A reasonable criterion for assessing whether to topple statues, remove names, and so on

Glory be! Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times columnist, has finally confected an argument that makes a lot of sense. (Almost everything I’ve written on this site about Douthat has been critical, usually taking issue with his weird religious ideas.)

But his NYT op-ed below lays what seems to be a reasonable way to see if institutions should be renamed, statues hauled down, and so on. No, it’s not based on the usual criteria: the “woke” one of seeing if a person engaged in any racist or eugenicist activities during their lifetimes, nor the more reasonable one of seeing whether the good a person did outweighs the bad. No, it’s based on what a name or statue is supposed to commemorate. 

Click on the screenshot to read:

Douthat’s piece was prompted by Princeton University’s decision to remove Wilson’s name from its school of public and international affairs (Wilson was President of Princeton from 1902 and 1910). Douthat was no fan of Wilson, for Wilson actively tried to keep blacks out of Princeton, but Douthat argues that the name change is basically virtue flaunting. I’m not sure I agree with that, for I don’t know a lot about what Wilson did for Princeton, nor do I agree with Douthat that Christopher Columbus deserves honor for “connecting North America with Europe.” But I do agree with his general criterion for judging names, statues, and the like, which is this:

. . . our monuments and honorifics exist primarily to honor deeds, not to issue canonizations — to express gratitude for some specific act, to acknowledge some specific debt, to trace a line back to some worthwhile inheritance.

Thus when you enter their Washington, D.C., memorials, you’ll see Thomas Jefferson honored as the man who expressed the founding’s highest ideals and Abraham Lincoln as the president who made good on their promise. That the first was a hypocrite slave owner and the second a pragmatist who had to be pushed into liberating the slaves is certainly relevant to our assessment of their characters. But they remain the author of the Declaration of Independence and the savior of the union, and you can’t embrace either legacy, the union or “we hold these truths …” without acknowledging that these gifts came down through them.

To repudiate an honor or dismantle a memorial, then, makes moral sense only if you intend to repudiate the specific deeds that it memorializes. In the case of Confederate monuments, that’s exactly what we should want to do. Their objective purpose was to valorize a cause that we are grateful met defeat, there is no debt we owe J.E.B. Stuart or Nathan Bedford Forrest that needs to be remembered, and if they are put away we will become more morally consistent, not less, in how we think about that chapter in our past.

Now there are of course ambiguous cases, in which an honorific is meant to laud both a person and his achievements, but it’s often clear, as it was with Gandhi, that his monuments are there because he was the father of Indian freedom. (He did do racist things as a barrister in South Africa.) For Douthat (and I don’t know enough to weigh in here), Woodrow Wilson’s positive contributions to Princeton, not his racist attitudes, are what the Wilson School was meant to honor, so the name should stay.  Likewise with Yale, a university named after the guy who donated money to found it, and not named to memorialize Elihu Yale’s slave trading (see below). In the case of Princeton or Yale, Douthat sees a double standard: the University wants to repudiate the man, but keep the inheritance he bequeathed; as he says, “keeping the gains, but making a big show of pronouncing them ill gotten.”

Looked at in this way, it becomes much easier to judge statues of Confederate soldiers (thumbs down for defending slavery), and of George Washington, Gandhi, Lincoln, and Jefferson, whose memorials and statues honor their good deeds. As for Douthat’s idea, I feel the way Thomas Henry Huxley said when he’d read about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, saying “How stupid not to have thought of that.”


By the way, the issue of Yale keeps arising, often used by conservative nutjobs like Ann Coulter to tweak the Left. If you’re tearing down Jefferson and Washington statues because they owned slaves, they argue, then why not rename Yale University because, after all, Elihu Yale was a slave trader and a nasty piece of work? I recommend reading the short piece below, originally published on a Yale website, by history student Joseph Yannielli (specializing in the history of slavery and abolition), about what Yale did vis-à-vis slaves.  The piece has been taken down, which is a shame, but it’s been archived, so you can still read it. It comes with documentation and references, and would seem to dispose of the claim by some that Yale was really an abolitionist.

