authoritarian and unconstitutional. “It sounds more like abduction,” said Juan Chavez, director of the civil rights project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center. “It sounds like they’re kidnapping people off the streets.” Oregon Governor Kate Brown called the deployment of federal officers “a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.” Senator Jeff Merkley tweeted, “authoritarian governments, not democratic republics, send unmarked authorities after protesters.” An opinion piece by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post proclaims, “This is not America… There is a more important symbol of justice than a brick-and-mortar building. It is called the Constitution. To ignore it is to attack America.”

If Marcus cares so much about the Constitution, where was she when governors around the country implemented executive orders requiring businesses to close and people to stay in their homes? When has she stood up for people’s Second Amendment rights, or the First Amendment rights of those who have protested against lockdown orders?

It is hypocritical that so many people who have not only failed to object to but actively cheered on blatantly authoritarian and unconstitutional policies are up in arms about the arrests of protesters associated with Antfa and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Portland arrests are not an attack on America. The protesters’ actions are an attack on America, and criticism of the federal officers who were deployed to defend people and property is off-base.

First of all, as even the Washington Post opinion piece admits, the law enforcement officers are wearing patches that say “police.” As an article by Law Enforcement Today accurately points out, “The irony is that the ‘unmarked authorities’ that Senator Merkley is complaining about… clearly have the words ‘police’ on their chest plate. That usually means they’re marked.”

More importantly, the actions of the protesters more than justify a forceful response. What has been happening in Portland is nothing short of atrocious. For weeks and months on end, mobs have been barbarically destroying both private and public property and assaulting innocent people. Night after night they have repeatedly firebombed, graffiti’d, smashed the windows of, and thrown fireworks, pipes, and rocks at a variety of courthouses and federal buildings. The damages have totaled over $23 million. Rioters have thrown ball bearings, glass bottles, cans, rocks, feces, and animal seed at police officers, deliberately shined laser pointers in officers’ eyes, and attacked them with hammers. They threw fireworks at construction workers who were attempting to repair the damage to a courthouse. Additionally, they have destroyed priceless statues and monuments. The city was forced to remove the iconic elk statue after rioters climbed on top of it, graffiti’d the phrase “oink oink” on it, set it on fire, and damaged its foundation. Previously, rioters tore down a statue of George Washington after covering it in graffiti and setting it on fire, and used ropes and an ax to tear down a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Journalist Andy Ngo has been diligently chronicling the Portland chaos minute by minute on Twitter since the beginning, documenting new acts of destruction every day.

These actions – particularly the attacks on statues and innocent construction workers – are repugnant and despicable. Anyone who has participated in these acts of vandalism and aggression needs to be severely punished. It is true that in situations involving large groups of people protesting, not every protester is involved in or even aware of the immoral actions committed by fellow protesters. For example, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, two individuals arrested by “unmarked” officers, Conner O’Shea and Mark Pettibone, claim not to have been engaged in criminal activity. However, they did admit that they regularly attend protests. There is nothing wrong with attending protests, per se. It is protected by the First Amendment. But given the atrocious acts committed by protesters aligned with Antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement, both in Portland and around the world, anyone who chooses to participate in demonstrations supporting these causes is implicitly expressing support for the atrocious acts. In other words, even those individual protesters who have not personally destroyed statues or assaulted construction crews are standing in solidarity with those who have. Anyone who expresses support for these atrocities, whether implicitly or explicitly, is a bad person and deserves anything that he or she gets.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf had it right when he said: “Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it.” As part of his statement, Wolf provided a disturbing litany of the acts of destruction carried out by protesters. In her Washington Post opinion piece, however, Ruth Marcus describes this list as “less than convincing” and disingenuously quotes the entries from one particular day as evidence for this claim. But reading the list in its entirety provides a completely different picture. How anyone could read this list of despicable actions and not find it a convincing justification for a federal crackdown is beyond me.

