Modern Iconoclasts draw bead on ever-growing list of targets

The trend of modern iconoclasm seems to be gaining steam, fueled by the complicit support of a mainstream media that either overtly or covertly agrees with the message being sent by those vandalizing monuments across the US and a lack of consequence for those behind the acts.

Most recently, a bronze statue of Catholic Saint Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, was not only splashed with red paint but decapitated, and a statue celebrating Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, was splashed with red paint and the words “racist anthem” scrawled across it.

Besides numerous Confederate statues that have been vandalized and even pulled down, other monuments that have been attacked include those honoring Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, the New England Holocaust Memorial and a peace monument in Atlanta have been damaged.

Such actions have taken place across the nation, from Washington state to Florida, New York to Arizona. And they are happening with increasing frequency, particularly when weak-kneed officials such as those at Duke University give criminals what they want and remove the statues after they’ve been vandalized.

Talk about an incentive to continue with extralegal measures.

And it won’t be long before statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and others deemed “politically incorrect” will get similar treatment.

The recent spate of illiberal behavior reminds one of Iconoclasm – the impulse to break or destroy images for religious or political reasons – that spasmodically wracked Christianity during the Middle Ages and Reformation.

Statue of Francis Scott Key, vandalized earlier this week in Baltimore.

Iconoclasm reared its ugly head in Byzantine Greece between 726–87 and 815–43 as a theological debate involving both the Byzantine church and state. In a lesson on the need for separation of church and state, imperial legislation by the Byzantine state barred the production and use of figural images.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in certain regions of Byzantium, including Constantinople and Nicaea, existing icons were destroyed or plastered over. Very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period, according to Sarah Brooks of James Madison University.

During the Protestant Reformation, a period not especially noted for open-mindedness, statues and images were destroyed in countries across Europe.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zurich, Copenhagen, Munich, Geneva, Augsburg, Scotland, Rouen and La Rochelle in the 16th century, ostensibly in accordance with biblical prohibitions against graven images but no doubt as a means of furthering anti-Catholicism.

In 1549, radical Protestant preachers in London incited a mob to destroy many of the interior decorations in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. In addition, monasteries were sacked in different locales, as well.

And then there was the French Revolution, in which a wide variety of monuments, religious works and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Ancien Régime.

Consider the priceless objets d’art destroyed by intolerance over the millennia. What a tremendous loss to our cultural, religious and spiritual histories.

Confederate statues were the starting point in this most recent spate of Iconoclasm, and the media, that great bastion of the First Amendment, has covered the attacks while ignoring the fact that those who mete out such violence aren’t likely to stop as this cultural inquisition continues to grow and generate increasing attention.

We live in odd times when individuals who one may very generously label as well-intentioned can’t smell their own hypocrisy. Insisting you’re part of a civil rights movement while trampling at least half of such known rights would seem to invite a primer on said liberties. Mob rule is generally frowned upon when it comes to discussing civil rights, at least where I come from.

That which may be considered – logically or not – painful historical facts are not de facto grounds for unilaterally squelching the freedoms of others.

(Top: Destruction of religion icons in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1524.)

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New book ponders long-lasting effects of Reconstruction

If social media has a redeeming quality, it may be the ability to learn the unvarnished truth regarding the true feelings of others.

Within the past month I’ve come across numerous comments in the middle of Facebook conversations that were startlingly narrow-minded, yet because they singled out a group deemed OK to bash, no one uttered a peep.

The first came in early July, amid debates concerning the South’s ongoing educational deficiencies, specifically the overall low ranking many Southern states register on nationalized tests. Within a short time, the cause was identified solely as “Jim Crow.” Finally, one individual, located in the Northeast, stated bluntly, “I hate Southern white males.”

A second conversation dealt with the threat of radical Islam within the US. One individual countered that he had been to Islamic countries and that the Deep South, for example, was “way scarier” than Indonesia “in his experience.”

This individual lives on the West Coast, so it’s difficult to determine whether he’s ever set foot in the “Deep South.” I also understand that as a relatively tall, fit white guy, I may have an easier time than a black man or woman in the South. Still many blacks I speak with in the South – but by no means all – say that while issues certainly remain related to racism, they’re not specific to the South.