Now we know that Yale University won’t be renamed, for the name is too well established. But if Yale does defenestrate others who did things on par with Elihu Yale, and John Calhoun would seem to be one of them, it seems a bit hypocritical to remove Calhoun’s name from a Yale College but not Elihu Yale’s name from the University.  I don’t think that Yale needs to be renamed, but those who make arguments about erasing Calhoun from Yale and other who defended slavery will have to do some fast tap-dancing to justify keeping the name of Yale itself.


  1. Mike Mayer
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    If they do rename Yale it will always be “Acme University (formerly known as Yale University)”, so the name would persist in every reference.

    • Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      I like the idea of Acme University…maybe with a statue of Wile E. Coyote out front.

      • boudiccadylis
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        Seems reasonable.

        • jezgrove
          Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          But surely Wile E. Coyote’s only claim to fame is for persecuting road runners! *Insert “stop calling me Shirley” joke about here*

  2. eric
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Seems reasonable.
    I’m also okay with replacing statues where the action honored is good, the intent is noble, but the execution is so out of date that it overshadows the recognition the statue is trying to achieve.

    The Boston statue of Lincoln would be my ‘poster boy’ example. It honors a great act. It was funded by free slaves who we can expect were very happy at the time with how it turned out. Nevertheless, the optics now seem terrible. So it needs a plaque explaining it in context, at least. And if the great-great etc. grandchildren of those slaves don’t think that’s enough, and they think the image needs to be updated, I’d be fine with that decision.

    • denise
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      But will they be replaced? We don’t really build these kinds of monuments anymore. I’m sure their artistic merit can be debated in each case and as a whole, but they’re a particularly 19th Century art form and I think irreplaceable.

  3. Jonathan Dore
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    The Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton is a school of “Public and International Affairs”, and I’ve always assumed that, while his presidency of the university was a factor, it was named after him primarily because he was the founder of the League of Nations. It seems to me that the founding of the predecessor to the UN, whatever its flaws, was a momentous achievement, fully worthy of memorializing.

  4. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    In the latest Spectator, Michael Lind offers a brilliant solution to the statue controversy: pigeons.

    • Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Pigeons shit on the worthy and the unworthy alike.

      • jezgrove
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Everyone probably deserves a little, however good their deeds…

  5. Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    When are they going to get around to the Bible, long advocating slavery, racism, etc.?

  6. David Evans
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I wonder about this. Bristol had a statue of Edward Colston, a shipowner who had done good deeds for the poor of the city and built some useful buildings. Those are the things his statue commemorates. But his ships also transported 100,000 slaves to America, of whom 20,000 did not survive the journey.

    I heard an interview with a black woman whose journey to work took her past that statue. She said that every time she passed it, she felt “I don’t belong in this city”.

    I think she has a point.

    • eric
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      My very limited understanding of that case is that it was Colston’s profits from the slave trade that let him build buildings etc. and otherwise improve the economy of the city.

      In such a case, where slave-trading was intimately bound up with the ‘good deeds,’ I think it’s an easy call to say there are valid reasons to remove the statue, even from a “honoring the deeds not necessarily the person” standpoint.

      • Historian
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Colston and Elihu Yale were soulmates in the slave trading business. You make the case for renaming the university.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I would agree mostly with this opinion. There is something else to look at regarding the place in history for such people as Jefferson. He did not drop out of a cloud and suddenly find himself living in slavery and Virginia. He was born in it. From his first day slaves were taking care of him and raised him. His family’s life included slavery. As an adult he was somewhat conflicted with slavery but he personally was never going to do much about it. Leave it to the next generation as I cannot do anything about it. Now if he had come from a poor white family and maybe moved north as a child, you might have a completely different person. The culture and society in which we live has much to do with the outcome. Even when they knew their way of life in Virginia was bankrupt and most of the planters were hopelessly in debt, they were stuck. In Jefferson’s case he blamed much of his problem on the financial institutions in England that he owed money.

