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Post Confederate Monuments and Soviet-Bloc Monuments: Are They Equivalent?
Created by John Eipper on 08/24/17 4:53 AM

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Confederate Monuments and Soviet-Bloc Monuments: Are They Equivalent? (Tom Hashimoto, UK, 08/24/17 4:53 am)

The multiple efforts by Eugenio Battaglia (23 August) et al. to list the monuments with questionable legacies in a search for the borderline of acceptable public memory are indispensable, and yet they seem to be rather fruitless.

Across the Pond, as WAISers already mentioned, numerous communist and fascist monuments were removed from the public eyes. The removal, however, functioned as the "societal healing" for living souls whose personal memories were too vivid to bear the public reminders of the past in their "new" everyday life. In this sense, I believe this is a distinct type of "removal" from the public memory, compared to, say, the protests against the Confederate monuments or the Rhodes Must Fall movements (in South Africa, Oxford, etc). The latter, to me, function as a selection of memories/legacies to pass on to the next generations with immense symbolism involved.

While I respect everyone's feelings and opinions stemming from collective memories, I weigh personal memory as the primary focus in search for social justice. Of course, I am aware that such categorisation itself is a type of generalisation on the issues at our hands.

While the elimination of "poisonous" ideologies from our collective mind and society is something I may be able to agree with, I am too stupid to come to a conclusion as to how we decide which shall remain and which shall not, beyond clear-cut/extreme cases. Hence, the aforementioned efforts to search the borderline are echoed (as opposed to consolidated) among us.

The claim "I have a right to..." is often paired with someone else being prevented from doing something. We are coming close to criminalising the Confederate Flag. Are we ready to let law enforcement officers to step into your private property without a warrant as they saw the Confederation Flag on your wall? If a privately funded gallery kept the monuments with questionable legacies, shall we confiscate them?

After all, don't we have more important things to do to educate ourselves regarding equality and equity than discussing about the statues of dead people? (Yes, Germany took it seriously when it comes to Nazism, but they are/were aware of the potential conflicts with privacy and the freedom of speech. Are we?)

One last thing--I believe that the removal of monuments should be done by a legal means without vandalism. Vandalised monuments of the slave-owners do not radiate the sense of justice--rather, it nuances the absence of it. It makes the United States look more barbarian belonging to the pre-modern era.

JE comments: Tom Hashimoto's "personal memory" litmus test could be a useful beginning, although (ouch) it could now almost be used to resurrect Nazi symbols. The wider question is whether the frenzied removal of fascist and socialist monuments in the moment these systems collapsed can be equated with Confederate symbolism a century or more after their construction.

Tom, tell us more about Rhodes Must Fall at Oxford.  I hope things in Warsaw and Vilnius are going well.

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  • Put Confederate Monuments in Mothballs? (David Duggan, USA 08/25/17 3:29 AM)
    I think the best solution would be to put the offending Confederate statues in mothballs (or their lapidarian equivalent if the statues are in stone rather than bronze) for another 100 years or so, and then put the issue to a vote. Something similar happened when the British Parliament voted in the 1890s to erect a statue in honor of the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell (d. 1658), who of course had caused the death of an English monarch and indirectly led to the population of insurrectionist Virginia (overwhelmingly populated by expatriate Cavaliers in the 1640s and 1650s). Parliamentarian John George Phillimore responded to the critics (mainly retrograde monarchists and Irish nationalists): "any man who could object to a statue of Cromwell must be imbued with bigotry and party spirit in the highest degree." If 250 years is a sufficient period of limitations to see the merits of a man who cost the realm not only its orb and scepter, but also half of its colonial empire, then maybe we could see a century hence that the Robert E. Lees, Stonewall Jacksons and other defenders of the lost cause were no more misguided than our other enlightened heroes who came together to create a great nation which has since then rescued continents from tyranny and peoples from oppression.

    Having written this, I do not favor the equivalent exhumation of Robert E. Lee's body from the R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, VA, to suffer the same fate as Cromwell's body and head on the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne. On Cromwell's 1661 exhumation, his head was put on a pike whence it hung in Westminster Hall until the late 1680s, when it disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Versions have resurfaced and been sold to collectors for sky-high prices. At some point, the dead should be allowed to rest in peace.

    JE comments:  Lexington is also the resting place of Gen. Stonewall Jackson.  One of history's many ironies:  The land of Arlington National Cemetery used to belong to Lee's family--specifically, his wife, Mary Anna.  The Union Army confiscated it in the early days of the war.

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    • Monument Controversies: Columbus in NYC (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/26/17 9:06 AM)
      I have been following the recent controversies about Confederate monuments and statues in the US, although in a distant and uninterested way.

      But yesterday's news was too much. I saw that in New York there is an initiative to remove the statue of Cristóbal Colón, or Christopher Columbus if you like, because somebody in the Mayor's office considers it a racist offense to the Caribbean people; an expression of racism, or some other nonsense.

      I do not understand, and if I did, I would probably never accept arguments to remove or destroy historical monuments, streets, parks, statues, or the exhumation and removal of bodies and so on, as much as I would not accept the destruction of historical books or documents with the intention of removing from the collective historical memory some character or ideology of the past for the sake of an intellectual movement or grievance.

      There are many examples, many very recent, about changing the names of cities, before and after the USSR; the burning of books in the Hitler and Mao regimes; the destruction of historical monuments and statues by ISIS in Palmyra; the "Ley de la Memoria Histórica" in Spain, which attempts to erase, by decree, the collective historical memory. I believe there are more irrational and emotional motivations behind these unjustified, and somehow barbaric, acts than actual reason.

