Should historic statues - like those of Christopher Columbus and Robert E Lee - be torn down?
- Columbus was one of the first Europeans in the New World, credited by many for discovering America. However, critics say his trip began the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Columbus is also criticized for his violent treatment and killing of Native Americans, who see him as a racist.
- The city of Boston removed the damaged statue of Christopher Columbus Thursday morning, a day after it was beheaded by vandals. The head was also cut off back in 2006. The statue was doused with red paint in June 2015 with the words “Black Lives Matter” spray-painted on the base.
- At the heart of Robert E. Lee’s story is one of the monumental choices in American history: revered for his honor, Lee resigned his U.S. Army commission to defend Virginia and fight for the Confederacy, on the side of slavery. Lee’s family held slaves leading some of his defenders over the years to discount slavery’s significance in assessments of his character.
- The swift removal in 2020 of these monuments and markers from public settings comes in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whose death in police custody has reignited a national debate about such icons and whether they're pieces of history that should be preserved or, instead, must be taken down and even destroyed.
- President Trump tweeted, 'These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.'
- On August 12, 2017, a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, brought attention to dozens of Confederate monuments around the country. Many were taken down including Roger B. Taney (Maryland), Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston (Texas), Confederate soldier statues (Florida), etc.
Monuments commemorating historical figures such as Christopher Columbus, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Williams Carter Wickham should not be torn down. Regardless of what these subjects were involved in throughout history and how some people appear offended by them today, we cannot erase history, nor should we attempt to. Historical statues serve important reminders of both their accomplishments and mistakes, and can be used as teaching tools for future generations, as they help to open difficult discussions. Consider the phrase 'never forget,' regarding 9/11 or the Holocaust. Both were horrendous acts of evil, and acknowledging this keeps them on the forefront of our minds to do all in our country's power to ensure nothing of such nature ever happens again.
It's arguable tearing down statues with negative associations is disrespectful to those who suffered through those hardships. Keeping them intact does not mean we currently promote or condone ideologies such as slavery or genocide.
It makes little sense to cherry-pick which monuments should be allowed considering that many other historical sites are also controversial. The White House was built primarily by slave labor, Wall Street was 'the city's first slave market,' Chinatown was the result of racism against Chinese immigrants, and Mount Rushmore was constructed on sacred Native American land.
If we start tearing down politically incorrect monuments now, that could lead to the demolition of future historical statues deemed inappropriate by an even further progressed society. This is a form of censorship and a threat to Constitutional rights that need defending today to ensure they hold firm for future generations.
Firstly, removing statues of problematic historical figures is in no way 'erasing' history, as most proponents of keeping them proclaim. History can and should be preserved in museums and classrooms so that learners can reflect on these controversial figures in an accurate and adequately contextualized way. The U.S. should take a page out of Germany's book of denazification, which involved tearing down every Nazi statue that commemorated the dreadful era of World War 2.
Did the world forget the Nazi atrocities of World War II? No. History was memorialized in other, more effective ways – ways that didn't involve generations of victims being traumatized by seeing their ancestors' persecutors being publicly celebrated.
What do figures like Christopher Columbus and Robert E Lee represent? Eras of ignorance, cruelty, racism, xenophobia, injustice, and even treason against the United States. Their statues are symbols of oppression and have no place in today's diverse America. Christopher Columbus, a man celebrated for 'discovering' America, was at the forefront of the dehumanization and ethnic genocide of Native Americans. He was responsible for a large-scale attack on the Native American way of life.
Robert E Lee represents the Confederacy, which engaged in treason against the United States. The Confederacy was built on the ideals of white supremacy on the back of African-American slaves. The glorification of figures like Robert E Lee is a part of a larger movement to distort the Confederacy's underlying racism.
Pioneers of stolen lands and lives and losers of treasonous wars should not be lauded with public statues.