As Law Enforcement Today puts it, “So long as protests turn into riots, these ‘activists’ can count on getting arrested or detained.” By punishing those who have either carried out or expressed support for attacks on innocent people and property, law enforcement officers are standing up for the rights of the people of Portland. There is nothing authoritarian or unconstitutional about that.

bookmark_borderItalian-American community stands up to Chicago mayor

This guy is my hero! After Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot’s despicable and cowardly decision to have the city’s statue of Christopher Columbus removed in the middle of the night, I am glad that some people are fighting back. Check out this awesome speech from a member of the Italian-American community who is rightfully fired up about this assault on our culture and history:

Here is the text of the speech:

“This is a total insult, a total slap in the fact to the Italian-American communities all through Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois. The mayor of the city of Chicago could have sat down, we could have come to some kind of agreement, we could have talked about it, but she went in the middle of the night, at 3 a.m. I think it was, and took him down. So what the mayor told this city is, the terrorists won. The terrorists that have been destroying our city, throwing rocks and bombs at our Chicago police, they won. They won today. And that’s got me very upset. What I’d like to do is send a message to the mayor and the four aldermen who said they would take this down personally… We’re coming after you. That’s not a threat of violence. We’re coming after you politically. You better keep your closets clean… because we’re coming after you. You started a war today with the Italian-Americans of Chicago. And believe me, you might have won this battle, you are not going to win the war. You woke up a sleeping giant. An Italian-American taxpayer. Somebody that’s a good citizen in this city. Someone that goes to work, takes care of their families, and builds the city. You insulted them today. And we will remember this.”

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues (part 3)

A recent Boston Globe article discusses historians’ opinions in favor of and against removing statues of controversial historical figures. This is a category that includes not only Confederate leaders but in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement has come to include founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as well.

Catherine Allgor, the President of the Massachusetts Historical Society, argued that it is appropriate to take down statues of the founding fathers if they do not fit the values held by most people today. “What were the questions and the issues that these monuments were an answer to?” she asked. “And then you have to say, is it useful for us?… Maybe the answer is we don’t put up statues to people because the problem with people is they’re very complicated. We’re asked to venerate and adore this person, but this person is a person. There is good stuff and bad stuff.”

But in my opinion, this is exactly why we should have statues of people and why these statues should not be removed, even if the majority of people today dislike them. Historical figures are complicated, with good stuff and bad, and that is part of why I love history and why I love statues. I love learning about people from the past and discovering their quirks and eccentricities, their good points and bad points. It is entirely appropriate to have statues of important people from the past, even if they were deeply flawed and even if the majority of people today consider them bad! The existence of a statue in a public place does not necessarily mean people are being asked to venerate and adore the person (and no historical figure is going to be venerated and adored by everyone); it just means that those who do venerate and adore the person have an awesome statue to enjoy. Because everyone admires different historical figures, it’s important for cities and towns to display a wide variety of statues so that everyone, and not just those who share the views of the majority, can find a statue that they like and admire. To completely give up on having statues of historical figures, just because these people were not perfect, is not the answer.

I also think that Allgor is overcomplicating things. Monuments do not need to be an answer to any question or issue. Perhaps they simply signify that the sculptor, or the person or organization that commissioned the statue, thought that the historical figure was cool. What’s wrong with that? Nor do monuments need to be useful, per se, to people today. Monuments are inherently valuable as historical artifacts and works of art. That is reason enough for them to be left in place. A city’s statues are part of its character and its identity, and a community that tears down monuments and builds new ones based on what is popular in the moment is a community without any character or identity.

Robert Allison, a professor of American history at Suffolk University, expressed different sentiments. “The Founders are always fair game for reassessment,” he said. “But that is not what is happening now. We are watching a concerted effort to remove history, not to reinterpret it… It does seem we have reached a moment where we want to remove historical figures because they do not live up to our high standards.”

I completely agree with these observations. Instead of thoughtfully considering the good and bad points of various historical figures, too many of today’s protesters are aggressively and mindlessly destroying statues for the sake of destroying statues. Their automatic response to any depiction of a white person in old-fashioned clothing seems to be to tear it down and burn it, regardless of the story behind the statue or even the identity of the person it depicts. For example, mobs in Madison, Wisconsin tore apart a statue of Union soldier and abolitionist Hans Christian Heg as well as a statue called Forward, which was a tribute to women’s suffrage. There is no logical reason why either statue would be objectionable to the Black Lives Matter movement; the barbaric mobs must have just seen a Civil War soldier and a woman in an ancient Greek style robe, and decided to destroy them.

Allison suggested building new statues, for example to abolitionists Lewis Hayden, Harriet Hayden, and Prince Hall, as opposed to destroying existing ones. And he pointed out that if the current trend of anti-statue violence continues, the only statue that will be left in Boston is the statue of a pear in Everett Square.

