Prolific commenter Steve-O-in-NJ was on a roll last night, ultimately producing the epic Comment of the Day below regarding French President Macron’s unequivocal rejection of historical airbrushing and statue toppling in his country.
Earlier, Steve had made the sharp observation that the George Floyd Freakout mobs and their complicit elected officials and journalists are simultaneously demanding sanctification of the image and memory of Floyd, whose life consisted of a series of socially destructive and irresponsible acts, while demanding the de-honoring of important historical figures world wide. “The only thing he ever did of note was to die at the hands of a crazy cop,” he wrote. “Yet we’re supposed to brush his history aside and worship him as some kind of new saint. Columbus achieved one of the greatest things ever done. Jefferson wrote the [Declaration of Independence]. Washington was the father of this nation. Churchill saved the world in its darkest hour. Yet we’re asked to forget their achievements and reduce them to their failures. Anyone want to explain the logic here?”
Logic, except to the extent that cultural lobotomies are a tool of revolution and totalitarianism, has little to do with it. Nor does perspective and erudition, as proved by UK Activist Lorraine Jones, who is chair of the Lambeth Independent Police Advisory Group Jones was asked about the wisdom of removing a statue of Winston Churchill in London that has been a target of local protesters.
“I’ve heard many arguments on both sides,” Jones told reporters. “Some say that he’s a racist, some say that he’s a hero. I haven’t personally met him, but what I would say is that that question of whether he should remain should be put to the community.”
She has no idea who Winston Churchill is.
Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethical Quote Of The Month: French President Emmanuel Macron”:
I discussed the attempted airbrushing of history here by the removal of several monuments to the Confederacy or its adherents some time ago. At the time I would have described the feeling underlying it as what I would call a moral panic, similar to the overwhelming fear surrounding role-playing games in the 1980s or the unreasonable response to New Zealand’s Mazengarb report. However, moral panics usually ebb and flow and eventually the majority see how silly they really are. I was wrong, this was not a case of a moral panic. This was a case of a chisel often used by the left, that of iconoclasm, finding an opening and being used to chip away at society in an attempt to recurve it in their image. It’s now spread to Columbus memorials, and is starting to seep into memorials to the Founding Fathers and now even to Abraham Lincoln and Churchill(?!).
Iconoclasm, defined broadly as the organized destruction of images or symbols, has been around pretty much since man started erecting symbols and memorials to individuals, groups, ideas, or anyone or anything deemed important enough to build a lasting memorial to. Sometimes it was practiced in straight-up war between nations or civilizations, as a way to damage the enemy’s morale, although it ran the risk of making him angrier instead. Sometimes it was practiced in internecine conflicts, when one group seized power over another. Occasionally it has been performed simply as a matter of political policy, without actual armed conflicts.
Examples of the first category include the sack of the Jewish Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius’ destruction of the Persian fire temple at the Throne of Solomon (this one particularly thorough, with the knocking down of the temple, the extinguishing of the holy fire, and the deliberate pollution of the sacred lake with dead bodies), and the Muslim policy of destruction of religious symbols of those they defeated: the Persians’ holy standard, the original church at Santiago de Compostela (for which the Muslim rulers of Seville later paid a terrible price at the hands of St. Ferdinand of Castile), and countless Hindu idols and temples.
The second category is comprised of events such as Roman emperors destroying the statues and monuments of the emperors they had just overthrown, the destruction of British monuments in Dublin during the low-intensity Irish War of Independence, the throwing down of the memorial to Napoleon in the Place de Vendhome during the short-lived Paris Commune, and the widespread destruction of Armenian holy places during the Armenian Genocide.
Finally the third category is incidents like the (in some cases extreme) destruction of English Catholic shrines, statues, and churches during the Reformation, including irreplaceable relics such as Canterbury’s shrine to St. Thomas a Becket, Theodosius II’s destruction of pagan Greek temples in the early Byzantine Empire as Christianity took hold, and Soviet demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior to make way for a never-built Palace of the Soviets.
In all of these cases, the destruction was to deliver a visible, tangible, indelible massage that couldn’t be ignored to those who had erected what was destroyed: “You are wrong, and therefore what you hold dear is without value and not to be respected. What is more, you have been shown to be powerless to protect what you hold dear, therefore you are defeated and you are intrinsically less than we who can destroy it.”
In some of these cases the destroyers were ultimately proven wrong. The Soviets ended up on the ash heap of history, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was rebuilt, and there it stands to this day. In others the appetite for destruction petered out once the new regime was in place and considered legitimate. No one still talks of yanking down Fusiliers’ Gate in Dublin or destroying the monuments to the various Victorian-era Irish regiments that still dot the Emerald Isle, the government of the Republic is busy enough delivering the services it is charged with delivering. Unfortunately, in other cases, the destruction was permanent. Even the ruins of what was once the Throne of Solomon are now lost, the Zoroastarians now scattered like dust throughout Asia, and the Armenian nation, just now being allowed a chance to prove its worth, will never get most of the physical link to its history back.
