“After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

 

“For more than a year, members of the Baltimore City Council, like officials in many communities across the nation, had drifted indecisively about the fate of the city’s increasingly controversial Confederate monuments. Then, last weekend, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., violently resurrected the frightening ghosts of the Civil War.

“That settled the issue in Baltimore: On Monday night, the Council voted unanimously to take down the statues. On Tuesday night, in an unannounced, unceremonious action, four statues were torn from their pedestals as the city slept, with no throng of witnesses or protesters in attendance.

” ‘It’s done,’ Mayor Catherine Pugh told her city on Wednesday morning. She explained, ‘With the climate of this nation, that I think it’s very important that we move quickly and quietly.’

“That is sound advice. The racist rage in Virginia and President Trump’s shamefully sympathetic response have prompted local and state politicians to encourage community peace by weighing the future of Confederate monuments civilly and unapologetically, even if the president has not.”

 

New York Times editorial, August 17, 2017

 

 

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My thoughts.

It wasn’t “sound advice.”

But, then, the New York Times editorial board is distinguished (meant sarcastically) for churning out soporific, boring, tone deaf, and not particularly well written editorials — most of all, boring — that demonstrate almost no original thought and provide no insight.

The editorials proclaim the liberal party line with no thought or consideration of what other viewpoints might possibly be entertained. You can almost see a “thought checker” (think fact checker) going through them line by line to make sure they are doctrinally correct.

Nihil obstat.

They sermonize. Nuanced thought is not in evidence.

Often, it seems to be the case, the editorials get written before they are actually written — that is, the Times policy wonks put their heads together and decide what the ideologically correct position should be. After that, writing a few paragraphs is a breeze; anyone with reasonable competence in writing could do just as well.

 

 

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Regarding this particular editorial.

What about (omg — can I really be saying this! I’ll be called alt-right!) the statues, monuments, colleges, cities even, named after Saint George (Washington) and his companion in stone on Mount Rushmore Thomas Jefferson? Slaveholders both. They were both great men and are iconic figures. They were also (perish the thought!) imperfect, as happens to be true of mankind en masse and taken as individuals: you and I; larger than life figures and the rest of the humanity. Of Saint Augustine and William Jefferson Clinton. Of myself and my next door neighbor. Should memorials to historical figures be destroyed to remove the cloud of racism?

Why not take down statues of Andrew Jackson? Slaveholder, oppressor of Native Americans. Why not GOD? (Removing all public monuments in his honor will involve a massive public works program.) After all, he acted like a tyrant; he was always smiting some group or other in the Old Testament. And, why do Washington and Jefferson get a free pass? All slaveholders are evil, it would appear, but some are more evil than others.

 

 

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Feelings, concern, sympathy for the “great unwashed,” aka “deplorables” (on the part of the Times, that is) for the Common Man? Fuhgeddaboudit. The Common Man has not been venerated since the Great Depression induced writers such as John Steinbeck and composers such as Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson to pen and compose songs of praise. The Times hews to current intellectual fashions. The Common Man is not in fashion any more — in fact, he has become an embarrassment to those who consider themselves enlightened and superior in views and taste — except among Trump supporters.

All the Times Editorial Board cares about is its core audience of readers: what they think, about the consensus of “enlightened” liberal opinion. Ergo, they have nothing new, interesting, or enlightening to say. But, then, they’re policy wonks, not good writers or deep thinkers. I would be willing to bet that Edmund Burke couldn’t get hired, for sure; he wouldn’t have passed an ideological litmus test.

 

 

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Who was it who said that hindsight is 20/20? History should be studied, but it shouldn’t and can’t be scrubbed clean in the name of correcting past wrongs.

 

 

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Perhaps ISIS could be hired as subcontractors to take their sledgehammers to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. After all, they’ve had experience.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 17, 2017; updated September 6, 2017

 

 

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Note: The Times editorial reads: “She explained, ‘With the climate of this nation, that I think it’s very important that we move quickly and quietly.’ “ [italics added].

This seems to be a typo. But, then, the Times has fired almost all of its copyeditors. Not a good move. The Executive Editor, in his wisdom, and his underlings apparently decided that they weren’t necessary. As a former proofreader, copyeditor, and freelance reporter, I know how essential they always were and still are.