But unfortunately many of the South’s biggest detractors appear to have little to no actual experience with the South of today. It is certainly not perfect, but it’s vastly different from what it was 50 years ago, and it is a far friendly place, at least in my own experience, than New England, New York, much of the West Coast and the major Midwestern cities.

Still, the image persists, at least if one goes by the New York Times, Slate or other Northeastern-centric media outlets, that whites in the South are largely bigots, rural regions are populated almost exclusively by extras from Deliverance and blacks and other minorities live in constant fear, with some whites eagerly awaiting the return of “Judge Lynch.”

My experience has been largely the opposite: Whether on the West Coast, or the East Coast north of Richmond, no one will so much look at you when you pass them on the street, never mind say hello. Down South it’s unusual if you don’t wave when passing someone on a country road, whether you know them or not.

I can’t imagine standing to cross a street with someone in a Southern town and not saying hello and asking how they were doing, or vice versa. And anyone who knows me will tell you I am an introvert’s introvert.

While I may be a hermit in the making, my mother didn’t raise me to be rude. When I talk with strangers it’s not out of simple duty; I do have a genuine wish that their day goes well.

So why does a significant percentage of those outside the South feel white males in Dixie are a bunch of ignorant knuckle-draggers who keep white sheets and hoods in our closets?

A recently released book by Philip Leigh called Southern Reconstruction concludes that no small part of the problem is the result of Reconstruction, the period following the War Between the States.

However, Leigh doesn’t limit the term “reconstruction” to the 1865-1877 period that is generally used to designate the post-war era but expands it to include the decades afterward, when the former Confederate states lagged far behind most of the rest of the nation, stricken with higher rates of poverty, lower lifespans, poorer diets and reduced access to health care.

Leigh’s superb work points out that many of today’s mainstream historians focus solely on white racism in the South as the reason for Reconstruction’s failure, and that Reconstruction’s failure greatly aided the spread of white Southern racism.

Yet, as progressives like to point out, hate is a learned behavior. In other words, the racism that blacks experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow didn’t materialize out of nowhere – and it was different from that which existed during slavery. There was a root cause, and like many root causes, it was financial.

“The harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood, with poverty being among the most devastating,” Leigh writes.

Stereotypes play a role in how we see Reconstruction today: “Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940, whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers,” Leigh writes. “According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers ‘living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.’”

Unfortunately, post-Civil War Republicans were more interested in holding and building on political gains than actual advocating for black civil rights.

Even though blacks represented less than 2 percent of the population in the Northern states, compared to 40 percent in the Confederate states, most white Northerners wanted blacks concentrated in the South. Some white Northerners were concerned with increased competition for jobs if freed slaves moved North, while others likely were motivated by a dislike for people different from themselves, much as they disliked foreigners just off the boat from Europe or Asia.

Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, thought emancipation would motivate Northern blacks to move to the South. In 1862, when blacks comprised less than 1 percent of the Illinois population, the state’s soldiers voted 3 to 1 to deny the blacks the right to vote, and Massachusetts and Illinois each refused to resettle contrabands (slaves behind Union lines) in their states during the war, according to Leigh.

Reconstruction was probably doomed to failure given the corruption that took place immediately following the war. Budgets in Southern states mushroomed, even if residents rarely got anywhere near their money’s worth as politicos, some Northerners who’d moved South after the war and others opportunists from the region, lined their pockets in many states.

Once the states were “redeemed,” a term which meant that Democrats effectively ousted Republicans for control, often by dubious means, the first goal of the new administration was to reduce the cost of operating state government, Leigh said, adding that segregation and disfranchisement of blacks didn’t begin to pick up steam until Populists were elected in the 1890s.

Leigh writes that white Southerners resented the financial burden associated with educating ex-slaves. Given that abolition was a national policy, many felt that the federal government should at least partly assist with the effort. Southern states were already poor to begin with and ultimately slashed education spending for both races.

There was certainly unequal treatment before the law and a general animus toward blacks in the South, particularly in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But Leigh argues that efforts to raise the South were hindered by the economic serfdom it was held in by northeastern economic interests.

