Indeed, wasn’t that the problem in Charlottesville, Virginia?
Another reasoned that because written documentation always precedes statuary, removal of monuments would have “no impact on our understanding of the historical failings of those individuals.” Other letters offered less restrained and, frankly, less disciplined commentary.
One author submitted that the editorial “perpetuate[d] racist white supremacy.” Two more branded it simply as “white privilege at its height” and as a “racist screed.” Another found the article in support of “unethical science” and to inform But more importantly for my purposes here, many writers contributed thoughts on the Sims monument itself that reveal quite plainly our human tendencies to interpret the inherent ambiguity of statues—indeed iconography and other symbolic expressions more generally—consistent with our fears, personal agendas, or ideological mindsets.
Both duly and thoroughly reproved, ’s editors quickly apologized and revised their article, including its title, to comply with reader objections (Campbell 2017; The Editors 2017).
But glaring similarities between the Sims controversy and more widely publicized events involving statues of Confederate generals, for example (at least one of which resulted in meaningless violence), have attracted the attention of the general media as well.
The piece also recommended the installation of additional iconography to “describe the unethical behavior and pay respect to the victims of the experimentation.” Given then-recent events in the ever-emotionally explosive and divisive world of American popular culture especially, vigorous dissent was inevitable.
A flurry of indignant letters descended on ’s editors.Pointing to the New Orleans statue of Franklin Roosevelt, which, to this point, remains free of public derision and vandalism, Benner reminded us of Executive Order 9066, by which FDR displaced 110,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps, without due process, in “one of the saddest and most tyrannical forms of executive overreach in American History.” Should the FDR monument (indeed, the dime) be purged according to the same reasoning offered by ’s revised editorial and those who oppose the Sims statue? By Benner’s lights, the removal of cultural iconography would “simply make it harder for individuals to learn from the past.” But, again, as the many dissenter’s to ’s original editorial observed, the purpose of statuary is not to inform. By such a standard, would iconography depicting any of the American founders survive? And let’s be completely candid here: nor is it to “honor” the dead and insensible subjects of such iconography who no longer hold a stake in that or any other outcome. In other words, they would display more monuments of more humans, no doubt all with potentially hideous skeletons lurking in their so far sealed closets, likely to be scrutinized and challenged by any conceivable number of equally fault- and agenda-ridden human interpreters to come.In the rush to colonize others’ minds, or perhaps to cast painful blows against cross-cultural enemies, has anyone actually taken the time and effort to think this through?You cannot have the intellect to contribute to the science of your own healthcare” (Green 2017).