September 17, 2019
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Toppling controversial monuments can never heal terrible injustices

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

We will never see a statue of Christopher Columbus lift his heavy granite arm, beckoning us forward to hear his words of wisdom. Nor will we ever see a statue of Buddha, Confucius or Christ step down from its bronze pedestal to give us a compassionate hug. That remains for people to do.

For every teacher and every healer immortalized in stone, 100 statues show soldiers with upraised swords, ready to strike. For every good Samaritan who heals his neighbor’s wounds with the balm of Gilead, there are 1,000 statues to men who rend human flesh.

The physicians from New England who invented anesthesia are honored with a modest monument tucked away in a seldom-visited corner of Boston Commons. Nearby, in more conspicuous places, stand monuments to men mounted on horses, wearing stern faces and clad in arms. But the small monument to these benefactors of mankind is nobler because it lifts the mind from a world of toil and suffering to a heavenly realm of mercy, healing and compassion.

To what extent Columbus was a good man who brought the arts of civilization to the New World, or was instead a ruthless exterminator of aboriginal people, depends on one’s perspective. Each side of the controversy over whether to recognize Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day clings to its opinions with pertinacity and ignores the truths asserted by the other side. What is needed is a complete, impartial and thorough telling of the whole story.

The benefits conferred by the Founding Fathers provide a much clearer picture. One does not need to be a conservative to honor and admire men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Left-wing historians also acknowledge the contributions these men made. Only an ideological extremist views these giants of American history with antipathy and seeks to efface their memory. Those who disregard the contributions of Jefferson, who also was called the Apostle of Democracy and the Man of the People, over his owning slaves fail to recognize his deeply held belief that slavery must end.

One may dispute whether America has been oppressive or, on the contrary, has been a light to mankind. But one thing is clear: whenever zealots, iconoclasts and radicals wielded hammers against statues and stained glass windows, chaos and anarchy were sure to follow. Iconoclasm is the harbinger and handmaid of revolution, as it was on the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York, when an enraged mob toppled a statue of King George III.

A broken and shattered statue of Columbus and the Lincoln Memorial smeared with red graffiti are proof that the actions of those who resort to vandalism are rooted in rancor, enmity and revolutionary fervor. And those who rage against what society holds most dear will surely provoke anger in return, and they will be regarded with deep hostility.

Two and one half centuries of peace have passed since the last armed conflict here in Maine between the tribes and the European colonizers. Terrible injustices occurred, as will always occur in any land man inhabits, man being by nature fallible and prone to error.

But in Maine, we do more than live side-by-side. We are bound together permanently in a moral union for the common good, and that common good is achieved and secured by mutual cooperation. Without the contributions made by both sides, we have no Maine.

So instead of toppling statues, let us put up new monuments — monuments which show neighbors joined in brotherly affection, ready to help — monuments that look with joy to the future instead of dwelling on the bitter resentments of the past.

Let us not open and inflame old wounds. If an aching wound still exists, let us pour on it the soothing water of mercy and reconciliation. Let us go forward in peace, mutual admiration and respect. Then by our actions, Maine will once again be an example to our nation and to the world.

Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.

 



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