This is spot-on. And who knows, perhaps someone who hates pears will come along and deem the pear statue offensive as well. After all, mobs in Portland, Oregon set that city’s elk statue on fire, demonstrating that not even statues without political or ideological associations are safe.

Miranda ADEkoje, who is writing a play about Crispus Attucks, suggested that society “put these figures in a Museum of Painful History. What will we put back in place of these statues? Fill that space with a balm of equity and empowerment.”

I’m not sure what type of art this balm of equity and empowerment would be. But, as is often the case with people who advocate removing statues, this statement ignores the rights and feelings of people with opposing views. To those who like Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Christopher Columbus, the removal of these statues inflicts tremendous harm and pain. To take away something that people cherish, because it is disliked by whatever group happens to hold the most political power, is the opposite of equity and empowerment. No replacement could possibly be adequate to heal the wounds of those whose favorite statues have been torn down in the name of political correctness.

Limiting statues to those historical figures admired by everyone will result in no statues except, possibly, for a giant piece of fruit. And only allowing monuments to those historical figures approved of by the majority of people is no better. This will result in statues constantly being torn down and replaced and is unfair to those with minority views, who will be deprived of the chance to visit and admire statues of their favorite historical figures. Leave statues be, and add more if some groups are not adequately represented.

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues (part 2)

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote a column last month entitled “Statue-toppling, right and wrong,” in which he gave his opinions on how to determine which statues deserve to be taken down and which do not.

First of all, Jacoby is 100% right that decisions about statues should not be made by mobs who take the law into their own hands.

But unlike Jacoby, I don’t believe that these decisions should be made through the democratic process, either. Jacoby argues that decisions about which statues to remove should be made by people acting through their government. He suggests the following criteria to decide whether a statue should stay or go: “(1) Was that person honored for unworthy or indecent behavior? (2) Is that person known today primarily for unworthy or indecent behavior? When the answer to both is no, the statue or monument should stay.”

But different people will have vastly differing opinions on what constitutes unworthy or indecent behavior. Jacoby mentions Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi as people who deserve to be honored with statues according to his criteria. He considers Christopher Columbus to be somewhere in the middle. And when it comes to Confederate monuments, he writes:

“By that test, every memorial that glorifies leaders and generals of the Confederacy should be hauled away. The cause for which they struggled was the vilest cause in American history: the perpetuation of African slavery. They were extolled because they went to war in defense of human bondage. Monuments to such men should have no place in our public square.”

I completely disagree. In my view, the Confederacy went to war not in defense of human bondage but to form an independent country, while the Union fought to force people to remain part of the United States against their will. I consider the Union’s cause to be vile and the Confederate cause to be honorable and correct. The majority of people in the U.S. probably don’t share my views, and I don’t expect them to. What constitutes unworthy and indecent behavior is in the eye of the beholder. 

That is why decisions about which historical figures to honor should not be made through the democratic process. To make decisions this way is to treat the views of the majority (or the group that happens to hold the most influence over the political process) as more important than those of the minority. This is wrong. Just as the majority should not get to take away the rights of a minority, the majority should not get to deprive a minority of the statues and monuments they love and cherish. There are all sorts of different views about which actions are honorable and which are not, and therefore which people from history are worthy of admiration and which people are not. The government should not take a position one way or another on this issue, because to do so would be to discriminate against those who hold other views. The only thing that is fair and inclusive towards everyone is to have a wide variety of statues representing a wide variety of historical figures. That means that all statues that currently exist should stay exactly where they are. Any statues that have been destroyed by vandals should be repaired and restored, and any statues that have been removed should be put back. If it is determined that the existing collection of statues is lacking in racial, gender, or some other sort of diversity, then the solution is to add statues from underrepresented groups, not to remove existing ones.

“History’s verdict is not immutable, and society is entitled to change its mind about whom to celebrate,” Jacoby writes. But society as a whole is never going to agree on whom to celebrate. There are always going to be people (such as myself) who do not share the views of the majority, and it is not fair to us to give the majority the power to determine which statues are allowed to remain standing and which are not. I don’t think statues of Lincoln or Union generals should be taken down, even though I don’t think it was right of them to forcibly make the South remain part of the United States. By the same principle, those who believe the Confederacy fought for dishonorable reasons have no right to demand that monuments to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson be taken down.