Like it or not, it is possible to wipe a people and their memory from the face of the earth, and it starts with the destruction of any reminder that they did exist or do exist. The questions before us are manifold: is it within the purview of any people to judge another people or their memory worthy of such a cleansing from the historical record? If so, is it anyone’s right to actually take that step? If so, how, and what precedent does it set?
I find the idea that any people or what they hold dear is so wrong that it is worthy of deletion from the historical record problematic. Too often that idea is associated with tyranny, conquest, and even genocide, whether real or cultural, and too often that idea is associated with rash and destructive action. None of these things are what supposedly civilized people should aspire to. One does not prove that a stick is crooked by railing against it, by hiding it away, or by breaking it. The best way to prove that a stick is crooked is to lay a straight stick down next to it, that those who see both may make their own informed decision.
Let us look, then, at Christopher Columbus, the latest target of this outbreak of iconoclasm. He is, like it or not, one of the dozen or so most influential people in history. Mohammed, Christ, Moses and the Buddha account for the beliefs of most of the world’s population between them, Guttenberg made the exchange of ideas and knowledge infinitely easier, and Washington laid the foundation for what became the most powerful nation in the world with a Constitution that remains the pattern for representative government, but Columbus was the man who established the link that made it possible for the religious founder beliefs, the ideas and knowledge that Guttenberg made it possible to read easily to reach a hemisphere, and made the founding of the nation Washington set on the path to where it is today possible. The fact that Vikings reached the American continent earlier does not take away from that influence, for they neither stayed long enough to have any influence nor established a continuing link. The fact that the various tribes who had arrived earlier across the land bridge from Siberia (or so the current theory holds) were already here when he landed also does not take away from his influence, for their Neolithic civilization was in no position to influence the world and had few innovations to offer it. The argument that either of these facts somehow reduces him to a historical footnote simply does not hold up under scrutiny. The argument that if he had not landed in America first, then someone else eventually would have has marginally more merit, two continents are impossible to completely miss. Regardless, he is the one who actually did discover America and establish a lasting link with Europe.
The same argument could be made with regard to any number of important advances: Edward Jenner’s discovery of the concept of vaccination, Lord Rutherford’s discovery of the nucleus, Isaac Newton’s diffusion of light into colors, but no one argues for toppling these scientific pioneers from their pedestals on that basis.
Having established Columbus as a figure of greatest achievement, the question becomes does: his character or his other actions wipe out his achievement? The fact of the matter is that he is celebrated as an innovator, a great navigator, and a great discoverer. No one has ever argued that he is being celebrated for or should be celebrated for his great moral character or his humanitarianism. If you are looking for great moral character then I submit you need to look to the great religious figures, who are as much myth as man, and if you are looking for humanitarianism then you should look to Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer, who, unfortunately, represent a devotion to helping others that is found in few and far between, and, ultimately, does not represent great achievement or influence, certainly not on Columbus’ level. Unfortunately humans are not angels, and declaring any high achiever who is not morally perfect by today’s standards unworthy of commemoration, celebration, or even mention is placing the proverbial bar unreachably high and placing the question of who can be honored on a slippery slope.
Apart from his achievements, Columbus came to be a revered figure in large part because, as the highest achieving Italian (yes, he was Genoese, but that’s a distinction without a difference) he became a symbolic figure for the growing Italian American community. Italians had come to the United States since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but their numbers greatly increased after the unification of Italy in 1861. Most came from the rural south and Sicily, already poor from centuries of foreign misrule and now facing a fairly oppressive new tax regime, seeking better opportunities. The new Kingdom of Italy encouraged them to go, to prevent them becoming a drain on the revenues of the new kingdom, which had debts to pay off from the wars of unification. Frankly they were in a difficult spot when they arrived in the US, not speaking much English if at all, often with few skills other than farming or manual labor, and, as mainly Roman Catholics, not terribly welcome in what was then a largely Protestant nation with a mainly Protestant upper and employer class. Still, they were familiar with doing and willing to do a day’s work for a day’s pay.
You know or you should know the rest, how they learned English, often altering their names to fit in, unloaded the ships, worked in the factories, tilled the soil, and fought the Confederacy (although the Irish regiments get all the press). Eventually some of those who’d fought started to patrol the streets and fight the fires as the first police and fire departments were organized, and it wasn’t too long before the sons of those who’d come here first were starting to enter the professions and start their own businesses. Still, they were unpopular in many places, meeting with gang violence, unfair treatment by the law, and even a few outright lynchings and other murders, including the biggest lynching of all 11 at once in New Orleans. Like other outsiders trying to make their way in, they needed to stand together against those who would make their lives difficult. So they formed fraternal societies and community groups, to ensure support for their own. Most often, they used the name Columbus, the highest achieving Italian of all, somewhere in the name of the groups. As they continued to progress and achieve, they donated monuments to the communities where they had flourished, to say “here we came, here we worked, and here we succeeded.” Most often these were of…who else…Columbus, especially as the 400th anniversary of his landing arrived in 1892. That’s how the statue in Columbus Circle came to be, that’s how the one that graces Newark’s Washington Park came to be, that’s how the one that stands in Jersey City’s Journal Square came to be, and many more.
