Tearing Things Down

Christopher Columbus came up with a bold and daring idea to answer a well-recognized economic problem. He persuaded enough of the right people to give him financial backing, then personally led a team to a successful (at least to his backers) result. But as we all know, he was really a deranged, bloodthirsty, slavering, genocidal maniac who personally killed and enslaved every native he came across (even those he never met), so every statue and monument to him must be destroyed, and everything named for him must be immediately renamed for some celebrity du jour….

George Washington had the leadership skills to keep the Continental Army together and fighting through the entire Revolutionary War. And afterwards, when he was the unanimous choice to lead the infant nation, he was modest enough to refuse to be a king, instead choosing to become a Chief Administrator, thereby setting the precedent for all who would follow. But alas, he owned slaves, and before the Revolution, fought the Native Americans. So his statues must come down as well, and everything with his name on it must also be renamed (presumably with an equivalent to Boaty McBoatface)….

Thomas Jefferson laid the philosophical foundation for what was almost certainly the first, and has become the largest, truly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in the world. Oh, and he was a hypocrite, because he also owned slaves. Take his statues down.

If you were going to pick someone who personified the United States of America, you’d be hard pressed to find a better choice than Theodore Roosevelt. Multitalented, erudite, “larger than life”, not to mention personally courageous, he was our most conservation-minded president and was widely outspoken in favor of Women’s Suffrage. But he was an unashamed imperialist, his support of racial equality was only lukewarm, and he was paternalistic at best to the native populations wherever he went. Because he wasn’t as fully “woke” as people born a hundred years after him, his statues MUST be removed!

Interesting how those last three are (along with Abraham Lincoln, about whom it must be said was more in favor of preserving the Union than ending slavery, and was okay with suspending rights and civil liberties to do so) on America’s “pantheon” at Mount Rushmore. Which, by the way, was carved on land sacred to its native inhabitants by a man who was a white supremacist who was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. Guess you’ll have to blow that up, too….

The mind boggling nonsense has spread overseas.

Winston Churchill’s leadership saw Great Britain (and much of Europe as well) through World War II, turning their darkest hour into their finest. But he was an unrepentant colonialist, whose policies led to the suffering of millions. Tear him down!

Even someone as seemingly harmless like the explorer James Cook has been attacked. His explorations of the Pacific Ocean introduced Australia, New Zealand, and many other islands to Europe and the world. So naturally (post hoc, ergo propter hoc), all the exploitation and abuse of the natives of those places was his fault. Take down his statues!

I don’t know what to make of all this.

I don’t want to call the Detractors stupid, because they are correct to point out the flaws in our great figures. But I cannot see that the flaws justify the removal of them from pedestals. Confederate leaders need to go, naturally. But people like Thomas Jefferson??? They’ll say that we don’t need statues to remind us of the existence of these people; there are history classes and books and all that. But how can we expect grade schoolers to comprehend the nuance and complexity of any historical figure? We’re lucky if they remember the names! And how many people actually go out of their way to study history for pleasure?

It is also blatantly unfair to ask people who lived centuries ago to conform to our modern notions of what is Appropriate. Sure, we abhor slavery now. But when Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, it was perfectly legal for them to have done so. One can wonder what could happen centuries from now. Are we going to condemn people and take down their monuments because they smoked, drove a gasoline-powered car, or ate meat?

We seem to relish taking down our heroes. Even superheroes have become “dark and gritty”, since simple basic Niceness and Goodness can’t cut it anymore. To replace them, it seems we’ve created heroes out of people who are simply doing their job. Heroism and Greatness are supposed to be the exception (to steal a line from a movie – “When everyone’s super, no one is….”), which is why we salute those who achieve it with statues, memorials, and place names.

Instead of seeing only the evil in people, we should celebrate the Good. And if it means we have statues to people who were complex and imperfect, so be it. Put the examples before us as a reminder of what we can be – and should be – at our best.

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