So no, not even people following the democratic process and acting through their government have the right to remove statues. All statues and monuments should stay. All of them. 

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues

As statues are unjustly being criticized and removed all across the country, there are various ideas for what should be done with those statues deemed unfit for public display.

For example, an article by Murray Whyte in last Sunday’s Boston Globe asks, “Toppled by a historical reckoning, should statues to our past be locked away or put on view elsewhere to decay in an act of public neglect?” The toppled monuments discussed in the article include not just statues of historical figures disliked by the politically-correct crowd, such as Confederate leaders and European explorers, but also works of art that depict minorities in ways that some people find offensive, such as the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History in New York, flanked by a black man and a Native American man, a statue in Boston depicting a newly freed slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln, a statue of a Native American outside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and even Boston’s 54th Regiment Memorial, which honors the first African-American volunteer infantry unit in the Civil War (some people don’t like that it shows Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who was white, on horseback, with the rest of the soldiers marching on foot).

The most objectionable of the options mentioned in the article is to round up the unwanted statues and put them in a park where they will be left to decay. This is what happened in Lithuania and other eastern European countries as they gained independence from the Soviet Union and also in India after it won its independence from Britain. To leave beautiful, historic statues to gradually fall apart and rot is not a suitable option, in my opinion. This is disrespectful to the people depicted in the statues, as well as to the artists who painstakingly sculpted them. I would hope that even people who dislike certain statues would recognize that historical, irreplaceable works of art should not be left to be destroyed by the elements, with no one maintaining or taking care of them.

Another option discussed in the article is to give statues and other works of art to museums. This would at least allow the statues to be displayed and appreciated, although in a less prominent place than a city street or public park. Those who like the statues could still visit them, those who are interested in history could learn about them, and those who hate them could simply avoid the gallery where they are located. But it is unclear whether or not museums would be willing to accept statues that society considers undesirable. “Museums are not the dumpster for racist art,” said Jami Powell, associate curator of Indigenous art at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College. “It costs money to store and care for these things. Those are resources being taken from other opportunities.”

The possibility of adding explanatory signage, either while leaving the statues at their original sites or as part of moving them to museums, is also mentioned in the article. This signage can be physical or virtual. In Boston, for example, the Friends of the Public Garden have created an app that displays stories and information related to public monuments such as that of Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This organization has also installed interpretive signage near the monument while it is being restored (a planned restoration project by the way, not a result of vandalism by protesters).

The article also mentions the possibility of leaving statues in place, but building additional statues to provide balance. For example, a massive bronze statue of a black man wearing a hoodie and dreadlocks, in a heroic pose on horseback, was installed on Monument Ave in Richmond last year. “I think that the best thing to do is to respond to them with more statues,” its creator, Kehinde Wiley, said of the Confederate monuments that until recently dominated that street. “What I’m saying is, the answer to negative speech is more speech, positive speech.”

What struck me about this article is that the option of doing nothing and simply allowing the statues to exist is not even mentioned. It is assumed that the statues are bad. For example, Whyte characterizes the calls to take down statues as “necessary conversations.” When explaining that most statues that have been removed are currently in storage, he writes, “for now, it’s enough that the monuments are gone.” The possibility is not even mentioned that people might consider it a bad thing for the monuments to be gone; it is just assumed that making them gone is everyone’s goal. Nor is it acknowledged that to some people, Confederate monuments are not “negative speech” but positive! The article briefly mentions the lawsuit against the removal of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue and the fact that defenders of such statues consider them to be heritage, but it derisively puts the word “heritage” in quotes. Efforts to halt statues’ removal are treated as impediments to achieving the desired outcome, not as actions taken by actual people with feelings, thoughts, and opinions who are trying to achieve their goal of preserving the statues.

Jami Powell, the museum curator, is quoted as saying: “I think that people have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen. There’s been this wave of support that I think demonstrates that public institutions don’t need to be fearful of doing the right thing.” Did it ever occur to her that to some people, removing magnificent statues is not the right thing, but the wrong thing? To say that people “have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen” presumes the truth of what Powell is trying to prove, namely that our society ought to get rid of all art that is not considered politically correct by today’s standards. But some people strongly disagree with this contention.

