3 Suggestions for How to Deal with the Statue Controversy
Statues. What a minefield, amiright? Should we just get rid of ALL statues of famous historical people? Actually…no, no. On second thought, I guess that’s not realistic. I have three ideas on how we might deal with this contentious issue going forward.
NO CONFEDERATE STATUES ON PUBLIC LANDS
Put them in a museum. Let people put them on private property (if that’s what they really want to be associated with). The main point is this: statues of Confederate “heroes” have no place on public property. No one should be required to pay taxes for the upkeep or have to walk through the shadow of a Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee statue in order to go to their county courthouse. They were on the side that wanted humans to remain the property of other humans. Also, they FREAKING LOST! Since when does the United States make monuments to the leaders of countries that opposed us in war? Are there statues of Cornwallis or Rommel somewhere in the U.S. that I’m unaware of? If there are, they need to go too.
A frequent counter-argument is that “Robert E. Lee was ALSO a hero of the Mexican-American War”. To which I respond, “Is THAT why there are, literally, hundreds of memorials to him, almost all of them in southern states?” All those statues, schools and roads are because of Lee’s valiant service at the Battle of Chapultepec? I don’t believe that and neither do the people who try to make this specious argument. Ask yourself this…if Lee had decided to lead the Union Army (a position he was offered) do you think there would be all these monuments in places like Alabama and Mississippi? Would there be any? I did a Google search for “statues of Ulysses S. Grant in southern states” and it came up empty so my guess would be “no, there wouldn’t be any”.
The same goes for schools, roads and, above all, U.S. MILITARY BASES! Having a Ft. Lee would be the equivalent of having a Ft. Benedict Arnold. They all need to go someplace else.
TRY NOT TO VIEW EVERYTHING THROUGH A MODERN LENS
George Washington owned slaves. So did Thomas Jefferson. Should we dynamite half of Mount Rushmore? Well, since it was sculpted by an actual member of the KKK I can at least understand why some people want to.
Here’s the thing, though. The farther back in history you go, the harder it will be to find anyone who lives up to today’s ideal of perfection. Firstly, nobody was perfect. Secondly, many things we consider odious today were perfectly mainstream, even progressive, by the standards of their day. And it’s not just dead white dudes, either. By today’s standards, the past was, across the board, warlike, xenophobic and awful. In another hundred years, who knows what present-day norms and mores will be considered just as terrible? Which brings me to my next point…
MAYBE JUST STOP WITH STATUES, ALREADY
Who knows what our standards will be in a hundred or two hundred years? Also, someone we lionize today may have some seriously terrible skeletons in their closets that we’ll only find out about later. It was only 6 years ago that Harvey Weinstein received the W.E.B. Dubois Medal from the Harvard University Center for African American Research. So, things change.
Of course, no every monument has to be a statue of somebody. I think memorializing and IDEAL may be wiser than memorializing a PERSON. People, as we noted, aren’t perfect and people, even good people, can let you down. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, I think, is a good example: two long black granite walls etched with the names of veterans who died in that conflict. When it was unveiled, the main criticism was from the political right and was that it wasn’t “heroic” enough. Today, the Wall Memorial is a beloved shrine. In hindsight, it’s probably a good idea they didn’t go with the alternative plan to make it a giant statue of Nixon’s head on Rambo’s body shooting a machine gun in one hand and a flamethrower in the other.