By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite Politics]
The quest to remove American monuments and memorials is a curious assault on America’s dramatic history.
A whole slew of monuments have already been removed, with some having been relocated to less prominent places where fewer people will see them. Christopher Columbus, General Robert E Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, Supreme Court Justice Roger Tayney and monuments to various Confederate soldiers have already been dismantled and hauled away. After yesterday the list now includes President William McKinley, who fought against slavery and the Confederacy, but has nonetheless been condemned because he enacted territorial expansion resulting in the deaths of Native Americans.
We are told that monuments of Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence, are on the hit list because he was a slaveholder. Unbelievably, Abraham Lincoln is also on the list, even though it was his action that brought about the emancipation of black slaves.
At New York’s Hofstra University, a protest was organised by students called ‘Jefferson Has Gotta Go!’ This particular anti-Jefferson mission is co-sponsored by a number of dubious campus organisations with absurd names, such as: Campus Feminist Collective, Collegiate Women of Colour, Queer & Trans People of Colour Coalition, Student Advocates of Safer Sex, The Gender Identity Federation and The Pride Network of Hofstra University. What a flock of odd-balls.
The pleasing thing is that more students came to protest against the removal of Hofstra’s Jefferson monument, than came to protest for its removal. It seems that the memory of Jefferson still attracts many young admirers, and rightly so when one considers that his elevated words uplifted the whole tone of human existence, not just American civilisation: Quo
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” End of quote.
Even as a slaveholder, a state which he was born into and inherited, slavery caused Jefferson some personal anguish because he actually believed the words he had written and he knew the power of those words would someday result in a dark measure of consequences if they were applied to all men in his country – and so it came to pass only 34 years after his death. The Civil War was unprecedented in its brutality and heavy loss of American life. Jefferson’s anxiety that America deserved a strong reprisal for slavery was reflected in his letter to a friend:
“…but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union… I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way… but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.E
nd of quote.
In another instance, Jefferson again pondered the great evil of slavery and wrote these words:
“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever:.. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.” End of quote.
Neither the “consent of the masters” nor “their extirpation” was to occur; a bloody civil war did instead.
Nobody was a more devout student of Jefferson’s writings than Abraham Lincoln. This devotion helped him to see his great opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation on the basis of the extraordinary war powers he held as commander-in-chief: Q
“To take any measure which may subdue the enemy.” End
He seized this unusual chance constitutionally to emancipate black slaves in rebel states, then in all states.
But Lincoln’s achievement (and sacrifice) won’t assuage the ahistorical nihilists who are commonplace in America today, especially on university campuses. What they hate about today’s monuments is that they represent ‘white supremacy’ – and if that reason is good enough in the eyes of the various state officials who are now responsible for taking them down, we can all prepare ourselves to witness the monuments of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein being removed too. Both these men were rather superior to most people around them by the standards of nature’s meritocracy, hence becoming people renowned for their utterly exceptional achievements – and they also happened to be white. So, that just about clinches the coming ill fate of their monuments if the revisionist oddballs get their way.
How does taking down these statues differ in any way from the barbaric animus that fuelled the Islamic State’s frenzy of hate toward the ancient ruins of Palmyra because they were “un-Islamic” i.e, either built in a time before Islam was even a twinkle in any Ishmaelite’s eye, or a symbol representing an idea that runs contrary to Islamic orthodoxy as written in the Koran, Sunna or Hadith? That was ISIS’ way of saying: these ancient symbols are morally subversive and disgusting. Yet, what these modern American PC stalwarts are concluding is exactly that same atavistic impulse: these symbols must be removed because in their single-minded, orthodox little view of the world they are morally subversive and disgusting by today’s pious standards. (Who would have ever thought we would be tossed lessons in virtuous standards by fat, ugly, body-pierced, tattooed, man-hating, gender-neutral freaks with blue hair who stomp around in jackboots?)
Compare today’s statue topplers with the Iraqis in 2003, who ripped down statues of Saddam Hussein as the coalition forces rolled in to liberate them from his grip, but here lies the difference: they were tearing down the image of a cruel dictator who in their very lifetimes had unleashed his secret police squads to terrorise their families, their children, their friends and society – barely a single Iraqi didn’t know personally an acquaintance, a friend or a family member who had been executed or tortured by Saddam’s henchmen. The type of immediate animus that smashes a real symbol of evil oppression in this context is entirely fitting as an overthrow unfolds.
But, what we are seeing today in America is manufactured outrage theatrically on display after centuries of developed existence between our own time and a time that was not under the weird, short-sighted scrutiny of today’s standards, or very often the lack of them. Rather than a culture of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this all reeks to high heaven of a fragile self-righteousness combined with a victim-obsessed vicariousness that denotes existential anguish and a life of unimaginable boredom.
Africans practised slavery often, and many still do (especially if they are Muslim). Native Americans practised slavery often, but they never get tired of smugly condemning white people who indulged in slavery well over a hundred and fifty years ago. They still like to put up a big boohoo song and dance about it without ever referencing their own ancestors’ shameful practices. This one-sided view of transgressions discloses their marked insincerity.
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