    • max blancke
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Jefferson wrote fairly eloquently about his opposition to the principal of slavery.

      These days, we have lots of people who believe that the continued use of fossil fuels is wrong, but also realize that if we banned them today, there would be economic collapse and global famine, followed by large scale civil unrest and much worse environmental destruction than is likely from short term continued fossil fuel use.

      A USA newly independent from England with a tanking economy would soon be part of someone’s empire again.

      • William Boecklen
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        I think this is good point.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        Most of Jefferson’s opposition to slavery was in his early years and even then it was just talk. Later in the 1800s he said nothing about leading any group or state to abolish slavery. He in fact, spoke against freeing the slaves if they could not be shipped out of the country because he firmly believed the white and black could not live together. This from the guy who lived extremely close to one slave named Hemmings. As he went further into poverty he said nothing about freeing his slaves because frankly he no longer could free them. They belonged to the creditors not him.

        • Max Blancke
          Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

          Just the circumstances around S. Hemmings imply to me that his views were not simplistic, especially when their time in Paris is considered.
          His remarks about slavery as “holding a wolf by the ear” were made in 1820. (Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 22 April 1820)
          Reading his correspondence, it appears to me that his views on the institution itself did not much change, but he had lost hope that a practical and peaceful solution was at hand.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Seems as sensible a line as I’ve heard proposed so far. Goes to show, I suppose, that even an ecclesiastically besotted pig occasionally finds a truffle. 🙂

  9. Posted July 2, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Hear hear!

    Across the pond, there’s a petition at my university to rename David Hume Tower. As someone else commented, it’s punishment enough to have your name attached to that architectural monstrosity. But seriously, it’s absurd. Hume said one racist thing, but didn’t expend that much energy on race, and also held that humans were pretty much equal. One contradictory thing in his writings, admittedly pretty nasty, doesn’t efface his philosophical achievements, which have nothing to do with race or racism. Here’s the petition: https://www.change.org/p/university-of-edinburgh-rename-david-hume-tower-at-uoe/exp/cl_/cl_sharecopy_23159915_en-GB/2/1100576874?utm_content=cl_sharecopy_23159915_en-GB%3A2&recruiter=1100576874&recruited_by_id=5aa82240-a379-11ea-9423-c7d2b329a4ce&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_abi&utm_term=tap_basic_share

    Perhaps the silliest part of it is that the petition wants the tower to be named after another famous Edinburgh Uni person- Julius Nyerere. Nyerere, while important as an anti colonial figure, was also a dictator! On balance, he probably comes out worse than Hume. And he certainly harmed more black people, incidentally…

    I’ve thought for a while that removing Hume from the tower would be good- but only to give him a building worth his name rather than the brutalist thing it’s currently attached to!

  10. Posted July 2, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I propose that there should be a process of akin to canonization for all subjects of statues, monuments and named buildings. They must be pure and perfect in every regard, and perhaps have performed a miracle or two. Ordinary flawed human beings are not eligible, no matter what their accomplishments. We must cleanse our history of all these imperfect non-PC beings.

  11. Historian
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    “No, it’s based on what a name or statue is supposed to commemorate.”

    I disagree. Who would like to drive on the Adolph Hitler Memorial Autobahn? Wasn’t his support for the construction of it a good thing? Before any memorial for a person is contrasted, the totality of his/her life must be considered and the “good” must be significantly outweigh the “bad.” Suppose that prior to World War II, Adolf Eichmann had funded the creation of a university in Jerusalem. Is that not a good thing? I’m sure Holocaust survivors and their descendants would proudly wear sweatshirts emblazoned with the name “Eichmann U. – Going Here is a Gas.” This is why I support the call to change Yale’s name. Elijah Yale earned his wealth by engaging in an unspeakable horror. I don’t care that he did one “good” thing. It probably won’t happen, but it should. The resistance of some to the taking down Confederate statues has virtually collapsed. It’s hard to believe that there was a furor over changing the name of Calhoun College. Just this week, the city of Charleston, S.C. took down a towering statue of Calhoun. Once Trump is gone, the names of military bases named after Confederates will be changed. The Confederate statues in the U.S. Capital building will only almost certainly be gone before long. They are another mind boggling tribute to the Lost Cause.