 

 

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addendum:

 

To the Editor:

Re “After Violent Weekend, Calls Beyond Virginia to Remove Civil War Statues” (news article, Aug. 15): Robert E. Lee would have been appalled by anything honoring the Confederacy or his service to it. He worked very hard to bring the country back together and actively opposed all the “the South will rise again” movements.

Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln would be equally horrified by the desecration of memorials to Confederate war dead, as both considered them to be Americans (even if misguided). Grant stopped he dishonoring of Confederate dead after several battles and ordered that they be treated with the same respect as the Union dead.

The South lost, and its sons and daughters have bled and died for the United States in every war since. It’s way past time to move on. We are all Americans, and we need to look at the serious internal problems (economy, infrastructure, jobs) and external problems (North Korea, China, Russia, Venezuela) facing our country.

 

— Chris Daly, Yucaipa, Calif.; letter to the editor, The New York Times, August 17, 2017

 

 

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To the Editor:

Has anyone considered that those engaged in tearing down images of certain icons of the past are following the barbaric examples of the Taliban and ISIS, whose practice it has been to destroy relics of the past that they have found to be offensive to their particular sensibilities? Let’s put a lid on the frenzy.

 

— William M. Green, letter to editor, The New York Times, September 2, 2017

 

 

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addendum:

 

“He’s [said of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio] going to create some kind of star chamber to see who’s politically correct and who’s not,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a historian who edited The Encyclopedia of New York City, echoing other historians who have cautioned against the rush to remove statues and monuments.

“It’s almost like McCarthyism of a reverse sort: Let’s find out who has got something in their closet that they should be ashamed of. I don’t think we need this,” he said.

 

“Ordering Review of Statues Puts de Blasio in Tricky Spot,” The New York Times, August 30, 2017

 

 

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addendum:

 

St. Augustine’s father, Patricius, had slaves. His vineyards in Thagaste in Northern Africa were worked by slaves. As a boy, Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus) had a slave attendant who took him to school.

As a young man, Augustine, a professional (his occupation was rhetorician), and later in his mature years, had, as would any well born Roman of his class, numerous slaves in his household, some of whom would accompany him on his travels when required (to, say, transport things a traveler needed in those days, and perhaps also his manuscripts).

A question. Augustine is merely one example, but can we expect demands for Augustine to be perhaps stripped of his sainthood or lowered in status and reverence due him should it come to be known that he was, in effect, a slaveholder?

The question may seem ludicrous, but I think it can be fairly asked, how far back is one prepared to go in an attempt to cleanse history and, supposedly, to “redress wrongs” by demoting revered figures now standing on virtual pedestals? And, how does one make choices about who is out and who is in (perhaps not entirely “clean,” but for some reason not to be punished with what might be called “unperson” status” in this recasting of history by self appointed revisionists, a polite way of saying historical thought police”)?

 

 

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Responses to “After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

 

 

Tom Riggio says:

August 17, 2017

You get no argument from me, Roger. Or the ACLU, which has taken sides with the right of the supporters of keeping the statues, with the idea that the Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom to express one opinions, even if others find them horrific. Of course, the guy who killed the young women is a murderer and should be punished severely for his crime. If both “sides” would abide by this constitutional right, there would be two sides to the question but not violence in the streets. The parents of the dead women sent the right message, refusing to hate the killer of their daughter, though not condoning the act and the ideology behind it. We get this sort of reaction in the case of abortion as well: there are those who criminalize the abortionists and those who criminalize the pro-life people. Same sort of idiocy.

 

 

Roger W. Smith says:

August 17, 2017

Thanks much for taking the time, to comment, Tom.

Of course, my post was focused on the destruction of statues.

You may find relevant my post “is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?”

at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/04/24/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time/

P.S. I listened carefully to what people who were at the rallies in Charlottesville had to say. I believe them and not Trump. But, I agreed with Trump when he said that we should not go around dismantling statues, and what he said about Washington and Jefferson.

