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11/15/17 at 05:10 AM 0 Comments

Where Should We Draw The Line On Monuments To The Past?

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The resurgence of white supremacy in the United States is never more apparent than in the Charlottesville protest rally where a clash between the far right and the anti-fascists left one counter-protester dead and 19 others injured. The incident spurred officials of cities and towns across the country to consider removing Confederate statues and memorials erected in their domain.

Days after that violent rally, Baltimore took down four Confederate statues overnight without fanfare. Mayor Catherine Pugh cited her responsibility to protect the people of Baltimore and spare them from the pain of seeing constant reminders of persecution.

Elsewhere, similar actions were taken. The University of Texas in Austin moved four Confederate statues on its campus. In Durham, NC, anti-racist protesters did not wait for the decision of their local officials and took down a statue of a Confederate soldier, in defiance of a state law. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that a committee will review monuments on public property and remove all “symbols of hate.”
But, as government and school authorities attempt to maintain peace and solidarity in their communities, President Trump continues to promote racism with his reckless and inappropriate remarks after the Charlottesville rally. Democrats and his fellow Republicans criticized his response to the violent clash. Senators John McCain (R-AZ,) Lindsey Graham (R-SC,) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) denounced his statements, and made clear that there is no moral equivalence between the white nationalists and Americans against hate and bigotry.
The dispute on removing confederate statues in public places in the US is locked in impassioned arguments. Proponents for its removal claim that the display of these statues commemorate the institution of slavery and promote white supremacy. Confederate apologists argue that the statues are part of American history and heritage, and deserve to be memorialized.
As the national debate continues, some professors defend the presence of the monuments. Michele Bogart, professor of Stony Brook University in New York, says, “These are works of public art with complex and specific histories.” Alfred Brophy, a legal scholar, claims that removing the statues would “quite literally erase an unsavory but important part of our nation’s history.”

Removing statues, not erasing history

It should be pointed out, however, that the unpleasant part of the country’s history is not being erased with the removal of these memorials, nor is its art destroyed. The statues can be moved to locations that minimize their visibility, as what many have done.
These monuments are simply artifacts that signify hatred and injustice. And through several decades, they have become the symbol for white supremacy. Nowhere is this more evident than in Charlottesville, when the planned removal of Lee’s statue triggered the outrage of the far right, to the extent that one man rammed his car into the crowd of counter-protesters.
The general populace do not deserve to be tormented by the public display of these monuments, whose mere presence is a disrespect to their sensibilities. These monuments only serve to embolden rabid racists and neo-Nazis and trigger violence, destroying the values that the United States stands for, which are equality, liberty, diversity and unity.

While one set of controversial statues are being taken down, others are being raised across the US

A similar movement has been troubling communities and cities in the US, but here instead of taking statues down some groups want to put them up, and as with the confederate statues a fierce debate has emerged.
On June 30, a small group of activists succeeded in their efforts to erect a “Comfort Women” statue at Blackburn ll Park in the city of Brookhaven in Georgia. This after their first location, a museum in Atlanta, revoked its permit, and 12 other cities they had previously asked, refused. Controversy and opposition hounded the planned installation of the statue but the city council approved it through the efforts of Councilman John Park.
The bronze figure, officially called ‘Young Girl’s Statue for Peace’, was put up to raise awareness regarding the sex slavery of Korean & Chinese women under the Japanese army during World War ll. Part of the inscription that accompanies it reads, “We will never forget. We will teach the truth.”
In Seoul, the world’s longest running protest takes place every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy. For the past 25 years, advocates of the comfort women issue gather to demand compensation for these women and an apology from Japan. But even though the comfort women issue has been a diplomatic hot topic between Japan and other nations such as China and South Korea since the early 90’s no statues were raised until 2011 and they have only started appearing in the US in the last few years.

Just this month a new comfort women statue has been raised in San Francisco, making it the first major US city to have this memorial. It joins other places across the country that already have them, in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia and Glendale in California. The move was spearheaded by retired judges Julie Tang and Lillian Sing, both Chinese Americans. China, like South Korea, suffered from Japan’s invasion and atrocities during WW2. The history of their past has strained relations between the two countries. However, San Francisco has a large Japanese-American community making the issue especially sensitive and some people feel that it will unfairly strains relations between communities while others have likened the situation to the Confederates statue debate. The Japanese consul general in San Francisco has said that the statue was “destined to be yet another addition to the existing quagmire surrounding 'controversial statues.’”

Are these statues causing rifts between communities?

San Francisco's sister city Osaka has been dismayed over the raising of the statue and the mayor, Hirofumi Yoshimura has decried it as ‘Japan-bashing’ and has threatened to severe the sister-city ties . The Japanese government are also unhappy and alarmed at how quickly these statues seem to be spreading across the US with the number now at 10. Japan has admitted to its atrocities and repeatedly apologized, yet some nations and governments such as South Korea do not seem to want to let go of the issue. The 1965 Treaty between Japan and the Republic of Korea included compensation from Tokyo in the amount of a $300 million grant, a $200 million loan, and another $300 million loan for private trust.

Is is fair for current generations of Japanese and particularly US-Japanese citizens to have to be reminded of what happened in the past? How can both parties move forward if the aggrieved refuses to forget and keeps drawing international attention to WWll events that have been resolved?
Can it not be seen as paradoxical that while Americans want Confederate statues removed to achieve unity among its citizens, others want to keep on building comfort women statues all over the US causing embarrassment and humiliation for some citizens? Many people feel that these Comfort Women groups are propagating revenge and not remembrance at the expense of Japanese communities.
Confederate memorials and comfort women monuments, harken back to times that people want to leave in the past and if we are happy to remove one set of statues then we should be having a conversation about whether we should really be raising new ones.

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