    A case can be made for renaming entities named for the slaveholding Founders. Practically speaking, however, I doubt that it will happen. Thousands of buildings, streets, ridges and government entities would require renaming. This would include the U.S. Capital as well as the state. However, the discussion over the past several weeks has been quite salutary. The country is finding out more about its history than the presence of these memorials taught in a hundred years of more. We are emerging from the Orwellian world created by the success of the Lost Cause mythology. I recommend this article by Yale (ironically) Civil War historian David Blight about what the Lost Cause was all about. Perhaps the historical ignorance of the masses will recede a bit. The statues failed in that mission.


    • Historian
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Make that Elihu Yale, not Elijah.

  12. Roo
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that there’s any way to systematically quantify anything as ethereal as acceptable symbolism. To give an extreme example, we wouldn’t build a statue to a Nazi who was a good scientist. I think it does come down to a mental weighing of good vs. bad in people’s minds and how much weight each category gets is often subjective.

    I have mixed feelings on the recent Statue Purge. On the one hand, I am wary of an atmosphere where we say that symbolism alone is traumatic to the human heart and mind. Taken too far, this is the reason people are killed over acts of blasphemy that are entirely symbolic and harm no actual people in the real world. Words are violence, microagressions are traumatic because of what they symbolize and not what they mean at face value – these general ways of thinking would not be at all out of place amongst religious fanatics.

    On the other, people snub their noses at America for having no real longterm culture, being a newbie country – but so what, it’s worked for us so far. Maybe the reason we’ve done so well as a country is that it is very difficult for anything to become truly entrenched here, and our dynamic nature and fluidity is our strength.

    I liken these both to Buddhist concepts – in the first case, that of the first and second arrow, in the second, that of attachment. If I had my druthers (which I don’t, ha ha – statues will stay or go no matter what I think,) I’d say it’s fine to remove statues that we collectively want to remove, but better to have something like a 30 day reflection period for each to make sure it’s not the result of emotions boiling over or mob excitement, and maybe a written proposal by concerned parties about what they see as the pros and cons of the statues to make sure that people have thought it over.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      “we wouldn’t build a statue to a Nazi who was a good scientist”

      If you visit the Marshall Space center in Huntsville AL, You will likely note the large bronze bust of Von Braun at the entrance. There are also statues of Hermann Oberth and others.

      • W.Benson
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Or the pyramids: built by thousands of slaves to glorify cruel autocratic narcissistic mystics, yet archaeology praises the achievements of the pharaohs and largely ignores the fate of ‘mere’ slaves. If anything must go in the name of morality, isn’t it the pyramids? [sarcasm alert].

        • revelator60
          Posted July 2, 2020 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Recent Egyptology indicates that the pyramids were not built by slaves, but rather by farmers who had free time in the summer, when their fields were annually flooded by the Nile.

          • W.Benson
            Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

            Well, that’s a relief! That’s what I’d do it I had free time this summer. Go out in the hot sun to build a pyramid for the Supreme Leader. [sarcasm]

      • Roo
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        That’s probably a good example of symbolism being difficult to weigh – I know very little about those men, but my first thought there is “Oh, well, they ended their lives in the US, so they were probably trying to escape Germany all along, or, if they were briefly misguided, they saw the light. Totally different than a Nazi who lived and died a member of the party.” Is it totally different? I’m sure that’s debatable, but it meets our criteria for acceptability, more or less (at least it did – the idea of redemption and forgiveness appears to be going out of style in the Great Awokening. It’s more of a “grovel and beg for forgiveness and maybe we won’t smote you” dynamic. So perhaps those statues will also be gravel soon.)

