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The Past and The Future: Monuments in The Age of Black Lives Matter

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, protests against racism sprung up around the world. One notable target of these protests has been monuments in major cities commemorating their often less-than-stellar history. Some even went so far as to suggest the renaming of military installations named for Confederate leaders in America. We will deal with Trump’s reaction to this below, but for now, I want to ask a question. What specifically is meant by ‘remove’ as The Guardian used in reference to these statues? One definition I can support, the other I oppose in the strongest possible terms.

Disclaimer: I am an historian by training, and this has influenced my take on this. I cannot abide the destruction of any form of historical documentation, no matter how it makes people feel or the contemporary climate. This includes the preservation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and statues of slaveholders. History is not just the good bits. There is a lot of savagery, barbarism, persecution and violence in human history. To destroy monuments to, and commemoration of, the unpleasant parts of history is to be a Ministry of Truth. It would be, if you will pardon the expression, a whitewashing of history. Over the next few paragraphs, I hope to make my position clear. You are free to disagree as always, but I ask that you hear me out.

Removing, Part One: Preservation away from Public View

As the title suggests, seeking to remove statues of Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Davis and others while preserving them is something I can support. If you do not wish for black people to have to look at statues of men who fought to preserve slavery, I understand. But put the monuments in a museum, please. Destroying statues does not show how ‘woke’ you are. Now here is where you might see some ‘preservation of arr heritage’ or similar argument. If your heritage is one of fighting to keep human beings as property, you need better heritage. But preservation serves history’s other main purpose: the warning sign.

Monuments commemorate individuals, achievements and past events. They do so with an agenda since many are propaganda, granted, but they commemorate never-the-less. Commemoration serves as a warning for future generations. The camps of the Holocaust were not destroyed, but rather became terra sacra (sacred ground) to ensure those atrocities are never forgotten and never repeated. Europe did not hide its anti-Semitic history but rather used the sites of its culmination to ensure the worst crimes were not repeated.

Monuments can serve the same purpose. When a child asks her mother ‘Who’s this Lee guy?’ she can tell her. Such a discussion cannot take place if the statue is in pieces in a landfill somewhere. As Churchill said, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Preservation of these statues outside public view is surely the best way to preserve the evidence of the past so future generations can learn history’s lessons.

Removing, Part Two: Destruction

What I have no time for is the wanton destruction of monuments. Not because I agree with the beliefs of the figures or any other Sally Strawman anyone might invent. As I said above, monuments are commemorations of the past: good and bad. The Res Gestae of Augustus is a brazen piece of political propaganda that tapers over some of the clears throat less savoury moments of his career. Some of these include taking over the state by force, proscribing his opponents and permanently exiling his daughter. Indeed, there is a famous bronze statue of Augustus (2.08m tall) in the Vatican Museum in Rome. Should this be destroyed because Augustus owned slaves, waged wars of conquest and ordered executions? Is he not ‘woke enough’ to survive in the Age of Black Lives Matter?

You might think the previous paragraph somewhat fallacious, but I ask you to consider why these statues are being targetted. These figures were racists, misogynists and all that. That is true. But so were figures from the much more distant past. Here comes the potentially fallacious argument: where would it stop? If statues of Lee and co can be potentially destroyed, what about Churchill? That man had myriad flaws yet his monuments are prominent. Before we get to Trump and his response to calls to rename military bases named after Confederate officers, a reiteration of my overall point seems appropriate. History is not merely the good bits. Indeed, history is, remarkably enough, the story of humans. Humans are flawed. To forget them is to forget their lessons.

Trump and the Confederate Bases

Calls have come forth, as I said above, calls to rename military bases named for Confederate officers. Trump’s response was, per The Guardian

These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a … history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom…The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations … Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!

That man is an idiot. Ok, in order. Great American Heritage? These are bases named after bigots and slaveholders! That is your ‘Great American Heritage’? A history of ‘Winning, Victory and Freedom’? They lost the war! Really! How can they be part of a history of winning when they lost the war? Also, freedom? Freedom for whom? To do what? The freedom for white people to own black people as property? Actually, do not answer that.