      Isn't it a very complex task in the present to judge who is an evil or poisonous historical character of the past?

      By eliminating their legacy, whether "good" or "bad," might we also be eliminating important and transcendental aspects of our past?.

      History should not be "physically" removed to justify our present moral standards. Rather, education should be promoted to critically understand them and their acts, not necessarily to justify them.

      However, I must also confess I would feel some satisfaction if all kinds of representations and icons of the current Venezuelan or Cuban regimes were eliminated, but this only would be a very simplistic resolution of my own resentment. But, would it be wise to remove worldwide, what I personally consider "evil"--the revolutionary icons of Chávez, Fidel or Che Guevara?

      JE comments: José Ignacio Soler is singing my tune: education and critical debate over erasing history. Let us channel Santayana: if we forget the past's injustices, we are doomed to repeat them. (Sometimes we both remember and repeat past injustices, but that's another conversation.)

      But what is the proper place for this debate: the public square, or the museum?

      Tell us, Nacho: Has Maduro built a lot of Chávez statues, or has the era of grandiose cult-of-personality monuments itself passed into history?

      [Sorry for the delay in launching today's WAIS.  We had a "storage problem 28" that has just been resolved.]

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    • A Swastika in Canada (John Heelan, UK 08/27/17 5:08 AM)
      Here is an interesting case in Canada--a recovered German anchor on display in a Quebec park:


      JE comments:  Swastikas come in two varieties--the old Sanskrit good-luck symbol, and the much later Nazi appropriation.  The public no longer makes this distinction, but there are surviving examples of prewar swastikas.  I've pointed out before that Angell Hall on the campus of U Michigan has swastika decorations on its exterior columns.  And then there was the K-R-I-T Motor Car company of Detroit, 1909-1916, which used the swastika in its logo.  Google "Krit emblem" for a look.

      Or how about the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in San Diego, built in 1967?  This one is creepy--and postwar, which makes it creepier.


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      • NAACP, "The Crisis," and Swastikas; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/28/17 3:27 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        Re John Eipper's broader look at the Nazi-style swastika:
        In the early twentieth century before the Nazis came along,
        the NAACP routinely used swastikas as margin decorations
        in its monthly magazine The Crisis. They were very busy working for an end to white supremacy: one more question
        about judging the fashions of the past by the fashions of the present.

        Morality does seem to progress into increasing inclusiveness as the
        Info-World continues its inscrutable blossoming. But this leaves the
        dilemma of universal standards. As we leave behind the standards that
        tolerated human sacrifice or trial by combat, there are (to say the least)
        differing opinions about some universal standard by which to look back
        and judge the befuddled past. It's a trap to use the (probably transient)
        standards (or fashions?) of the befuddled present.

        But this leaves what?
        The voice from the sky?

        JE comments:   The Crisis was founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois.  The journal continues today as a quarterly.  I Googled "NAACP Crisis swastika cover" and came up with no corresponding images.  Gary Moore is WAISdom's authority on African-American history, and I presume he has seen many archival issues of the journal.  Please tell us moore, Gary:  why would none of the swastika covers be readily accessible on the 'Net?

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        • More Pre-WWII Swastikas; Salamanca's "Victor" Symbol (Jose Manuel de Prada, Spain 08/29/17 11:10 AM)
          Swastikas figured prominently in the cover and title page of all the volumes of Rudyard Kipling's collected works until, I guess, the eve of World War II.

          In this case it was, certainly, the Buddhist symbol, as I imagine it was the case for the NAACP magazine.

          It is indeed a huge problem when a more or less harmless symbol is given a more sinister meaning by a political movement.

          One example in Spain is the Victor / Vitor anagram you can see all over some buildings in Salamanca, referring to people who have successfully defended a doctoral thesis at the University.

          It was appropriated by the rebels after they won the Civil War, and many people still think it is a Francoist symbol, while it certainly it is not.

          JE comments:  The Salamanca "Víctor" sign (below) is so catchy that Franco copied it upon his victory in 1939.  A shame, really, as it contaminated a very cool symbol of academic achievement.

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        • NAACP's "The Crisis" and Swastikas; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/29/17 1:52 PM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          In response to John E's question, here is a small example that I came across quickly,
          from The Crisis, June 1921, page 58.


          But what are the two
          book-end icons? At first glance they almost look like Torahs
          with a menorah motif, but there's a cross, so Bibles? Have
          I discussed the glimpse of Du Bois as a student in nineteenth-century Germany, spellbound in the drafty lecture room as Ranke
          or some other phenomenal genius was dissecting the world, and at one point making a sharp comment to the class about
          Africans being inferior--and supposedly knowing they are?  Du Bois was so enthralled by the outpowering of knowledge
          otherwise that he scarcely even condemned the comment,
          almost brushing it off, and took back to the States the emblematic
          empire goatee that reminded him of classical erudition.

          What in the world do all those swastikas mean--and the other arcana?
          For one thing, they mean Du Bois was fascinated by the catacombs.

          JE comments:  Thank you, Gary!  There are more swastikas on p. 60.  They function as snazzy dividers between articles, rather like asterisks today.  How about a far-fetched analogy?  Imagine the future horrors of the "Have a Nice Day" smiley-face, should a racist, genocidal regime ever adopt it as a symbol.

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