  13. Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    There is no escape from the relativistic arguments for or against a statue or a name. At some level, there will always be people who will not be offended by such statues even knowing all of the bad things done by the person.

    If the end goal is to minimize suffering, then tearing down statues and renaming structures is almost certainly not a bad thing. We change and move on. There will be more statues and they will be removed or preserved in time. Our story continues. Great stories, like great art, have a way to persist and transcend.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      Do you imagine that art and architecture are not facing a similar reckoning?

      The sort of people who “suffer” because of the existence of an antique monument to someone long dead are not going to be made happy by that statue’s destruction.

  14. ladyatheist
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I would prefer to frame the dichotomy based on whether the person advanced freedom & civil rights or impeded those goals.

    Wilson & Washington did more of the former & less of the latter.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      They will probably want to remove Wilson, Washington, Jefferson and many more from sight some day. The new generation never stops. I am not sure how they remove Mt. Rushmore but maybe they will just blast away. They can’t remove the fact that they were Presidents and they can’t remove the fact that without Washington we probably would not be living in the U.S.A. If anyone thinks we would, I would love to hear about it.

      • Posted July 2, 2020 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        They could easily destroy it. I’ve been to Rushmore three times. When I visited with my kids the last time I (~ 2011) I felt like it was vulnerable, even then. Mostly from terrorism but also how people would interpret perceived reverence to ‘dead white men’.

        There is a great deal of effort at the monument to show we are all one nation. I found the effort to be insecure. The sculpture should stand on its own for those who wish to visit it and/or interpret it’s meaning. The NPS made it seem more delicate than it was. In some ways we might all be to blame for the trepidation that hangs over everything.

      • W.Benson
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Well, by “reasonable criteria,” seeing that the monument was constructed on illegally seized Native American treaty land, SHOULDN’T the Mt. Rushmore monument be torn down, or rent paid for use of the land? [excuse the shouting]

  15. rickflick
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    The criteria make sense to me. It’s good to keep in mind that the protesters who want to tear down statues probably operate with a very different criteria. I suspect, and I’m sure they are not all alike, they find disrupting the racial status quo justification in itself, regardless of the senselessness of it. Once they get a taste of power, they can’t stop themselves. They don’t pause to see if there are criteria that make sense. They’ll need some push-back.

  16. jezgrove
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I guess Douthat’s proposal works in some fairly straightforward cases (the Confederacy and its architects and enablers, say). But other people with statues and/or honours might be more problematic. Sir Arthur “Bomber/Butcher” Harris has a statue just off Fleet Street in London but was responsible for a policy that killed thousands of civilians and hundreds of airmen. On the other hand, that same policy might have contributed to the acceleration of the end of WWII in Europe. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Arthur_Harris,_1st_Baronet

    Would Wernher von Braun have helped the Moon landings without the experience he gained in Nazi Germany? Can you really separate the two in any meaningful way?

    • jezgrove
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Oops, meant to add “and then there’s the whole Manhattan Project – good or evil?”

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Not sure the Manhattan project falls in the same area as a statue. How can you call it evil or whatever label you want. It was a race to develop a bomb. Fortunately the Germans did not win or London might have been Hiroshima. You can argue the actual use of the thing if you want, lots of people love to do that but to call the project evil, I guess the invention of the gun was evil as well.

      • Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        The Manhattan Project? On the whole I consider it evil. The first couple of years was justifiable on the assumption, which was reasonable and true, that the Germans were also working on their nuclear weapons. That justification ceased to exist when Germany was defeated. The continued development and use of atomic bombs on Japanese civilians were clearly unnecessary and unjustified. Japanese leaders had been weighing their options as early as 1944, and they would have surrendered much sooner had the Allies not pointlessly insisted on unconditional surrender (the Japanese wanted one condition — that the emperor be spared, which he was, anyway). Japanese leaders’ attitude was known to the US intelligence and relayed to Truman, but apparently didn’t make him think twice.

