Why Re-Writing American History in DTLA is Wrong
Book burning, statue destruction, sculpture abolishment, art banning and history re-writing are all abominations of knowledge and humanities. It is usually NOT OK to erase or destroy any public monument however unpopular it may become, no matter how untruthful it may appear at any particular moment in time. Statues like the sculpture of Christopher Columbus in Downtown’s Grand Park are there for the historical record as well as artistic expression of the people who created and inaugurated it. Permanent artworks are meant to outlast shifting ideologies and to survive the whims of politics.
Like Europearn explorers, American natives are also ultimately wanderers and settlers descending from ancestors who immigrated from far away places. Like most human groups, American natives have been attacked by many strands of people over many eons, and natives have committed their own atrocities against other native tribes as they have committed their own violence upon western settlers. While it is understandable what Columbus has come to symbolize, it may be a fools game to attempt to re-write history in this way. A response of committing tiny atrocities against art can only detract from humanity. Effective historical records can only be appended, not deleted.
America is built on great acts of great people, but also founded and maintained partly on wrongdoing, and those cannot be deleted from history with the stroke of a pen, nor can they be erased from our conscious with the removal of statues, memorials or monuments. In addition to being injurious to the historical record, removing a statue is an attack on free speech, a smite against art and an assault on freedom of expression. Christopher Columbus, one of the founders of America, likely had a hand in atrocities, but he controlled a very limited number of men. He did not command large armies. But even if we were to agree that Columbus somehow killed 100 million natives, do we really want to erase pieces of art and history? Shouldn’t we teach critical thinking instead? Shouldn’t we teach children to learn from past mistakes?
President Andrew Jackson played a much, much larger role in killing natives. Should we destroy all of his statues? The U.S. Army most certainly and directly slaughtered natives by the thousands. When are we going to remove all statues that commemorate the Army? When are we going to purge and re-name Pershing Square? And then, are we going to vilify and remove native american memorials because some of them massacred other native Americans?
Assigning all responsibility for native american suffering to Christopher Columbus is false and misleading. Burning books, destroying monuments and deleting historical records are all harmful acts that may lead to the worst of history repeating itself. The responsibility of teaching the truth, preserving art and preventing future atrocities belongs to everyone. The statue of Christopher Columbus that was foolishly removed from Downtown today must be placed where it can be seen as the artwork and reminder that it is. It’s short-sided detractors have unwittingly added to its historical significance.