Sunday, August 20, 2017

Monumental Errors

My favorite public monument is on the east side of Columbus Circle, commemorating the sailors lost in the sinking of the battleship Maine.  It is enormous, and enormously busy, jumbled with classical figures in tragic or heroic postures, dripping with gilt and allegory.  It is an extraordinary representation of American grandiosity and self-satisfaction at the end of the nineteenth century.

The sinking of the Maine, you may recall, was America's excuse for making war on Spain and stealing a bunch of its colonies.  Both the monument and the Spanish-American War came about due to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day.  Spain's defeat left the US nominally in control of the Philippines, which came with several ongoing anti-colonial revolutions.  One of those was the Moro Rebellion, the setting for Our President's racist lie about General Pershing and bullets dipped in pig's blood.  The Moros have been in rebellion against Spain, the United States, Japan, the Philippine government, and anybody else who tried to control them for about four hundred years now, most recently in a loose partnership with ISIS.  They never quit.

New Yorkers rarely even notice the Maine monument, including the Puerto Ricans, the Filipinos, the Cubans, and the occasional transplant from Guam (yes! Guam!) whose peoples suffered the adverse effects of American imperialism.  On the other hand, a plaque honoring Robert E. Lee on a tree in a Brooklyn churchyard will be coming down.  Some memories from the nineteenth century remain distressingly fresh.

I'd have less problem with Confederate monuments if the likes of Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson were portrayed not as heroes, but as the losers they were.  I also have a problem with the numerous Confederate traitors on display in the US Capitol, sponsored by a gaggle of southern states.  The State of New York could sponsor statues of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the Capitol, but I guess New Yorkers don't have the same sense of "heritage."

As for the monument pictured above, sponsors hope to locate a suitable site in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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