By | Philip Santos
Don’t be silly. Smashing a statue will never change the past. What’s done is done; history is history, right? The problem with this sentiment is that which history is history depends on who you ask. If you ask an average citizen why the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on civilians in Japan, their response would probably be: “To win the war.” Turn to someone else and they might say, “It was to send a message – that we will do this to you if we want to.” Those are two versions of an infamous event that are very different from one another, yet both can be true either separately or simultaneously.
Statues memorialize people and events which will always remind us that one thing can have a variety of meanings. How do we reconcile the fact that the Founding Fathers are seen primarily as the harbingers of democracy by some, yet are simultaneously documented as perpetrators of genocide? I’m just a simpleton student working on my undergrad, but I think I have an idea: find a way to tell the truth. While truth is complicated, that is no justification for promoting a lie. And most statues are liars. A statue is lying when it’s preserved in a way which forwards a fraction of its historic context. Most statues meet this criteria. So how do we get a statue to tell the truth? We supplement the story by bolstering one-sided narratives with previously erased histories. Where there is a statue of George Washington, let it be known that he was also known as “town destroyer” by the Iroquois Confederacy. Where there is a statue of William McKinley, let it be known that he authorized the annexation of Hawaii, and Guam, and Samoa, and Puerto Rico.
When we take the time to understand that history is complex, it becomes easier to understand the same is true of us. We are complex, more than simple terms like “racist” or “liberal.” Statues are no different, but unlike us they cannot speak for themselves, which is why we need to take the rest of history and stick it to the statue.