He cites as an example the artificially high costs imposed on Southern steel by Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie, who created the U.S. Steel monopoly, recognized that the South, specifically the steel industry around the Birmingham, Ala., area, represented the biggest threat to his Pennsylvania operation.

By 1895, he had bought up the major Southern steel mills and imposed discriminatory pricing on Southern production.

“Thereafter,” Leigh writes, “steel from the company’s Alabama’s mills included an incremental markup … of $3 per ton over the Pittsburgh quote.” In addition, “buyers of Birmingham steel were required to pay freight from Birmingham plus a phantom charge as if the shipments originated in Pittsburgh.”

By the time the Federal Trade Commission got around to investigating the matter, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, it was discovered that Birmingham’s steel costs were the lowest in the country and 26 percent below those of Pittsburgh.

For 80 years, the South suffered from burdensome tariffs and monopolistic rate charges, costs that kept wages down, stymied progress and contributed greatly to the poverty that helped create dissention between races.

But Reconstruction and the decades that followed it remain little understood among much of the population. In secondary schools, if it’s taught at all, it’s narrowly defined as a period when Southern whites sought to not only disfranchise blacks, but essentially place them back in the fetters of slavery.

White Southerners weren’t blameless but there was plenty of criticism to be leveled at others, as well.

As our nation currently tangles with the ghosts of the past, perhaps we would do well to seek out the reasons why the South has struggled economically and educationally for much of the past 150 years.

The reason, as Phil Leigh demonstrates clearly in Southern Reconstruction, isn’t simply that Southern whites didn’t like Southern blacks. History is rarely that evident.

(Top: Sharecroppers pick cotton in Arkansas in 1938.)

School board strikes a blow for the timid and fainthearted

Among memorable lines from the 1985 classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is one in which protagonist Pee-wee Herman tells admiring love interest Dottie that he doesn’t need anyone: “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

Were that movie made today, it would seem likely that last word would have to be substituted, most likely with something bland and insipid, such as “nonconforming dissenter” or “quirky eccentric.”

The word rebel scares people.

Consider that the South Burlington (Vt.) School Board recently voted to drop the “Rebel” name at South Burlington High School for the coming school year. For more than 55 years South Burlington High School has used “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before. In its early years, the school had an old-style Confederate colonel mascot, but that was dropped decades ago.

Superintendent David Young told the school board in February that it had become “crystal clear” to him that the nickname “is interfering with all students’ ability to feel safe and included in our schools.”

No details were provided on how a word – one associated with individuals such as George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi – was “interfering with all students’ ability to feel safe and included … ”

According to an Associated Press story, the move to change the name came about because of a gradual shift in the largely white school, whose population is now nearly 20 percent nonwhite, said South Burlington High School Interim Principal Patrick Phillips. He said the nickname has created discomfort for some students.

I’m not aware of the racial makeup of South Burlington High, but according to the 2010 census, South Burlington itself was 90 percent white, 5.4 percent Asian, 1.9 black, 1.9 percent Hispanic. Two percent were classified as two or more races, and Native Americans, Pacific Islander and “other races” made up one-half of one percent or less of the town’s population.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that a significant percentage of non-white students haven’t moved into the school in recent years.

However, it seems somewhat condescending to assume that non-whites are automatically offended by the word “rebel.”

There had been a push to allow the community to vote on the mascot issue, but that was rejected by the school board.

South Burlington resident Sandy Dooley was among those opposed to a public vote.

“I think that every student, every child who participates in our education programs here in South Burlington has a right to be in an environment that in every respect supports his or her opportunity to take full advantage of what we’re offering here. And I think there’s ample evidence that the ‘Rebel’ identifier interferes with that,” she told the Associated Press.

Again, no evidence was provided on how the “rebel identifier” interferes with participation in education programs.

South Burlington students will vote today on three names to replace “rebels”: Huskies, Pride and Wolves. Inspiring. Jellyfish would seem more fitting, although it seems unfair to punish students for the sins of their lily-livered fathers, mothers and administrators.

No word on when the South Burlington School Board will take aim at striking Ethan Allen from its textbooks. After all, Vermont was founded by Allen and other “rebels” who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York.”