In my opinion, the best option is the one not acknowledged in the article: letting statues be, regardless of whether or not they meet the politically-correct crowd’s standards of acceptability. Let’s repair the statues that have been vandalized, put back those that have been taken down, and guard them to make sure no one harms them again. What is wrong with that? If governments insist on removing statues from from public streets and parks, which they should not, the statues should be relocated to places where they will be lovingly cared for and appreciated. This could mean a museum, a library, a cemetery, or a site owned by a private organization or individual. Adding more statues to increase racial and gender diversity is not a bad thing, but it is important to note that ideological diversity is equally important, if not more so. For this reason, the existence of Confederate statues is crucial. The ideology of authoritarianism and government power won in the Civil War and is dominant today in terms of public opinion and government policy, so it is particularly important for the sake of diversity to ensure that the values of rebelliousness and states’ rights are represented in our country’s public art.

One criticism of monuments in the article that I found particularly interesting is the fact that they are static as opposed to dynamic. In Whyte’s words, the problem with statues is “exactly their immutability in a world in constant flux.” Powell, the museum curator at Dartmouth, said, “that’s the thing about traditional monuments – they don’t really allow us that space for growth.” And another curator quoted in the article, Jen Mergel, expressed criticism of “single statements to last in perpetuity.” In my opinion, these things are precisely what make statues and monuments so awesome. Statues are supposed to be immutable and to last in perpetuity. They are not supposed to grow or change. When I look at a beautiful statue, I feel a connection to the past. Seeing magnificent monuments of generals, explorers, presidents, and other leaders makes me feel connected to these historical figures. The present is always changing, from clothing styles to music to social norms to government policies. The ideologies and values that are popular today are no more likely to be correct than those popular hundreds of years ago or those that will be popular hundreds of years in the future. That’s why it is so important to have some things in the world that do not change. It is a beautiful thing to know that no matter how much the world changes, monuments to heroes from long ago, wearing the clothing of their time periods and representing a wide variety of ideologies and values, will always be there. But now, because of some people’s intolerant actions, lovers of history both today and in the future will be deprived forever of the monuments that we cherish. To alter or obliterate statues in order to conform to the predominant values of the present completely defeats their purpose.

bookmark_borderStatues matter

All across the country and world, statues have been under attack. Statues of explorers, saints, Confederate leaders, founding fathers, generals, and pretty much any historical figure who does not meet today’s strict standards of political correctness. And occasionally statues that do not represent historical figures at all but were targeted for no apparent reason other than that someone wanted to destroy a statue. Sometimes, the attacks on statues are carried out by lawless mobs who spatter paint and graffiti all over them, tear them down, and/or set them on fire. Sometimes the attacks are carried out by state and local governments that hire work crews to remove them and put them in storage. Some of these anti-statue actions are more barbaric than others, but they are all morally wrong.

As someone who loves both history and art, I love statues. I love studying historical figures and learning cool facts about them. Statues are essentially the physical manifestation of historical figures in today’s world, and as such, I cherish them. I love to visit and photograph statues in my native Boston and everywhere I travel. Every statue represents a person who walked this earth at some point in time, a person with both positive and negative attributes. Each one is a beautiful work of art. In short, statues make the world a better place.

Like everyone in the world, I like and admire some historical figures more than others. Therefore, I like some statues more than others. I would never tear down, vandalize, or ask my local government to remove a statue depicting a historical figure I do not like, and I do not understand why so many people feel that they have the right to do this when it comes to the historical figures they do not like. Each person has his or her own opinions about what makes a historical figure admirable, or not admirable. Each person has his or her own ideas about which flaws are forgivable and which flaws make a historical figure unworthy of being celebrated or honored. What is so disturbing about the recent trend of vandalizing and removing statues is that it prioritizes one set of views above others. Those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum and those aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement are allowed to destroy statues that they dislike with relative impunity, and local officials are bending over backwards to remove any remaining offending statues that have somehow managed to escape destruction. The feelings, wishes, and opinions of those who like these statues are not taken into account at all. In other words, in today’s society, one group of people enjoys the ability to have its preferences with respect to historical figures and statues enacted into public policy, while the preferences of other people are completely ignored. To say that this is unjust is an understatement.