        It’s also worth mentioning that Stalin agreed at Tehran to declare war on Japan 90 days after the end of European war. That would be August 8, 1945. Hiroshima was bombed on August 6. Nagasaki on August 9. It’s almost like the US didn’t want the USSR to actually fight the Japanese and establish its sphere of influence there, as it did in Germany.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          You should state it is your opinion the project and the bomb was clearly unnecessary, certainly not to all. You think they should have stopped after Germany surrendered. Ridiculous. You say the bomb was not needed to end the war. I guess you were not in Okinawa to see the cost of that battle. They actually dropped two bombs before Japan finally quit. You belief that it was unconditional surrender that was the problem. Also not really so. Roosevelt said unconditional surrender for Germany and Japan back in 1943. And he was right to do this based on the debacle of WWI. Had they gone for unconditional surrender in WWI there probably would not have been WWII. Who can say.

          • Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            You don’t seem to have read what I wrote. The one condition the Japanese wanted was that they keep their monarchy and the emperor not be prosecuted. Had the US agreed, even Okinawa might have been averted. The US didn’t agree, but ended up giving the Japanese what they wanted anyway. So what’s the point? Okinawa and the two bombs killed at least 40 thousand on both sides, only to have Japan surrender on essentially the same terms. You tell me why it was necessary. (I think I know why: a quick unconditional surrender was necessary for gaining a geopolitical advantage over the USSR. But to kill civilians for that purpose is what I call evil.)

            • Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

              Missed a zero. Not 40 thousand, but 400 thousand.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

              What proof do you have that Japan was ready to surrender prior to Okinawa. Again, that is just not true. What you are putting out is speculation and wishful thinking. And as far as what Japan was allowed to keep, that was MacCarther and Truman. Roosevelt had died and was not around for the end of Japan. As I said before, Roosevelt announced unconditional surrender in 1943. Germany and Japan had plenty of time to think about it and the idea that Japan was ready to give it up is simply speculation.

              • Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

                Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed: “Having broken the Japanese diplomatic code, the Department of State’s Far Eastern specialists were sanguine that the peace advocates in the Imperial Cabinet could win capitulation if the United States assured Japan that it would maintain the Emperor and the Imperial Dynasty.”

                Dennis Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: “By April 1945, Japan’s leaders realized that the war was lost. Their main stumbling block to surrender was the United States’ insistence on unconditional surrender. They specifically needed to know whether the United States would allow Hirohito to remain on the throne.”

                Eisenhower writing in 1963: “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

                There’s also a MacArthur quote which I couldn’t locate in 5 mins googling, but has been quoted by numerous apparently respectable sources: “My staff was unanimous in believing that Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender.”

                Is this enough evidence for you?

        • savage
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 2:25 am | Permalink

          Dropping a nuclear bomb is nothing to be proud of, but it is hard to see how it was much worse than firebombing Tokyo.

          And how would anyone justify not using such a weapon while it was possible? The war had stirred up a lot of ethnic hatreds. In a poll conducted in 1944, 13% of Americans even agreed with the statement that the Japanese should be exterminated wholesale.

  17. Curtis
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    In Portland, they burned an elk statue. As far as I can tell, there was absolutely nothing controversial about the statue. It was to celebrate the elk that used to live in the area and had nothing to do with the Elks Club. My guess is that they were protesting at a courthouse and the elk was the nearest statue.

    There is nothing about this in any of the Oregon newspapers or TV stations. It is possible that this story is a hoax but I would think that would be reported as well.


  18. Pliny the in Between
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Another option is to acknowledge that cities, institutions, and cultures evolve. What once seemed eternal becomes another brief chapter in the history books. Public works of one era should not necessarily dominate the present. Yesterday’s good intentions may be cringe worthy to those who follow. Heroes of today will no doubt have feet of clay to future generations if we are fortunate enough to become more enlightened with time.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Thing is, the south BS’ed everyone with all the statues of their long dead hero of the cause and wanted to stick it to everyone. Now they are just getting stuck back.