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

Others who could be in the South Burlington School Board’s crosshairs include the Founding Fathers, most certainly considered “rebels” by Great Britain; Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led a rebellion against colonial powers and helped Haiti to freedom in the early 19th century; Martin Luther, who rebelled against the Roman Catholic church and helped usher in the Protestant Reformation; Nelson Mandela, famed anti-apartheid activist; most any of the American Civil Rights leaders, who were considered rebels by Jim Crow advocates; and religious figures such as Moses, Jesus Christ and Muhammad.

The man who fought Indians, Mexicans, Yankees and himself

bragg

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of one of the Confederacy’s greatest foes: General Braxton Bragg. Unfortunate for the Southern cause was the fact that Bragg wore Confederate gray.

Bragg, born March 22, 1817, in North Carolina, was a key Southern commander in the Western Theater and later an important military advisor to the Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Although West Point-educated and active in the Seminole and Mexican-American wars, Bragg proved indecisive, ineffective and querulous as a Confederate general, earning the disdain of subordinates and superiors alike.

Bragg feuded with most everyone he came into contact with except Davis, and even Bragg and Davis were said to have squabbled mightily in the years before the war.

In fact, as Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant recalled in his memoirs, during Bragg’s time fighting Indians on the frontier in the 1850s the latter even managed to get into a major league rhubarb with … himself.

Grant related an experience that occurred when Bragg had been both company commander as well as company quartermaster, the officer in charge of approving the disbursement of provisions, according to Civil War Trust.

As company commander he made a request upon the company quartermaster – himself – for something he wanted. As quartermaster he denied the request and gave an official reason for doing so in writing. As company commander he argued back that he was justly entitled to what he requested. As quartermaster he stubbornly continued to persist in denying himself what he needed. Bragg requested the intervention of the post commander (perhaps to diffuse the impasse before it came to blows). His commander was incredulous and he declared, ‘My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself.’

Bragg’s obsession with military propriety would seem to have bordered on the maniacal. During the Mexican-American War, for example, while Bragg and his men were enduring a murderous artillery barrage at Monterrey, Bragg saw an American horse driver fall dead from his saddle.

Bragg ordered his retreating men to halt, and in the middle of the onslaught ordered one of the other horsemen to dismount, turn around and recover the dead man’s sword because it was public property, issued by the government.

The horseman also took from the corpse a pocket knife, fearing that if he didn’t Bragg would send him back for it.

It would seem likely that Bragg suffered from one or more mental disorders that 150 years ago were simply chalked up to being cantankerous and thin-skinned. Whatever the true diagnosis, he was a poor choice to lead men into battle.

Civil War survivors: ‘Old Ned’ and ‘Old Jim’

civil war horse

More than 3 million horses and mules were pressed into service during the American Civil War, with an estimated 50 percent – 1.5 million – being killed, wounded or dying of disease during the conflict.

The last surviving horse to have served in the war appears to have been an equine named “Old Ned,” a horse owned by Benjamin Franklin Crawford, a quartermaster sergeant in Company C of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The Pennsylvania State University Libraries in University Park, Pa., contains in its records an account of the capture of Old Ned from Confederate troops and the horse’s subsequent participation in Civil War ceremonies throughout the remaining decades of the 19th century.

Old Ned, which died in 1898 at the purported age of 43, was captured by Crawford after he had lost his mount during a battle in Virginia.

After the war Crawford and Old Ned returned to the latter’s home in Pennsylvania driving a sulky. Crawford later served as a conductor on several western railroads.

The last surviving Confederate war horse was said to have been a steed named “Old Jim.”

Old Jim was said to have been the property of one Lieutenant McMahon from Sevierville, Tenn., a member of Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry. As Wheeler’s men moved into central South Carolina in early 1865, trying to hold back the forces of William T. Sherman, McMahon was mortally wounded during the Feb. 12, 1865, battle and Old Jim was shot in the neck.

The horse is said to have wandered onto the plantation of John Williams, who lived in the Aiken area, according to information on file at the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, which also contains a photograph of Old Jim taken in 1880, along with a braided piece of his tail.

