Authorities in New Orleans have begun removing from public land a group of monuments dedicated to the Confederacy. It says something about how touchy a subject this is that the people doing the work had to be masked and protected by police snipers.
Among all the wrangling about this there’s one argument from the enablers of the Lost Cause that I just don’t understand, since it makes no fucking sense. It’s made repeatedly in the comments to this story in the Guardian. Here’s a representative sample, responding to the article’s point that this isn’t an issue of erasing history:
Yes it does. You have removed a piece of history from public view. Say you were walking past it with your young child and they said, “Daddy, what does that statue represent” then you could explain to them. Otherwise they are unlikely to learn about the past that has been removed, unless they teach it in school. But even then it’s not the same because it’s just words in books. It’s like removing fossils.
I can only figure that this is a post-hoc rationalization for a knee-jerk opposition to anything perceived as being done in the name of “political correctness,” because a couple seconds of thought shows is just doesn’t make a damned bit of sense.
Take this to its logical conclusion – once a monument of some kind has been erected, it can never be taken down without “erasing history.” If that’s true, we’re not exactly innocent:
Then there’s the wholesale destruction of Nazi symbols and such in Germany following World War II. Or the toppling of statues of Stalin or Lenin following the end of the Cold War. The idea that monuments have infinite shelf lives simply isn’t rooted in history.
Beyond that, if a monument is history that can never be erased, does it create a perpetual obligation upon future taxpayers to keep it in good repair? Neither of those things can be true – they just don’t make any sense.
Let’s hypothesize using a silly example. In Futurama we learn that, sometime between Fry being frozen and thawed out, New York had a supervillain for a governor. Not only did he “collect” a bunch of famous monuments from around the world, he even added himself to Mount Rushmore:
Now, years after the fact, are the citizens of New New York required to look at the face of evil everyday in the name of history? Do they have to pay to keep the super villain’s face looking crisp and life like? I’d say the answer is clearly no, but I’m not sure how those “this is erasing history” people could reach that conclusion.
Monuments and memorials are put up for a reason – because the people of that community at that time thought they were appropriate. There’s no magic in those intentions, nothing that shields the thing memorialized from future scrutiny. It’s entirely appropriate for future communities to decide that this thing is no longer worth celebrating.