Instead of Tearing Down History and Monuments, Why not Build It Up
History Requires Context and so do Statues
So the statue issue has come home to a nearby community in Mt. Kisco, New York. Facebook allowed the opposing sides to fire the first salvos. On Father’s Day, a town group exploded over a petition to tear down a statue of Christopher Columbus, and let me tell you, it was on. I offered one brief comment. But I decided to take cover and engage here. In the interest of full disclosure, though, let me first reveal the long standing bias that begins my point of view
I love statues.
I stop in awe, look, read, and most importantly, seek out a much more involved exploration on my own. You know, with a book - how could anyone be against that?
You could, and that’s ok. There are some pretty horrendous people across the globe who have statues. I’ll start with Leopold II. His many monuments must be immediately removed.
The Belgium King from 1885 to 1902, he made himself the sole proprietary owner of the Belgium Congo, and rubber extraction was his business. A wild success for the CEO, but in his ruthless haste, Leopold’s brutality was responsible for up to 15 million Congolese deaths.
Of course, if you tear down his statues, some unknowing traveler on European vacation might lose the opportunity to seek out more information. Yeah, he still has to go.
So let me dial it down and come home to Columbus. The petition went up, and the toppling began. Why are you taking our history from us, why do you want a statue of a genocidal, child rapist. I could go on, but that about sums up the extremes.
Let’s start with the statue up-standers. The statue in question definitely seeks to embody the true strength of America. “The monument has been erected to symbolize that as Americans, we are an immigrant society.”
I like it, but have you ever actually read accounts on Columbus’ pitstop at the island of Hispaniola. They mostly come from a Dominican friar named Bartolome de las Casas, and in summation, Columbus killed half of the 250,000 Arawaks on the island. Only 500 remaining by 1550, the final tally doesn’t really do the explorer justice, and you should see for yourself.
Your case is pretty weak. But if you’d like to see Columbus go, he’s not alone in his manner of global movement. You don’t think that the Aztecs, the Chinese and the Persians expanded their empires with a kind word and a cookie?
Still, an important question must still be asked. What did the expansion of those empires bring to the world. Good and bad I’m sure, and statues as they are, can provide the type of spark I hold deer. We just need do so in the most useful way.
In Mt. Kisco, half the story is there for us. Columbus’ singleminded ambition to expand the reach of his world dramatically changed the course of history. He was also America’s true founding father. So building up instead of tearing down, the opportunity remains to address the untidy aspects of human historical evolution.
A little context please, add adjoining statues and plaques that enables history to have its full say. Bartolome de las Casas sounds like a good place to start, and in plain sight for everyone, we can develop a better understanding of ourselves.
In addition, we also lose a piece of history that eludes most of those arguing. The Mt Kisco monument went up in 1992, and its eradication erases where we were at that moment. The benign, fatherly look on Columbus’ face almost tells us what we need to know. The current conversation was nowhere in sight, and “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” was mostly the extend of out knowledge.
Thus, if we remove the statue, we forget where we were, and the good news is, we have matured as a society. So why kill the conversation. The vitriol I found on Father’s Day is the alternative, and what does the rage accomplish.
Well, the exact opposite of what the petition has set out to do. Your angry opponents are now less inclined to care about any other historical perspective than their own. In turn, we move further apart, and such victories have me fearing a return of the history lessons of my youth.
One sided, instead of solely extolling the virtue of historical figures, we will only deride their faults. Then we’ll be as lost as the society that so easily overlooked the horrific details of Columbus’ atrocities.
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