By 1894, Old Jim had gained a measure of fame as the last surviving Confederate war horse.

Continue reading

In Vermont, a solution goes in search of a problem

south burlington scoreboard

In a nation of perpetually aggrieved there is diminishing room for reason.

Consider the “controversy” taking place in South Burlington, Vt.

For more than 50 years the South Burlington High School has used the “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before.

However, now there is a movement to do away with the moniker because “rebel” is said to be associated with the racist policies of the Confederacy, a former teacher at the school told the Burlington Free Press.

“It was unintentional, I’m sure, but it’s still connected to that,” said Bob Walsh, who taught at the school for 18 years. “I think it’s time for us to recognize the fact that this symbol is inappropriate and it’s time to change.”

Walsh’s comments came during an August school board meeting. He was the only member of the public to speak against the school’s nickname.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, board chairwoman, said when she grew up in the area and participated in events against South Burlington High, she never recalled any reference to the Rebels being affiliated with the Confederacy.

Julie Beatty, another school board member and a South Burlington High alum, said she never associated the “Rebels” nickname with the Confederacy during her time as a student, and said she doesn’t think students today associate it with the Confederate States of America.

The board decided to gather more public opinion before making a decision. Young said the topic will be open for public comment at the next board meeting, which will be held tomorrow.

What Walsh and others who advocate a break with the name “Rebels” seem to overlook is that not only did South Burlington split from Burlington, but Vermont itself was established by many individuals who were considered “rebels.”

Vermont was founded by Ethan Allen, Thomas Chittenden and others who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York,” according to historian Christian Fritz.

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

And, of course, rebellion was the dominant theme in the founding of the United States of America, with the Founding Fathers undoubtedly being seen as “rebels” by Great Britain.

(Top: Scoreboard at South Burlington (Vt.) High School, with nickname “Rebels” evident.)

Tolerance includes putting up with things you find disagreeable

graffit

One of the more disheartening aspects of the “tolerance” crowd is that some members are rather intolerant when faced with opinions that differ from their own.

Take Morgan Clendaniel, the editor of the online website Co.Exist, owned by business magazine Fast Company.

While Wikipedia describes Co.Exist’s mission as covering innovation-related topics, the name carries with it the concept of co-existence, which suggests mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests.

Clendaniel would appear to be among those who believe co-existence is great – until a viewpoint they disagree with comes along.

Consider a recent piece by Clendaniel titled “While We’re Doing The Flags, Here Are Some Other Confederate Things We Should Get Rid Of”.

In it, he writes, “… the reach of the Confederacy – and the almost-insane tone-deafness of organizations and politicians who celebrate its history – goes well beyond the flag and hides in other insidious ways throughout the region.”

In a nutshell: Clendaniel really, really, really doesn’t like Jefferson Davis, who served as the president of the Confederate States of America.

Clendaniel begins by taking to task social fraternity Kappa Sigma for having “one – and only one – honorary member: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, racist, and traitor to America.”

Kappa Sigma made the mistake of wishing Davis Happy Birthday in 2013 on its national website. The fraternity was also castigated by Clendaniel for recently welcoming a new member and identifying him as the great-great grandson of the Confederate leader.

The fact is that most anyone born in the 19th century would be considered a racist by 21st century standards. Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, William T. Sherman, etc., ad infinitum. Who knows how our own views will stand up to the test of time?

As for Davis being a traitor, the Founding Fathers would also fall into that category – certainly the British saw them in that light.

Next up on Clendaniel’s hit list is US Senator Thad Cochran. Cochran, who represents Mississippi in Congress, has come out in favor of his state changing its flag to remove the Confederate battle flag in its corner. However, that’s not enough for the Co.Exist editor:

“ … when the senator goes to the U.S. Senate chamber, he sits at a desk that was once used by Jefferson Davis, when Davis was a senator from Mississippi, before he betrayed his country by leading a breakaway republic based on maintaining the institution of slavery,” he writes.

Clendaniel is also irate because Cochran “spearheaded a Senate resolution in 1995 that officially makes Davis’s desk the desk of the senior senator from Mississippi. Thad Cochran made a law that he has to have the desk used by the President of the Confederacy.” Continue reading