Tattoos, and Statues have always been permanent reminders of temporary feelings. A statue however is slightly easier to remove. As a symbol, statues have themselves become a much larger issue. What do we do about our troubling history? How do we judge yesterday’s conduct by today’s standards? What is the purpose and effect of what we include or exclude in the telling of the story of humanity?
A professor of mine, the great historian Gabriel Kolko, taught me that history was perception. Winston Churchill famously said that he was sure that history would treat him kindly because he planned to write it himself. As a general rule, history is written by the winners.
In the United States the issue of statues and symbols, especially relating to the American Civil War, have become a divisive issue. It took until the 21st century for the Confederate flag to be removed from state capitals. Disputes have erupted over the removal of statues of southern Civil War leaders and Generals. These statues and symbols represent the defense of slavery. This was an evil so great that it is understandable that it would be offensive.
There are those who argue that to remove these statues is to deny history. There is no shortage of written materials, records and other reminders of history. There are museums where these statues can join the other mementos of the best and worst humankind.
Statues of the losers and tyrants are symbolically torn down to mark their fall. There are no public statues of Adolf Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, Saddam, Gaddafi, Idi Amin, and a legion of other tyrants and losers in the progress of humanity.
Truth like water find its own level. Statues rise and fall with the march of history and the values and sensitivities of the people who raise and live with them.