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Thursday, August 17, 2017

On the destruction of monuments

President Trump has tweeted "...can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!" I found this statement to be quite interesting. I love history and read a lot of it. So just what do we learn from monuments. They commemorate people or events who represent a cause or culture the community where they reside wish to celebrate. So what do statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson represent? All of them were by definition traitors. They had sworn an oath to the United States: Lee and Jackson at West Point and Davis in Congress and as Secretary of Defense under Franklin Pierce. In seceding they had taken up arms against the country they had sworn allegiance to in order to defend the odious economic system of slavery. 
 
(Anyone who disputes that the Civil War was not about slavery need only read the secession documents of the seceding states where they explicitly state it was about slavery. They didn't believe in states rights, they were angry with northern states who were exercising what they believed to be their moral right not to send slaves back to the south in contravention of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.)  

Traditionally we don't celebrate traitors or governments we despise. I don't remember seeing any monuments to Benedict Arnold with the exception of the Boot Monument near Saratoga and his name is not even mentioned on the monument even though he was one of the seminal and important generals of the Revolutionary War.*

So just as there are no monuments to Hitler in Germany nor any to George Washington in Great Britain, it seems perfectly understandable to me that communities would wish to remove monuments that memorialize the defense of slavery. The individuals the statues represent certainly won't disappear from history any more than Hitler or Stalin have. The justification to tear down a monument to Jefferson Davis is just the same as that of East Germans ripping down statues of Lenin.

 
 

*"On the grounds of the Saratoga National Historic Park in upstate New York, the site of a key battle of the Revolutionary War, there stands a peculiar monument of a leg encased in a boot. Aptly called the Boot Monument, it marks the spot where a leg was shattered by a bullet. The back of the monument is inscribed to the memory of the "most brilliant soldier of the Continental Amy, who was desperately wounded on this spot the sally port of Burgoyne's 'Great (Western) Redoubt' 7th October 1777, winning for his countrymen the Decisive Battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank of Major General, The soldier was Benedict Arnold, but because the tribute is to the leg and not to the man, his name does not appear on the monument. And perhaps that is the way it should be for a brilliant soldier whose renown was quickly eclipsed by an everlasting infamy."   From Warriors Seven: Seven American Commanders, Seven Wars, and the Irony of Battle by  Barney Sneiderman

 

 

 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: November Rain by Donald Harstad

I have read all of Harstad’s books and liked them immensely. (full disclosure: Harstad was the chief deputy sheriff in an Iowa county close by, and I had invited him to speak at the college regarding immigration issues quite a few years ago -- see Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America. He’s a delightful man.) This one I had postponed reading because I shy away from books where the protagonist is transported to a foreign country and immediately seems to know his way around the culture solving crimes right and left. Michael Connelly (I’m a big fan) did this with Bosch in Nine Dragons, which was dreadful. I should not have worried, for Harstad creates a very plausible relationship between New Scotland Yard and the deputy's presence. It all makes sense and Houseman doesn't tear around trampling on the locals or their customs.

Anyway, Carl Houseman is conned by the Sheriff and other locals into traveling to England from Iowa to see what he might be able to find out about the disappearance of Emma Schiller. Thanks to interspersed chapters detailing what is happening to Emma, we know she has been kidnapped, although the precise reason is unclear. Except that after she has been taped with a message, she is to be killed.

I was disappointed to see that Harstad's editors did not do him justice. There are a couple total non-sequitors and errors any competent copy editor would have found. In one case they leave his daughters past midnight only to arrive back at the hotel by 10 pm.

I hope Harstad gets back to writing and returns us to northeastern Iowa.