Celebrating the landing was done as early as 1792, and parading began in 1868 in San Francisco. As Italian Americans progressed, the celebrations became as much about the achievements of their community and their nation as about the landing. Since most Italian Americans (who today form about 7% of the US population) are concentrated in the east, most of the large celebrations and noticeable statuary are in the east. Columbus Day became a Federal holiday in 1937, after newspaper publisher Generoso Pope, who founded the New York Celebration, successfully lobbied FDR. For most, it’s a holiday marked by parading, maybe a wreath laying, music, food, and all things Italian, and frankly, not too much controversy until now. The extreme left spewed some of the same rhetoric that’s trying to go mainstream now, but it was usually just dismissed as the far left nonsense it was and still is.
The fact is that the far left isn’t about righting historical wrongs or about helping others. It’s about a few true believers telling everyone else what to do because they know best. That brings us back to the beginning of this article – the message of the left to those who don’t agree with them is “You are wrong, and therefore what you hold dear is without value and not to be respected. What is more, you have been shown to be powerless to protect what you hold dear, therefore you are defeated and you are intrinsically less than we who can destroy it.” They want to destroy traditional values, and one way to do that is to destroy symbols and holidays associated with them. The initial mistake the left made was aiming too high with the War on Christmas, which ultimately failed, too many people hold Christmas too dear to simply give in to attacks on it. However, now the left sees a different angle to attack traditional values from. If one set of statues can be forced down by claiming being offended, then why not another, and why not try to kill the holiday that goes along with that second set? If they are successful, they have set a precedent where anyone who claims they are offended is essentially God, and anything that offends that person must be removed, no matter its significance to anyone else and frankly, no matter the historic context or whether the offense is well founded.
I think before this goes any farther we, the 17,000,000 Italian Americans, the sons of Columbus and Garibaldi and Balbo and Tesei and Basilone and La Guardia and Scalia and so forth, need to stand up for ourselves, draw the line and say “no, this is unacceptable, no, we won’t accept the judgment of others on our history who don’t know that history, no, we aren’t just pawns to be moved off the board of someone else’s political game because we are no longer useful, no, we won’t just step aside and let everything we built up be destroyed, no, we aren’t going to let you condemn our heritage because another heritage claims they are offended, therefore they take precedence. Ignore us or attempt to impose your will on us by force at your peril.” That’s why several of us showed up, armed, in Philadelphia to protect the statue there. That’s why we were about to rally in Boston before Marty Walsh decided to meet with us and promise the damaged statue would eventually be restored.
It should not have come to this. Vigilanteism is never a good thing. However, this should not come as a complete surprise. After enough destruction of enough works of art, which the media has obligingly and gleefully made certain we all see, cheering like a football fan saying “aaaand the quarterback is toast!” each time a statue is toppled, that it might start to get old.
I can’t speak for all 17 million of my fellow Americans who share Italian heritage like myself. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those 17 million, maybe a lot of those 17 million, got a little tired of hearing our history and heritage vilified as “hatred and oppression” and a little angry at seeing the works of art our ancestors built and donated as a thank you to the country that gave us a chance at success thrown down and destroyed.
Eventually, some of those folks were going to say “That’s enough. We’re not going to stand here with our heads bowed in shame, saying “yes, our history is really that terrible and we deserve this. What awful people we are.” We’re not going to wring our hands at how powerless we are. Most importantly we’re not going to let you keep doing this, like hoodlums smashing windows up and down the street or taking out mailboxes with a bat, and if the authorities aren’t going to stop you, then we will stop you ourselves.”
The best way to stop this crap would have been not to let it start in the first place. For that, I applaud the president of France. No, we’re not going to let you trash Charles de Gaulle, or Joan of Arc, or Napoleon, or Charlemagne. No, we’re not going to let you yank down the Arc de Triomphe. Our history is our history. It’s not for you to like or dislike. It’s not for you to rewrite. It’s not for you to destroy.
Frankly, I think a good number of the people involved in this vandalism have the mentality of Pol Pot, the genocidal dictator of Cambodia in the 1960s and 70s, who achieved the dubious distinction of killing 1/3 of his own people. After he defeated the rival revolutionary parties, he literally emptied the cities, with doctors being forced to abandon patients in the middle of operations. He abolished tows, money, private property, and religion, creating instead a one-party agrarian state with no link of any kind to the past. He proclaimed it was now “year zero,” and everything that came before was abolished. Those out there trying to rip this nation’s history apart are trying to establish a “year zero” here, where everything from 1492 to 2008 is wiped out, and history begins with the election of Obama. I think at some point the general population is going to get tired of seeing everything trashed evening after evening, and we may be headed for another 1968 election.