While it is true that many American heroes were trained on those bases and forts, changing the name attached to them has no consequences for the future or past heroes trained there. Further, changing the name of a base does not ‘tamper with history’ you wilfully ignorant simpleton. The history is still there even if you change the name. Finally, respect our military? You really do have the mentality of a child: changing anything, even a name, is to ‘disrespect’ the military. What an utter fetish patriot you are.

Conclusion: Addressing the Hypocrisy Charge

I want to end by addressing any potential charges of hypocrisy over my criticism of Trump in light of earlier paragraphs. There is no double standard here. The bases have monuments, plaques, signage and other ways of identifying them. We should put all of these things in the museum along with existing confederate monuments. I am also not suggesting that these bases be destroyed, merely renamed. It is surely the height of hubris and racial entitlement to expect black soldiers to train at Fort Lee, Fort Bragg (named for a terrible general by the way) or any other Confederate-named fort. Renaming them while preserving their history, rather than destroying them, is surely the compromise between doing nothing as the Idiot-in-Chief wishes to do and tearing them down.

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33 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    I dislike monuments, which represent a fascist determinism and totalitarian outlook. The great conquerors and rulers were usually extreme murderers, thieves, oppressors, subjecting where they did not eliminate. And, who has ever seen a monument to an honest critic? To have our P M, a Piggery Monument, a Piltdown Man, a Pathetic Mentality, saying there was no slavery in Australia, meaning never, is so ignorant as to cause pain to some, descendants of Kanaka labourers so often kidnapped, abused, underpaid (if at all) and regarded as below civilised standards as set by imperious British murdering operators. We have in office, thieves, robbers, swindlers, rorters, rooters (B Joyce needs a mention for his punctured ego) , liars, propagandists, followers of the natural inbuilt instincts for graft, corruption, dealing, compromises within the instinctive heart of modern business capitalism. The Robbers are IN, lickng their lips…

  2. Michael Taylor

    Can’t disagree with you, Phil, but here’s an exception:

    On the top of some hill in Scotland (can’t remember where) is an imposing statue of an 18th Century English lord (can’t remember who) who was ruthless in his treatment of the poor Scots. This bloke was a regular Pol Pot. Stories of his cruel deeds cuts at the heart of anyone who hears them.

    For years now people have been trying to pull it down. (It’s not exactly in a very accessible spot).

    The government has made a decision that it is to remain where it is. Why? As a reminder of how poorly the Scots were treated at the hands of the English. True, there are reminders all over Scotland, but it is just another reminder that the past should never be repeated. History is to be learned from, rather than forgotten.

    Nonetheless, Morrison can shove his Capt Cook statue right up his clacker.

  3. Matters Not

    Remember the condemnation of this.

    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/09/150901-isis-destruction-looting-ancient-sites-iraq-syria-archaeology/

    The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) released a video that shocked the world last month by showing the fiery destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin, one of the best-preserved ruins at the Syrian site of Palmyra. Last weekend, explosions were reported at another Palmyra temple, dedicated to the ancient god Baal; a United Nation agency says satellite images show that larger temple has largely been destroyed.

    The destruction is part of a propaganda campaign that includes videos of militants rampaging through Iraq’s Mosul Museum with pickaxes and sledgehammers, and the dynamiting of centuries-old Christian and Muslim shrines

    Or this

    https://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/Bamiyan.htm

    Then there’s a very long list of potential sites including – the Colosseum or Coliseum also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre; the Auschwitz concentration camp; and locally the statue of Robert Towns etc.

    Destroying symbols of the past won’t make it ‘go away’ – just erasing from memories. Need same as an ongoing reminder. At least put them in a museum or attach an explanatory plaque.

    Modern day vandals who are counter-productive.

  4. Kerri

    There have been calls to re write the plaques on statuary to more accurately reflect history.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Destroying symbols of the past won’t make it ‘go away’ – just erasing from memories. Need same as an ongoing reminder.

    I agree, MN, but as long as it is a reminder of, and not a celebration of.

