The statue-toppling mania as a part of the Left’s cultural revolution and determination to remake history in its own image—a form of thought-control–hasn’t abated; it’s just been eclipsed in the news cycle. For the record, 28 cities have removed close to a hundred statues of Confederate figures alone. Meanwhile, the statue topplers, flushed with victory, are raiding their sights to include Founders like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, politically-incorrect Presidents like Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, and others. You can read, if you have lots of time, most of the Ethics Alarms posts on this topic here and here.
It isn’t just statues, of course. It is honors of every kind: university dining halls and dorms, Democratic party annual dinners, and much more. The Boston Red Sox have petitioned the city to retract the honor of a having a street by Fenway Park named after the man who made the team the regional institution is is today, and who was primarily responsible for the team remaining in Boston.
The latest mutation of the culturally-rotting virus has Native Americans demanding that memorials and honors to any figure whose legacy offends them must be eliminated. Five years after President William McKinley was assassinated, George Zehnder presented the Northern California city of Arcata with an 8.5-foot-tall statue honoring him. Arcata home to Humboldt State University, placed it in the city’s main square.
McKinley was no Confederate: he was a Union war hero at the Battle of Antietam. He was also a popular and effective President. He was elected in 1896 while the nation was in a serious depression, and was successful enough in getting the economy back on its feet that he was re-elected in 1900, the first Republican to get a second term since Grant. He, not Teddy Roosevelt, led the U.S. into international significance, winning the Spanish-American War, and acquiring Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. He also gave his life for national service, as have all our Presidents who died in office. Ah, but President McKinley also oversaw federal policies that continued the decline of Native American tribes in the U.S., and reservation lands were reduced by as much as 90 million acres. during his administration. Now the Tribal Council of the Wiyot Tribe in Northern California senses a chance at revenge. It is demanding that the statue of McKinley be removed.
Almost four years ago, before the din of falling statues became a faint hum, like locusts, across the land, I wrote about a controversy in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where a fountain at the center of Chevy Chase Circle honored Francis Griffith Newlands, a U.S. Senator who also founded the Chevy Chase Land Co., which in turn created neighborhoods on the Washington and Maryland sides of the circle. Senator Newlands also was a racist, and a proactive one. He was a white supremacist who even attempted to have the 15th Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American men, repealed.
To assist in the analysis of when and whether any honor to a historical figure should be withdrawn, I offered a series of seven guiding principles: Continue reading →
Chevy Chase Circle is the official border separating the District of Columbia and Chevy Chase, Maryland. The inscription on the fountain at the center of Chevy Chase Circle honors Francis Griffith Newlands, saying, “His statesmanship held true regard for the interests of all men.” He was a three-term senator from Nevada, serving from 1903 until his death in 1917, but more important to this controversy, founded the Chevy Chase Land Co., which created neighborhoods on the Washington and Maryland sides of the circle. Yes, the founder of Chevy Chase is honored with a fountain in Chevy Chase Circle. What could possibly be wrong with that?
The problem is that Senator Newlands was a racist, and a proactive one. He was a white supremacist who described blacks as “a race of children” too intellectually handicapped for democracy. In 1912, he attempted to have the 15th Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American men, repealed. Not surprisingly, his vision of Chevy Chase did not include black residents, or Jewish ones for that matter.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission that represents the D.C. section of Chevy Chase wants to remove Newlands’ name from the fountain, and has introduced a resolution calling on the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to rename the landmark “Chevy Chase Fountain.” The reason is his advocacy of anti-black policies.
This is a classic ethics conflict, a problem in which valid ethics principles oppose each other. There are so many conflicting ethical principles and objectives at work here: Continue reading →
It’s not often that I am called upon to rebut a web post that relies on one of my articles for its unethical conclusions, but that is the position that Ron Chimelis has placed me in with his recent essay, Why the Boston Red Sox should rename Yawkey Way.
To catch you up quickly: Tom Yawkey was a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast who owned the Boston Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, making him the longest-tenured team owner in the sport’s history. Yawkey was almost certainly a racist; if he was not a racist, his team’s policies certainly were for many years. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and blacks did not have a significant place on the team’s roster until the late 1960s, two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. From the beginning, Yawkey ran the Red Sox as a public utility, paying little attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a winner out of the franchise that had been a perennial loser since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. After his death, Yawkey’s wife Jean continued the family tradition, running the Red Sox, except for a few years, until her own death in 1992.
When Tom Yawkey died, the City of Boston re-named Jersey Street, which runs past the entry to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, Yawkey Way in his honor.
In the unerring clarity of hindsight bias, Chimelis argues that Tom Yawkey is undeserving of any recognition by the city that he devoted much of his life to representing, enhancing, serving, inspiring and entertaining because racism is the ultimate crime, and anyone possessing that vile state of mind should be consigned to shame forever. It is a common point of view, and an unfair one. Continue reading →
In the wake of the Freeh Report’s revelations regarding the extent of the late Joe Paterno’s involvement in allowing Jerry Sandusky’s child molesting appetites to be sated with Penn State’s assistance, many are calling for the campus statue honoring the now-disgraced coach to be removed.
I am generally opposed to removing memorials and honors to historical figures according to the popular verdicts of the day, for several reasons. The main one is that every individual who ever achieved something worthy of such honor also was guilty of misconduct that someone could convincingly argue outweighs it on moral or ethical grounds. New facts are uncovered, cultural values shift, and over time, no revered figure is safe from deconstruction. The reverse is also inevitable: if a life can be judged unworthy of honor, subsequent generations may well disagree. The verdict of a community, a culture and an era should be given due weight and respect; a statue, memorial or monument not only recognizes an individual but also represents the judgment of our predecessors. Leave their judgments alone, and if we disagree with them, try to make ours better. Continue reading →
Would Uncle Walt have resisted the curse of Jones's First Law?
Jones’ First Law, one of many useful corollaries to Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will.”) is usually stated:
“Anyone who makes a significant contribution to any field of endeavor, and stays in that field long enough, becomes an obstruction to its progress – in direct proportion to the importance of his original contribution.”
This week was a good one for Jones (whoever he was; I can’t seem to find out) if not for the rest of us, because two classic examples of his principle were on display: Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who managed to stay coach long enough to unravel his legacy and help lay the groundwork for an ethical, moral, legal, public relations, and financial catastrophe for the institution he had dedicated his life to, and J. Edgar Hoover, the subject of a newly-released Clint Eastwood directed film that shows how he too stayed long enough as the key figure of an institution he built—the FBI—to become an embarrassment to it. Continue reading →