The mobs that destroy statues have been referred to as protesters, rioters, anarchists, and even domestic terrorists. Senator Ted Cruz called them the “American Taliban.” I don’t think any of these terms are harsh enough to fully convey how morally repugnant these attacks on statues are. The mentality of these excuses for human beings seems to be that only things that they personally like should be allowed to exist. Their goal seems to be to destroy for the sake of destroying, to obliterate everything that is beautiful or glorious, and to make the world as bad a place as possible. Those who destroy statues are bigots and bullies. They practice complete intolerance for anyone different from them. It would not be inaccurate to say that they have no souls.

Some people consider statues unimportant. They argue that statues are just stone or metal objects, and we should focus on protecting and improving people’s lives. They do not care one way or the other about whether the world and its cities and towns have beautiful statues. I do not feel this way. As someone on the autism spectrum, I tend to be drawn to inanimate objects more than to people. Because I love historical figures, I love statues. I have a visceral reaction when reading about or watching a video of the destruction of a statue, more than I do when reading about bad things happening to living people. Fighting back against the destruction of statues is incredibly important to me. Statues may not be necessary to have a functioning world. People can go about their daily lives and have their basic needs met without the existence of any statues in public spaces. But the world would be immeasurably worse. The feeling that I get when I see a statue of a brave general on a horse, or an explorer from a long-ago era, is difficult to put into words. The inherent value that statues and monuments bring to our public spaces is difficult to quantify or explain with logical reasoning, but that does not make it any less real.

Without a doubt, every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world is made worse. Every act of destruction against a statue is disgusting, disgraceful, dishonorable, repugnant, reprehensible, and any other negative adjective that can be imagined. Every news report of a statue being vandalized, torn down, or removed is painful and heartbreaking. The videos of workers removing the statues of Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and J.E.B. Stuart from Monument Avenue in Richmond. The images of graffiti covering the magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee. The Christopher Columbus statue in Boston, a statue that I walk past almost every day, with its head brutally knocked to the ground. The footage of mobs pulling down a Columbus statue in Baltimore, causing it to smash into pieces as it hit the ground. The Junipero Serra statue in San Francisco toppled, brutalized with a jackhammer, its hands severed. The statue of philanthropist Edward Colston in Bristol, England being dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbor. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson splattered with red paint. The iconic elk statue in Portland (yes, an elk) set on fire.

I could keep listing examples until this blog post became as long as a novel, but the bottom line is that actions like these are among the most morally wrong things someone could do. Therefore, they need to be punished severely. Police departments need to prioritize arresting those who vandalize statues, and district attorneys need to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Laws should be changed to make punishments harsher; life in prison is not an excessive punishment, in my opinion. At the absolute least, cities and towns should never, ever take down statues that have been the targets of vandalism. This condones vandalism and rewards its perpetrators. Every statue that is vandalized needs to be repaired and then guarded around the clock. In some cases it will be impossible to catch the culprits who destroy statues – sometimes these acts take place in the middle of the night with no witnesses or cameras nearby – but restoring and protecting the vandalized statues punishes the culprits without even needing to know their identities. Even better, whenever a statue is vandalized, local governments should build ten more statues of the same historical figure. A message needs to be sent that intentionally damaging statues is unacceptable. Those who do this cannot be allowed to win under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, contrary to what is depicted in the above picture, statues cannot defend themselves. It is up to governments and if needed, private citizens, to protect them. One of the few pieces of good news that has happened in the world recently is that unlike most mayors and governors, President Trump is taking a stand in defense of statues. On June 26, he signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice to enforce federal laws that authorize up to 10 years in prison for anyone who vandalizes a statue or monument on federal property. On July 3, during his speech at Mt. Rushmore, he condemned the “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.” And on the same date, he signed another executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a national statue park. It is for this reason that unless something drastically changes between now and November, I will vote for Trump. This will be the first time that I have not voted for a third-party candidate. I have considered the Libertarian Party to be the party that comes closest to matching my beliefs, and I agree with its presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, on most issues. However, Jorgensen has not, as far as I know, expressed any outrage about the destruction of statues. The statue issue is so important to me that I will support the candidate who most agrees with me on this topic, and right now that’s Trump.

People around the world need to take a stand against the destruction of and removal of statues. Enough is enough. Every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world becomes a worse place. No statue should ever be removed, unless for the purpose of replacing it with an even more magnificent statue of the same historical figure. If there are concerns about the racial and gender diversity of statues, the way to address those concerns is to build additional statues, not to take down existing ones.

Statues matter. All statues.