      • Pliny the in Between
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Kinda my point – in the South (mostly) there was a period where they erected these things in support of the Lost Cause argument. Audiences of today don’t buy that crap as much – hence the move to update public art more in keeping with contemporary values. It’s a good thing.

        • Posted July 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Stonewall Jackson was a brilliant military strategist. His victories were studied around the world. One should be able to separate his military achievements from the cause for which he fought. One needn’t pick a side in the Punic Wars to recognize Hannibal’s accomplishment at Scipio. Or are we still fighting the Civil War?

          • Posted July 2, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, that was meant to be a stand alone comment, not a reply to Pliny.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

            He may have been brilliant for his time as you say but he was still fighting for the wrong side and they lost. Who in their right mind puts up monuments to the losers. Particularly the slave loving losers.

            • Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

              Again, this is judging the past by the standards of today. Amerigo Vespucci owned slaves. We need to change the name of our country.

    • Posted July 2, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      ‘feet of clay’. I like that.

      It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts – Paul Simon

      Only some fall sooner than others, but they all fall in the end.

  19. Eric Grobler
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    “A reasonable criterion for assessing whether to topple statues”

    I do not think the protesters are interested in reason.

  20. Max Blancke
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    A letter was recently published in Asheville, written by a past NAACP official, who participated in the civil rights fight in Asheville.
    His letter is in opposition to the plan to bring down the Vance Monument, which is a giant obelisk in the very center of the town.

    “Born and raised in this City, all I ever heard about the Vance Monument from black folk … “Mom can you pick me up at the Vance Monument?” “Daddy can you take pictures of us in our caps and gowns at the Vance Monument?” Even when civil rights protest with sit ins occurred at S & H Kress food counter … “We are going to protest and meet later at the Vance monument”

    I was reading the remarks by a Richmond official, and he is clearly a product of the new education. He truly believes, as he was taught, that all confederate monuments were put up as a threat to Black people. Not to memorialize those who died protecting their homes and communities, not to commemorate acts of valor, or even to celebrate those who promoted reconciliation after the war, like Vance mentioned above. To a person obsessed with race, the actions of other people can only be judged as promoting or fighting the racial narrative as they see it.
    But people need to face the truth that other people are not obsessed with your beliefs, and the bulk of what they do is not really about you.
    My home town has very few African-Americans. It had very few before the war, and that has not changed. The people who enlisted to fight did so because their country was at war, and their community was threatened. Of course, I have not interviewed any of those confederate veterans, but I still find it hard to believe that a person who had possibly never even seen a Black person would fight a war and die to keep one enslaved.

    But the basic truth is that we are just different kinds of ants, and someone has put us in a jar, and is shaking it, because they want to see us fight each other.

  21. Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    After I expressed the opinion a little while back that statues/monuments are historical and should not be defaced or torn down, it dawned on me more recently that I seldom pay attention to said statues/monuments in terms of who they are/were or what they are being remembered for. I don’t know if my lack of attention is common or not.

    The greatest attention I’ve given statues of whomever was when spikes were placed around their heads with netting over them to prevent bird dropping buildup or discoloration. A statue of Benjamin Franklin in Washington DC was accoutered this way and I felt compelled to write a haiku about him in his hairnet.

    Our heroes and all others were/are both good and bad. As we all are the same, it should not be difficult to be understanding of the dichotomies in all humans.

    The defacing, getting rid of or moving of statues does not address the history of racism or its continued presence. Our focus, energy and resources should be addressed to activities that correct the problems at last, not immature and useless messing with visual symbols..

  22. revelator60
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Douthat writes “To repudiate an honor or dismantle a memorial, then, makes moral sense only if you intend to repudiate the specific deeds that it memorializes.”

    Ultimately though this leads back to “whether the good a person did outweighs the bad,” if the person’s specific deed is cancelled out or dwarfed by another specific deed of theirs that happens to have harmed the world.

