Home WritersChronicle The fall of statues epidemic

The fall of statues epidemic

Ferreira Fernandes*

If the winners are the ones who write the history, calculate what happens to the statues! These being songs of glory in stone, how can they represent those who lose? The secessionist generals lost the American Civil War (1861-1865), by what title did they, losers, want to be remembered on public pedestals and mounted on horseback?

Southern generals are being dismounted from the statues, not because their military leader, General Robert E. Lee, like most of his comrades, was a slave. Yes, he had a plantation in Virginia with slaves and whipped his blacks who were trying to escape to the north. But what will lead Lee, now, to end up hiding in a warehouse, is not a popular reassessment, it was that he was forced to surrender in April 1865. He then lost real power; and only now has the symbolic come in drag.

It took a little over a century and a half to recognize that Lee and the other southern generals did not deserve to be set up in gardens and give names to military bases, in short, to be a matter of admiration. What actually led to the falls of the statues was the old surrender. History moves through power relations.

And that is why these, both in the act of erecting them and in their overthrow, should be left preferentially more to the states than to the crowds

Another subject is Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who also owned slave plantations but are still carved on Mount Rushmore, stamped on dollar bills and filling American geography, naming dozens of locations, the country’s capital and even to a state. They were not denied, nor is, symbolic representation. Jefferson and Washington never ceased to be the founding fathers of the homeland, nor did they lose power. And thankfully, because we need them.

Southern General Robert Lee was a reasonable strategist and will continue to be studied at the West Point Military Academy, but only there and by experts. He no longer deserved a public statue and the public did not lose much in information and training: the historical character Lee did not have them to give. Fate, therefore, wrote well and in straight lines when punishing that slave with oblivion.

In the cases of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, however, there are already good reasons for not being overlooked. They founded a republican, secular, progressive and democratic state, even though it was born with evils as great as slavery, of which, incidentally, neither was innocent. And it would be a shame for these two founding fathers of the USA to lose the statues (and more and more) that continue to glorify them. A pity for us, that we would be most punished with this loss. Symbols attract attraction, exert influence, expose, and without them we would be less encouraged to learn how history can evolve and is never linear. And that evolving it even creates conditions to destroy evils as great as slavery.

That is to say, Washington and Jefferson, although slave owners, unleashed the course of history that led, decades later, among other achievements, to the fundamental step of the overthrow of slavery in America. History is always ambiguous, contradictory, in short, it is made by men.

It can also be said that it is strange. As an example, I remember General Stand Watie, who was Robert Lee’s subordinate and comrade-in-arms. This, as already said, surrendered in April 1865, which announced the end of the Slavery Confederation. But Lee did not proclaim the definitive surrender, the last southern general to surrender was Stand Watie, in June 1865. He, who was a Cherokee Indian chief, surrendered with his battalion, made up of Indians of various tribes and also by black people.

That is why the more we know about history the more we relativize the statues. And that is why these, both in the act of erecting them and in their overthrow, should be left preferentially more to the states than to the crowds. Not that it is more just like that, but at least it does not give illusion of power to those who do not have it.


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