    It’s a long bow I’ve drawn. 😉

  6. Jack Cade

    Removing statuary does not remove the history. If we teach our children TRUE history, then they are entitled to see what evil looked like. The statues should be retained but the character of the person and what he did should be prominently displayed on it.
    And Australia has some A1 arseholes memorialised, like Macquarie, and Philip. And we choose to mythologise Ned Kelly…
    okay… he only killed coppers, but he was a nasty piece of work.
    Being of Irish descent I should hate Oliver Cromwell, but he at least demanded that any representations of him should show ‘… warts and all.’
    I once asked an American acquaintance to send me a Confederate Flag ( I think it’s a great flag, as I think the Eureka flag is a great flag) because someone gave me a Confederate soldier’s hat. I had no idea what the flag represented, and only later realised how he must have seen me for asking him to send me one.
    He was Texan.
    I always supported the gray against the blue even though I hated the slavery, probably because they were gallant losers.
    But the bluecoats weren’t fighting against slavery anyway, that was tagged as an excuse on near the end. And some families had sons on both sides.

  7. leefe

    There’s another path that could be taken. Don’t lock these things away where only those prepared to go to the effort of finding them will see them. Reposition them in situ. Lie them down on their bases and put the truth of those peoples’ actions there with them, so all passers by have the opportunity to learn. Thus the integrity of the historical record is maintained while telling the truth and making the fact of the old lies apparent.

  8. Gangey1959

    “We won two world wars” What a fucking tosser.
    Where does he reckon the term “Johnny come lately” comes from ? (As well as being second into space. Giggles quietly)
    The septics joined WW1 in 2017, just in time to sign the treaty as part of the “big 4”, so’s the people with the money didn’t miss out.
    They lost 116,516 of the 4,734,991 men who were sent to france because they had no bloody idea what they were doing there.
    Australia had nearly 10% of our population at the time enlist, and due purely to fighting under british command lost 60000, plus another 200000+ wounded. My grandfather fought at the Somme, and came back broken. He was a driver. He died when I was 2, in 1961. My extended family lost 30 men over there in total. And when did the septics come to WW2 ? Late again, but you have to decide which side you are on in the first place, and then take the time to tie up contracts with those you might be fighting against to ensure the assets.
    There is a bust of sir redmond barry outside Victoria’s parliament, which makes my blood boil every time I walk past it. He may have been a brilliant legal mind, and essential to whatever he did for Victoria, but he presided over the trial of Ned Kelly’s mother back in 1878. During that trial, he told Ellen “If you son was here I would give him five years” As a judge, you just can’t do that. I don’t care what else barry achieved, his statue makes me mad. But it should not be destroyed. And in this case not even moved.
    History cannot be forgotten, nor should it be, but neither can it be re-written just to make people feel better about stuff.
    Statues of people who were famous for whatever during their time need to be preserved, but I agree, sometimes maybe not where they are on current display.

    The tweeting trumpet, on the other hand, should just be removed……..

  9. Michael Taylor

    Jack, Carol and I went on a guided tour of Dachau a couple of years ago, which was a truly sobering experience. Everyone knows of the horrors committed by the Nazis, but to be there, where some of it happened, was like being hit by a sledgehammer.

    Every school student in Germany is required to take the same tour. The horrors their country committed a couple of generations ago are not hidden from them. Dachau stands as a reminder, and as a lesson to learn from their history. A lesson not to make the same mistake again.

    Meanwhile, in Australia, the horrors of our own past have not been taught in our schools.

    Maybe that’s why, as a country, Australia is less compassionate than modern Germany. Compare their policies on refugees to ours.

  10. Michael Taylor

    “The tweeting trumpet.”

    Damn it, Gangey, I had a mouthful of coffee when I read that.

  11. Phil

    Here is a Scottish MP. making that insufferable bore Piers Morgan, look like a prized Pillock discussing the racist Imperialist, Winston Churchill. The Brits never taught this in schools. I didn’t really understand why the Brits are hated around the world, until I started to read Shashi Tharoor. Churchill was only a glitch in the rape pillage and plunder around the planet carried out by the British Empire. But those historical accounts that fill library’s around the world could all be wrong. Of course the over 400 dead Aboriginals that all killed themselves so I was told, is an on going testament to those left over medi evil bully boys that run Australia Pty Ltd.