 

 

Carol Hay says:

August 18, 2017

There’s a big difference between Robert E. Lee, who fought to preserve slavery and who fought to tear this country apart, and the founding fathers who created our government. Should statues of Hitler and Nazi monuments be preserved because they are part of history?

 

Roger W. Smith says:

August 18, 2017

Regarding the last sentence of what you said above, Carol, that is a good question which bears thinking more about (which I will). However, I don’t think it simply invalidates what I said in my post: many of my other points and the fact that Washington and Jefferson, slaveholders both, are treated so differently than defenders of slavery such as Robert E. Lee and John C. Calhoun (who wasn’t mentioned in this post).

 

Roger W. Smith says:

August 31, 2017

Carol — I think what I said in my post “is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?”

at

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/04/24/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time/

is relevant here.

You can always find exceptions, egregious cases, but that doesn’t invalidate what I am saying here about the mass hysteria that has become rampant to cleanse history by getting rid of any vestige or taint of attitudes now considered racist or otherwise reprehensible by modern day standards.

There have been times when statues of dictators were being toppled, and I found myself cheering in absentia: say, if a statue of Stalin gets removed in Russia, and I didn’t much care when I saw news footage of a crowd toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein, around which they had wound a rope they pulled it down with.

As Walt Whitman put it: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself.”

Of course, “the revisionists” who want to tear down all sorts of statues and monuments and rename buildings contradict themselves as well: Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder, for some reason seems to get a pass; so do Washington and Jefferson. The argument that Washington and Jefferson were Founding Fathers and were on the right side of most issues (meaning on the right side of history, so they came out smelling like a rose, their sins forgiven) doesn’t wash. They should be held to the same strict standards as the others are, if we are going to enforce rigid political correctness retrospectively.

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
This entry was posted in personal views of Roger W. Smith, political correctness (PC) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “After Racist Rage, Statues Fall”

  1. Pete Smith says:

    Are your divergent opinions that it is both right and wrong to tear down a Confederate statue? This isn’t clear to me. My view is that this is a very difficult issue that goes beyond some of the stupid political correctness we have seen on many college campuses in the past few years. Someone interested in Supreme Court history might appreciate the statue of Judge Taney but a Baltimore resident whose great grandparents were slaves might abhor it. I’m interested in Civil War history and visited last year a wonderful museum at Washington and Lee University (a name now threatened) where Lee is entombed and where there are fascinating memorabilia, such as a very sensitive painting of Lee’s troops leaving Appotomax. Personally, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I have great sympathy with someone who finds this offensive. So my opinion is not dual, or divergent — I say leave Lee where he is and keep the University’s name unchanged. But I have deep respect for those who differ, including the editors of the New York Times. . . .

  2. There can be some inconsistency in my opinions; undoubtedly, there is from time to time. I do not believe in tearing down Confederate statues or revising history. I thought I made that abundantly clear in my post.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    Maybe, but it wasn’t abundantly clear to me. There are a lot of opinions in your post, lots of which conflict, except for your disdain of the Times editors.

  4. Pete Smith says:

    As in “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.” Is that what you mean?

  5. I am pleased to think that it is the case that, as you put it, the post contains “a lot of opinions.” To me that is a sign of what is at best a fertile mind engaged in writing a piece that readers will find stimulating and thought provoking. In contrast to the New York Times’s editorials, which read like position papers.

  6. I thought I already answered. I am not a philosopher (or a lawyer). I am sure I can be caught, found guilty of occasional inconsistencies. I try to think things through
    anew (for myself) and to consider different points of view. I don’t engage in sophistry. What is paramount for me is to be honest and sincere, and as clear as I can.

    Carol Hay’s comment stopped me in my tracks and really got me thinking. I realized there might be situations where I might approve, at least tacitly, of toppling statues. The fact that I am flexible in my thinking is a good thing, as long as flexible doesn’t mean muddled or wishy washy. My posts aren’t these things. I go to great pains to make myself clear.

    Michel de Montaigne was notorious for altering his views from one piece, or period in his life, to another. It has been said that his central concern or desire was to COMMUNICATE. Four centuries after his death, his essays are admired the world over and read. You can be assured that New York Times editorials won’t.

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