I had in mind the deliberate destruction of religious icons, and a vague memory of it having happened at least once in the Russian or Eastern Orthodox church in the medieval period; such things being, in the judgment of the sternly orthodox, ungodly and unsuitable, and therefore to be expunged … but it seems that spasms of righteous destruction are almost a human constant, across culture and time. The current passion for defacing and destroying public monuments – and not just those memorializing Confederate heroes – turns out to be not all that new and revolutionary. (channeling Private Gomer Pyle: Surprise, surprise, surprise.)
It is a bit of a surprise to see that among the long list of vandalized and defaced civic monuments are a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, one of John Greenleaf Whittier (noted writer, poet and abolitionist) Matthias Baldwin (also an abolitionist) and the monumental St Gaudens memorial for Robert Gould Shaw and the all-black 54th Massachusetts volunteer infantry. Statues and monuments to honor abolitionists, or even people who had damn-all to do with the matter of slavery have been defaced in Britain and France as well, which indicates to me that their mobs and ours are alike with Nikole Hannah-Jones of the infamous 1619 Project in their abysmal ignorance of history in general and that of the abolition movement in particular. But ignorance is no particular crime in and of itself, although it must be nice to draw an editor-level paycheck from the New York Times-Stürmer in return for publicly demonstrating that particular shortcoming.
However, vandalism is, and attempting to erase history ought to be, and when it comes to defacing and destroying monuments and statues for which a substantial portion of the population feels affection, even reverence for, matters are guaranteed to become a titch … kinetic. There has already been gun violence in the fair city of Albuquerque, where protestors attempting to demolish the statue of Juan Onate, and a counter-protestor objecting to this program took ballistic exception to being attacked by a mob armed with knives and skateboards. (Apparently our fearless social justice warriors go to war with the weapons they have.) It’s my understanding that the matter of the first Spanish governor of what was originally an outlaying settlement of Old Mexico is a particularly touchy one, among the Hispanic population who see Juan Onate as a first-class hero, and those Native Americans who see him as a first-class oppressor and all around sh*t. (They once used to be called Indians, which is confusing because if you were born in these United States you are, according to the strict definition of the word, a native American. But that’s a sidebar discussion for another time. I would also venture a guess that Americans of Italian descent are not all that chuffed at having statues of Christopher Columbus defaced and destroyed.) A statue of George Washington has already been disgustingly defaced and toppled, which rather suggests that demolishing only those monuments of Confederate heroes was just the start. This kind of lively discussion over re-siting of ornamental statuary is better suited to any other venue than one where knives, guns, skateboards, baseball bats and bike locks are likely to be deployed, instead of calm civility and lucid, socially-responsible discussion. Alas, the latter qualities are not much in evidence.
I’m against destroying Confederate statues, by the way – in spite of being a die-hard Unionist and partisan of the abolitionists. First – because when those statues memorializing Confederate heroes and soldiers were first put into place, it symbolized a kind of closure and reconciliation to a war so bloody that it more than decimated whole communities. The miné balls and iron shot fell like a deadly kind of hail on battlefields between Richmond and Pea Ridge over five long bloody years as kin and countrymen slaughtered each other in job lots. Putting up monuments to the slain, the losers and the victorious alike was a kind of line drawn under the savagely wrenching experience. I would not expect the Zinnistas, Marxists, and black racist monument-destroyers of this age to appreciate that human subtlety, not the way that history has been taught in our schools and universities for decades. I can only assume that the new iconoclasts are hoping for another such war – the arrogant fools. Secondly, yielding to mob action sets a precedent – a precedent which allows the mob to run rough-shod and lock-wielding over the rest of us.
In the city where I live, there has been enough concern about the last little remains of the Alamo presidio that volunteers made a point of gathering, after threats against it, and defacing the cenotaph monument which stands in the square in front of the small stone chapel and a single range of what was once the mission convent. Once upon a time in history this place housed a Spanish and then a Mexican presidial garrison … until rebellious Texans and Tejanos took it over in late 1835. For Texans of all political inclinations save the most rabidly Zinnist, it’s a sacred spot, where that scratch garrison of Texan federalists and rebels made a last bloody stand against the centralist authoritarian, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna early in that following spring. (It’s also a top tourist draw to San Antonio, along with the Riverwalk, so civic consideration can assume to be paid, even in the summer of the Chinese Commie Crud.) Against threats – which might or might not be hollow ones, volunteers appeared. To the dismay of local pols and what small remains of the local newspaper still stand. They disapprove, most vehemently, but given the swath of destruction by Zinnista mobs against monuments in these times … better safe than sorry.
If I hadn’t cancelled my subscription to the local rag pretending to be a newspaper about fifteen years ago, I would have done so upon reading the following.
This “defense” was not called for or welcomed, nor was it needed. It was dangerous, and these individuals are not deserving of praise; they are deserving of scorn. With their vitriol, inflammatory words and, most dangerously, their firearms, they risk not only their lives but the lives of others.
(Seriously, the Express News is a thin and pathetic thing, about the size of the Stars & Stripes when I last read an issue of that. My late business partner confessed to regarding it as a dead, pathetic thing, the shriveled remains of what had once been one of two vigorous competing dailies in my fair city.)
Interesting times, my friends. Interesting times. And I will not bow or kneel. How about yourselves?