    .

  12. Phil Pryor

    I dislike monuments, but did not say to pull them down, as I love reflection and weighing these influences, feeling vengeful too.

  13. Matters Not

    Re teach our children TRUE history – Sorry there ain’t no true history! Indeed, there ain’t no objective history! Yes there is the past and people do write about it by bringing a perspective to bear but, in so doing, they write A history but never The History. It was an insight advanced by Edward Hallett Carr in his short book entitled What is History circa 1960s.

    Accordingly, History is never about TRUTH. If you are seeking TRUTH then study mathematics or logic which (given a few assumptions) come much closer to ‘truth’ than say ‘science’. But be ever conscious that no genuine scientist ever claims to get the TRUTH – just the best explanation available at a particular moment in time.

    Unfortunately, many if not most people believe that there is a one true History that all should learn. John Howard remains a shining example of that position. Having said that, it should also be said that some histories are better than others – more insightful more useful in understanding the past, at least for the moment – until another ‘better’ perspective is brought to bear. Won’t go on.

    Thought I knew a thing or two about ‘death camps’ until I went to one and ‘soaked’ up’ the metaphorical atmosphere – on a cold, wet miserable day that provided an appropriate emotional atmosphere.

  14. Jack Cade

    Michael

    I have also been to Dachau, in the 60s. I was tempted to raise that as a counter to people who think mementoes of all past unpleasantnesses should be destroyed or at least removed, but I saw that ‘don’t mention the war’ was infra dig this week.
    I lived in a sort of concentration camp when I came to Australia as a ten pound Pom ( I don’t know if kids cost £10 or just the parents) – it was called Finsbury Migrant Hostel in Adelaide and it seemed like punishment to me. There is now no trace of it, or of Gepps Cross, or Smithfield, or Elder Park, all dreadful places, but obviously only comparatively. Not even a plaque.
    But the truly dreadful South Australian Migrant hostel was in Port Adelaide’s wool stores – closed hurriedly because Betty Battenberg and Phil The Greek were soon to visit. Tarpaper walls…

  15. Phil

    ‘( I don’t know if kids cost £10 or just the parents) – it was called Finsbury Migrant Hostel in Adelaide and it seemed like punishment to me. ‘

    It was in Pennington. I was there for six weeks. Children traveled free. 20 quid for the old folks and thirty shillings for the chattels.

    It was where I learnt what racism is.

  16. Henry Rodrigues

    Scummo will defend to his last breath the placement and retention of the statue of Cpt Cook, since its in his electorate and he spent
    $ 50m on it. There is nothing so abject as the this scurrilous fool who equates principle and truth, with an electoral and monetary value. He is as soulless as the lying rodent who abused Aboriginal representatives over the ‘black band’ view of history, and instead promoted his own ‘white blindfold’ theory.

  17. New England Cocky

    @MT: Aw shucks Michael, you are just an old softie…..

    @Phil Pryor: You are correct Phil. All those words are required to accurately describe the representative of the Nazional$ in New England.

  18. Jack Cade

    Phil

    It was in Pennington but we called it Finsbury. Surrounded by factories, GJ Road and Pennington suburb.
    Aussies were prejudiced against us and we were prejudiced against everybody else.

  19. Phil

    Aussies were prejudiced against us and we were prejudiced against everybody else.

    I didn’t know what racism was until we came to Oz. I never heard the words Ding, Dago, Spick, or Pommy.

    We were only here two weeks and my old dad chinned a man in that hostel. He called my old man a Pommy bastard.
    My old man didn’t know then what a Pommy was, but he knew what a bastard was. It was the first in Australia but it certainly wasn’t the last. My old dad was too use that hackneyed cliche ‘ Old school ‘ You would never talk to my old man when you should have been listening. The good old days, for me anyway.

  20. Michael Taylor

    Listening to Jack and Phil talk makes me want a whisky.

    Actually, I even feel like a whisky when I ain’t listening to Jack and Phil talking. 😳

  21. Phil

    I’m drinking Whisky. You must be psychic.

