A Few Thoughts on the Removal of Monuments

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the removal of monuments.

Because I’ve engaged in quite a bit of pointed banter about this topic, I’ll admit something that might be a bit shocking to my friends. I do carry some fear about how deconstruction of America’s symbols might eventually snowball.

What kind of fears cross my mind? Here’s a partial list.

-“I’m okay with removing the worst statues. But where does removal stop? Are we going to take down every statue of every person who has done anything wrong? So, dogs then. We can keep all the statues of dogs.”

-“If we aren’t going to remove all the statues, which wrongs are going to be ‘bad enough’ to justify removal? Who makes that call? Who gets the power of deciding the reigning ethical standard for our nation?”

-“If we take away Confederate generals, are we going to take Jefferson away next? He owned slaves. Abe Lincoln also said some pretty bad stuff. Are we going to remove his monument? Is England going to take away everything Churchill because of the genocide in Bengal? Are we going to erase all of the symbols that have made us who we are?”

-“Is this the beginning of a Marxist takeover? There’s so much chaos. There’s so much anger. All this disruption fits into the Engels/Marx plan for dismantling a country—is the removal of our monuments just one more step in that process?”

-“So, let’s say we remove the monuments. Then what about other images that threaten people? Are we going to take down every cross and every posting of the Ten Commandments?”

-“What if a church building offends someone because of mistakes Christians made during the Crusades a thousand years ago? Are we going to knock down every place of worship?”

My left-leaning friends are probably laughing at a few of these latter fears. “Oh, come ON, Rebecca! That would NEVER happen in America.”

Yeah, I hope not. But when I look at the ferocity of anti-American frustration seething in our nation, and when I consider how hostile forces might hijack the legitimate furies we feel, I’m truly not sure where it could lead. I mean, I’m the sort of person who uses a meat thermometer when cooking hot dogs, and I carry a tiny magnifying glass everywhere I go—just in case I need to survive by starting a fire. Don’t tell me what probably isn’t going to happen.

I see why people are concerned about this movement. Simultaneously, I am frustrated with Uber-right wing voices manipulating good people by fear—convincing them that every potential move of ethics or compassion is a “threat of losing this country.”

We’re losing basic humanity as a direct result of our fear. Last week, an old man (who disagrees with my ideology) was shoved to the ground by police, hitting his head on the concrete and sustaining brain damage. How does the man with the most power in the entire world handle this? He accuses the old guy of being an Antifa agent—based on gossip.

Hippie? Maybe. Liberal? Maybe. Antifa? Shame on Trump for that. Shame. Shame Shame. And shame on Christians for allowing wicked and terrible leaders to call that sort of language “conservative.” There’s nothing conservative about slander—in fact, it’s the posture of hell.

Well, this post is off to a great start.

Now that I’ve managed to make my friends on the left think I’m paranoid while infuriating every Trump fan who is still reading my blog—let’s continue.

So—what to do about the monuments? What can we possibly do that will both (1) acknowledge the potential future dangers of deconstruction but also (2) stop the harm that is already spreading as the worst monuments remain? Because here’s the kicker—to deny that certain monuments are still causing harm is naive.

Imagine being an 11-year-old black boy on a school field trip, forced to keep quiet and be respectful while looking up at a statue of a man who helped enslave his ancestors. That child’s great-great-great-great grandparents were raped and beaten because of that man. His family was ripped apart because of him. Now his teacher tells him to stop wiggling and “honor your forefathers.” That’s wrong.

Imagine walking through a park every day as a 13-year-old black girl, seeing a Confederate general who risked his life to fight in a war ensuring that your great-great-great-great grandmother could remain someone’s sex slave. When this grandmother got pregnant, her young daughter would be torn from her and sold at five years old—never to be seen again.

The girl hears a tour guide explaining to a small crowd that this man was a good man, a godly man, a man with a deep walk of faith. “So,” the girl thinks, “God was on the abuser’s side as he treated MY family, MY people, MY race with brutality. The harm he did MY ancestors just doesn’t matter as much as the good things he did for the white people who really count in America.”

Imagine a world in which random old women at the grocery call you the n-word, and where people who own stores suspect you of shoplifting, and where young couples change sides of the road when you walk by because they assume you’re going to hurt them.

Imagine hearing car doors lock when you walk by them. Imagine facing surprise when you are “articulate.” Imagine a whole life lived in which so much tells you that you aren’t able, aren’t welcome, aren’t trusted. You live this life while walking through a world in which public lands (that you also own as a citizen) and public monuments (that you also own as a citizen) constantly remind you that so many of the same sources of power that dominated your ancestors still hold that power in the world today.

