Statuary rape

By David T. Jones on September 10, 2017

Washington, DC ~ The current  search for “feet of clay” throughout the United States is curious almost beyond puzzlement. We are self axle-wrapping over what statue should be permitted to commemorate whom and what.

And not just statues and memorials associated with the Civil War Confederacy “losers” but other historical figures who don’t fit 2017 parameters for veneration.  These range from George Washington (slave holder); Thomas Jefferson (slave holder; alleged sexual relations with a slave); Benjamin Franklin (owned slaves); Teddy Roosevelt (violent expansionist); Woodrow Wilson (ignored racism and promoted segregation—and didn’t “keep us out of war” as he promised).

Perhaps we should rename the Washington Monument the “National Monument”?  Or, having dumped the Jefferson Memorial statue into the Tidal Basin, relabel it the “Independence Memorial.” Perhaps, we should consider blasting down Mount Rushmore and eliminating any question of honoring those carved into its face?

And we should not forget the delegitimization of Christopher Columbus whose “discovery” of America eventuated in the extermination of the bulk of indigenous population through disease, massacre, and slavery.  These are wrongs that many surviving descendants believe can only be righted if those coming to North America post 1492 absconded to their places of origin, after first restoring the country to previously pristine condition.

But to return to the current contretemps over Civil War Confederate memorials, there are reportedly approximately 13,000 memorials to Confederate figures and 10 Army bases named for Confederate generals.  The latter include bases through which hundreds of thousands of U.S. Army personnel have passed over the decades, including most prominently Forts Lee, Benning, Hood, Bragg, and A.P. Hill.  Other memorials include memorials everywhere from Capitol Hill to Florida to Ireland, including schools, streets, and whatevers.  The Army has said it has no plans for nomenclature revision of its bases, but a future president may simply direct change. 

Some obvious targets would include the central Washington statue of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman whose bloody, destructive march throughout Georgia was “scorched earth” in 19th century guise.  Or the statue to Ulysses S. Grant also in central Washington commemorating “butcher Grant” whose bloody combat tactics foreshadowed WWI generals attacking fortified positions.  At least neither of them are carved into Mount Rushmore.

Among the most potentially vulnerable statues is a massive monument to Confederate war dead in Arlington National Cemetery immediately outside Washington.  Rising 32 feet high, crowned by a woman with a laurel wreath facing south, it is circled by a frieze depicting Confederate soldiers assisted by slaves and surrounded by several hundred graves of Confederate dead.  

But perhaps the most controversial are statues of Robert E Lee, most effective Confederate Army commander.  Lee still commands awe (he was the only West Point cadet to finish without accruing a single “demerit”) and was viewed, even at the time, as a heroic figure.  For his supporters, the choice of Virginia over the United States was noble and principled.  Others, however, view him as our most pernicious traitor—far worse than Benedict Arnold.  Offered command of the Union Army by President Lincoln, he declined.  This was treasonous betrayal of his oath to the United States.  Had he accepted command of Union forces, his military excellence would probably considerably shortened the war and its concurrent devastation.

This “movement” already has  a touch of the over-reaching ridiculous.  It is  almost an equivalent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution effort to destroy everything old and adhere only to Mao’s “Red Book.” History isn't pretty. But instead of hiding it, perhaps we would all do well to educate ourselves about the ugliness behind some of what is staring us in the face and pledge to "never forget."


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