  22. Michael Taylor

    Phil, that makes me a psychic every day. 😂

  23. Jack Cade

    Michael Taylor
    There’s a word for that…
    Several in fact.
    I worked in offices so met and was befriended by many Aussies, but it was possible to live here for years and never actually meet one, because most of the hostel people got jobs in the many nearby factories in Beverley and Cheltenham, and most of the workers there were migrants. My mother got a job at Simpson & Sons making/assembling washing machines. The first day she came home she burst into tears because many of her new workmates were Polish and had their Concentration camp prisoner numbers tattooed on their arms. Stopped her whinging about Finsbury Hostel, that did!

  24. Lindsay Stafford

    I think that some of the argument, particularly in the US revolves not around the statues per se, but in the reason they were installed. Many of these statues, particularly in the Southern states were installed during the Jim Crow era and the main reason was as a daily rememinder to the negroes just who was boss. Most of these were paid for by “The Daughters of the Revolution” and barely deserve the name statue. They are littlemore than cheep imitations, Thin metal frames plated in bronze. There were some news clips a couple of years ago showing these statues just crumpling https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2017/aug/15/confederate-soldier-statue-toppled-north-carolina-video

  25. Jack Cade

    I was watching the MSNBC earlier in the week and it was suggested that some of the statues were done after the Great War. Some of the African -Americans came home from Europe thinking that as veterans they were now accepted as equal citizens, and some of the redneck communities thought that they needed to be reminded of where they really stood.

  26. Phil

    I wonder what my friend the Rudyard Kipling lover would think of this?

  27. Matters Not

    Lindsay Stafford re:

    Many of these statues, particularly in the Southern states were installed during the Jim Crow era …

    Indeed! And that adds an important new dimension to the current debate – particularly in the light of Trump’s fanning of the flames. Then there’s Pelosi’s charge:

    … Pelosi has urged Congress to immediately take steps to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol … ‘Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed,”

    https://www.sbs.com.au/news/nancy-pelosi-urges-confederate-statues-be-removed-as-donald-trump-rules-out-renaming-us-bases

    Demonstrates that the construction of history is (and always will be) a contest – the written outcome(s) forever dependent on the perspective brought to bear. Shouldn’t be too hard to explain and understand.

  28. wam

    Good one MN truth doesn’t get a run in history because everybody see their version.
    Townes and mackay are long forgotten by white australia but they were slavers, smirko and their activities make them unsuitable, even in queensland, to be cities in Australia.
    The police on my page post confederate hate and are desperate because they fear :
    blacks
    muslims
    lefties
    With a side hatred of women, gays and labor.
    They will not engage with anything that may challenge their faith in what the belief. They are all catholic
    The statues are revered and should be destroyed. The bases in America should be renamed to remind the awful war history, Fort Wounded knee and in the philipines fort bud dajo, in korea no gun ri but it will just fester.
    The clp here ruled from the time whitlam gave us an election for all of last century now reduced to 2 members. They when names like Uluru, Nhulunbuy, Gunbalanya were gazetted and the extremists never used these names, even the ABC preferred gove, ayer’s rock and oenpelli.
    Even today the Ayer’s rock is still gazetted and that is the measure of the strength of the Aboriginal people

  29. Andrew Smith

    Solution could be how Hungary, and elsewhere, dealt with Soviet statues post cold war in the early ’90s through simply relocating on outskirts, set in aspic or known as statue park, officially ‘Memento Park’ with museum or information centre explaining history.

    http://mementopark.hu

    There are similar in cities across Central Eastern Europe.

  30. wam

    Andrew,
    hungary was invaded by russia and evidence of the hatred was seen in a vic pool. Those statues remind hungary of that horror. The statues in black lives matter (in Australia?) are revered by the southern confederate racist culture with millions of white americans believing their superiority is in their jeans(sic). Millions who do not seen the murder in floyd, millions who cannot change and who make sure their children are well indoctrinated
    What would change if the statues are preserved?? Even destroying them will invoke a massive sale in ‘icons’

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