    For example, let’s say there’s a statue of Stalin that commemorates his role in defeating Hitler. This statue nevertheless should not stand because Stalin arguably brought as much death and misery to the world as Hitler (he may have killed even more people). And even Stalin’s leadership leading up to and during WWII is problematic (the pact with Hitler, Stalin’s refusal to believe Hitler was double-crossing him, the liquidation of generals, the post-war ravaging and occupation of Germany and Eastern Europe, etc.).

    • Posted July 4, 2020 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Stalin is a good example of the difficulty in deciding on balance. I personally think that WWII was won by American money, British intelligence and Soviet blood. (Obviously there are more in each category, but these are the big factors.) I think there’s a very real sense in which, paradoxically, Western Europe at least owes its freedom to the Soviet Union. But *only* with the other factors – they sort of all worked together, in spite of everything. If we are to commemorate Churchill for leadership and inteliigence, in spite of his racism, is it purely the *magnitude* of Stalin’s crimes against the Ukrainians and others that makes us not want to honour him? I can see that being plausible, but I wonder where the dividing lines are?

      (One other minor factor was Canadian electronics, as I discovered at the Canadian War Museum once: a Soviet military radio, complete with Russian-language labels, made in Canada. I had never heard *that* as a child.)

  23. Robert Van Orden
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    In regards to Civil War monuments, I have a pretty clear dividing line.

    No person who attended West Point only to later serve in the Confederate Army should have any memorial on public property anywhere in the USA. No statue, no memorial, no school, fort, park or street named for them. Nothing.

    Everyone of those men are traitors and should be treated as such. We don’t have parks named after Benedict Arnold.

    It’s not perfect but it’s a good start. Nathen Bedford Forrest never attended West Point, he shouldn’t be honored either.

    I do have some sympathy for certain memorials that honor the service of rank and file soldiers. If some town in Mississippi has a stone inscribed with local confederate soldiers on located public property I’m fine with that.

    I don’t think any graves should be defiled in at all, even the graves of bad guys.

    • Robert Van Orden
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      As an aside, I think Lee is the most over-rated general. His order of Pickett’s charge against counsel is easily the biggest the single biggest military blunder in American History.

      The rest of his record is spotty, frankly. He’d be average sans the Gettysburg fiasco.

      That’s not to even taking into account his many other failures. Just looking at his military record, overall it isn’t all that great.

    • max blancke
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      Joseph Wheeler attended West Point, and entered US Army service, only to resign in 1861. After the War, he served in the House of representatives.
      He volunteered and served in the US Army again as a general in both the Cuban and Philippine campaigns. He literally wrote the book on cavalry tactics. Buried in Arlington as a hero.

      The USA was spoken and written of as a plural prior to the Civil War. The oath of office that officers took reflected that. The current oath, which dates to 1959, reflects changes from both the Civil and Cold wars.
      Judging people of the past using today’s standards is unfair, as they cannot possibly have our perspective. The question of secession was still a question in 1861.
      An officer who resigned his commission in the US military to join the confederacy probably did not see their conduct as an act of war against the United States, as they were not then considered to be “united”.
      If anything, it was almost a certainty that those officers were going to be required to take up arms against states that were recently members of the Union, likely including their home state and their own community. Claiming offhand that any of us in that same situation would find the choice easy is disingenuous.

      • Robert Van Orden
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Thank you for engaging. I do learn more this way, for example I never heard of that Wheeler fellow. Now I have read his Wikipedia page so I learned a little something.

        As far as the rest, I’m not interested in being fair minded in evaluating the decisions made by long dead soldiers. It isn’t about them at all.

        It’s about today, removing from the public square the symbols venerated by my political opponents.

        • Max Blancke
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          That brings up a very important point. We might think that we are engaging in legitimate discourse with someone with whom we disagree on one or more issues, while our opponent may well only be engaging with us (his enemy), to probe for weakness.

          So the hard left may well be targeting the statues primarily because they believe we care about them. Their history is irrelevant.

          This is one tactic that is unlikely to be successfully used against them, as many of them are nihilists. I suppose we could work at denying them their broadband or their soy-based meat substitutes.

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