Half Past the Month

August 22, 2018

“It is your responsibility to do something, whether you think it’s your responsibility or not.” — A protester shouting into his megaphone as students this week toppled the “Silent Sam” statue at the University of North Carolina

IN AN ICONIC FILM of my youth, “The Graduate,” Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is given a single word of advice from a parental friend — “plastics.”

Today, I’m the one giving career advice, a difficult thing for a journalist, my profession being what it is. Lately, though, I’ve found myself suggesting with some confidence, “statue-toppling.”

You might think that statue-toppling would be an unworthy career. It is too easy, you say, a matter of rounding up liberal-arts majors, handing out some sledge hammers, painting a few signs and heaving ho. You would be wrong.

First, there are legal considerations to be mastered, bail bonds to post, photographers to notify, etc. Please know that although prosecution has been lightened by Obama judicial appointments, trespassing and destroying private property are still technically illegal.

Also, there are the mechanical challenges involved in any demolition, and statues are really heavy things. You must learn to identify leverage points, attach the proper roping, place explosives, all of which will require professional training, perhaps OSHA certification.

All of that said, there is a practically unlimited number of statues in need of toppling, Indeed, given cultural and demographic changes, it is hard to think of any personage honored in statuary who could withstand a rigorous application of one or another set of today’s standards.

Martin Luther King? People are getting “woke” to the fact that Dr. King had a fondness for traditional American values and even an admiration for the founding documents. His celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech was “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream” and linked to “the magnificent words of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.” Disturbing, to say the least.

Abraham Lincoln? It is enough to say that he married Mary Todd, the daughter of a slave-owning family from Kentucky. And was it a coincidence that his Emancipation Proclamation freed only slaves in the Confederate states, not those of his white-supremacy friends in the North? Umm, not likely.

In my Indiana town, we have the pluperfect example. It is in the person of Gen. Anthony Wayne, who at the Battle of Fallen Timbers assaulted the Indian confederacy, or the “savages” as they were then demeaned. “Mad” Anthony’s victory is credited with opening the West to white expansion. His statue still stands at the center of town. Amazing.

So many statues, one supposes, so little time.

— Craig Ladwig


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