So, no matter how nostalgic we white folks feel about that old stone dude on the horse—there is a real and active impact on the black community when we keep certain figures on platforms in the public square.

“But we cannot erase history,” you say. Let’s think about that a moment. Erasing history would truly be a serious danger—if the facts were being undermined or smeared. However, many of our monuments “erased history” when they were erected. They didn’t tell the whole truth from day one. Instead, they were formed in ways that conveyed only the strengths of a historical figure. They didn’t show his sins and brokenness alongside of his honor.

Unilateral mystique was created around men who offered both huge victories for liberty and also destroyed liberty. And because most white people like the idea of heroic white forefathers, we’ve let a lot of that truth slide for an awfully long time.

Several years ago, a well-known “Christian” video series was sold to masses of evangelicals, warning white people that their history was being destroyed. A fake historian created this series, using information that has been discredited over and over again. Still, he succeeded in convincing many evangelicals that America’s white heroes were every bit as godly and noble as we had always hoped—and that anyone who said otherwise was a lying enemy of our land.

He was wrong, though. Not only was he historically inaccurate, he was also supporting a mythos that doesn’t jibe with what the Bible tells us about human nature. The Bible shows over and again that all human heroes are broken men. Fallen men. Some did some good things. Many did wrong alongside of that good. And while we see chapters like Hebrews 11, praising men and women of faith, those verses fall within a greater theological context showing just how capable they were of goofing things up.

The Bible rounds out the honor of its heroes with good-old-fashioned honesty. America hasn’t done a great job of this, as a whole.

I wonder sometimes what our statues might have looked like if we had applied the principles of democracy to our art instead of simply adopting the established aesthetic of monarchies.

So many of our early monuments were modeled on other monuments of Greece, Rome, and England. We wanted that loftiness and culture—but alongside elegance, we also caught the “look” of kingship.

Brainstorm with me. What if we had instead created statues that represented the humble ideals of a democratic republic? What if we had created statues that looked like humans instead of sovereigns and gods? What if we had never stretched the truth? What if we had never built a nation on exaggeration?

This post is too long, and you’re going to complain. So, I’m not going to unpack the billion other thoughts I have on the matter here. But quickly, I’m going to suggest three steps of action that I wish “the powers that be” would consider.

1. Don’t depend on statues to do what reading must. Most Americans don’t know the difference between Marxism, Socialism, Fascism, and our own Constitution.

A ton of people complaining about statue removal didn’t even know these monuments existed in the first place. Daily, I see people forwarding memes that prove we have utterly failed at educating Americans in their own government and its inner workings.

Monuments aren’t going to protect a culture that doesn’t know what the heck it is or how it is supposed to work. Currently, we are so stupid, a full-out Marxist/Fascist/Socialist/you-name-it could slip into our midst pretending to be a patriot, using words and images that “seem” American, while utterly undermining our entire system. We address that risk by deep education—not by fighting over symbols.

2. Let’s develop a reasonable system for monument removal/replacement that asks questions like:

-Is this monument ethically and historically honest? Is it telling the truth about history? -What does this location convey?

-What does this posture convey?

-What does this size/height convey?

-If this person has also done something wretched, is there sufficient acknowledgement here visually to present the dark as well as the light? If not, can elements be added to tell a more truthful story?

– Is there a venue that might hold this monument in a manner more historically accurate than this?

-Is this the sort of person we would want modern children to emulate?

-Do other monuments in this region tell other aspects of the story? Are other heroes with equal credibility treated with equal honor?

3. Let’s stop letting extremists manipulate us.

Let’s all admit that America has external enemies who want to undermine our basic stability. Let’s admit that some of those enemies want to stir us up to chaos and self-destruction. Let’s admit that if we attempt to remove every statue of every person who made a mistake, all our monuments will be gone. Let’s admit that every move of gratitude for a hero is also a move of grace.

But let’s all also admit that some of what we have raised up in honor should be brought down in shame. Let’s realize that not all monuments are created equal—some are darker than others and some are harmful simply because they stand. And let’s love our fellow citizens enough to do unto them as we would want done to ourselves.

Let’s care about them. Let’s get inside of how they are grieving and struggling. Let’s feel the pain they feel when they see lies told 200 years ago told again today.

We have work to do here, and it’s not going to be easy. It’s a mine field in so many ways. But just like American colonists ripped down the Manhattan monument to George III in 1776, we may yet have some “old kings” to dethrone. Let’s get together and figure this out. It’s not all or none. It’s learn. It’s empathize. It’s discuss. It’s walk in love for our fellow man.

Painting: “Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, New York City.” By Johannes Adam Simon Oertel 1852-1853

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.