Spray Paint, Monuments, and Conversation

In the ongoing protests against public display of confederate symbols on government property [see story here], some individuals have targeted confederate monuments for vandalism.

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The anger is understandable, and the message, even when misspelled [“Mater?” Come on, man. Learn your own language], resonates. But vandalism is not the solution. As a society, we can’t condone this behavior. I fully support the protesters’ right to express their opinions, but that right does not include the right to deface what is not one’s own property.

If any protesters happen to be reading this, I suggest putting your message on signs and putting the signs in front of the monument, not damaging the monument. If you damage it, it will be repaired at taxpayer expense, leaving less money available to spend on education or other worthy causes. If it happens to be on a college campus, it’s repaired at the cost of the school not being able to do something else that is related to educating its students. Better yet, carry the signs yourself as you stand or walk in front of the monument. Vandalizing the monument in the dark is just cowardly, ignorant, and thoughtless.

I get it. I sympathize with the message. I’m also uncomfortable with honoring treason and fighting for slavery on government property, but there is a right way to protest and a wrong way to protest, and some folks have chosen the wrong way. I personally think monuments create a great teaching opportunity and should be used for that instead of being damaged and defaced. The ultimate fate of confederate monuments should be left to the political process, not to a vandal with a spray can or other device. I hope they’re used for education, not only about the war but also about the people who built and placed the monuments.

Start the conversation. Persuade with your words. Take the opportunity to teach and to learn for yourself.

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11 comments

  1. Marc Panero · · Reply

    Amen!

  2. Thank you for addressing this issue. I thought I was the only one who disliked vandalism. Even on monuments I abhor.

    There is a plaque of Britain’s King Edward VII – Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather – on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Museum in Vancouver, BC. Year’s ago someone made ‘EVIL’ out of VII.Every time I walked by it I cringed, not because I am a royalist or Canadian, but as an American sad to see such defacing.

    There are other ways to express disappointment. Vandalism in the form of graffiti should not be one of them.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Scott. I agree with you completely on this.

  3. Al, I think that the subtext here is interesting. Not only do “Black Lives Matter”, but “History Matters” as well.

    Like you, I think that acts of vandalism are deplorable. I agree that protesters should use signage to point out the racist backgrounds of many of the people honored in public places. I assume that at least some communities will remove some “Confederate” statuary. Others will install interpretive signs explaining the connections of the statues to Jim Crow and segregation.

    You and I only really interact in the world of online Civil War history. That is a place with a pretty narrow range of opinion on Confederate memory. Now that the broader American public has become involved in the question of Confederate commemoration (and celebration) the opinions being expressed are much broader. When Americans think about the CBF, they are much more harsh in their judgements than you or I would be.

    The Heritagers have done themselves no favors with their antagonism to the criticism of moderate groups like the NAACP. The antics of some Heritagers who describe all people living in Southern states but who are immigrants or Northern born (or non–white) as “outsiders” means that in states like Virginia nearly half the voters have been alienated from their messages.

    I worry that the backlash will lead to declining support for Civil War preservation by elected officials as we can expect to see protests by men dressed as Confederate soldiers marching through the streets of Southern cities carrying an increasingly unpopular flag. To many Americans, that will not only be the face of Heritage, it will also be the face of History.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Pat. As you’re aware, we’re in agreement.

    2. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

      I think Pat hits it here. The heritage crew has brought a lot of this onto themselves by their actions. They’re the ones that insisted in trumpeting lies instead of facts. They shoved their symbols down everyone’s throats for a long time. Many of them help and support racists and are racists themselves. They should not be surprised by the immense backlash against them.

      I dislike the vandalism of the monuments as well, but why are they there? We know that many of them, but certainly not all were placed in an attempt to sway the memory of the past and channel it so that people perceived the confederacy and its cause in an incorrect light. Many were placed deliberately so to remind the local black population who was in charge.

      So I am not at all surprised to see this backlash. I think it will die down, but that CBF is going into the museum or on a bonfire. The heritage crew’s actions will determine which one.

  4. Vandalism is vandalism. I like Al’s suggestion about signage, but I suspect that the sort of folks who do things like this are less interested in a message than in doing the damage.

  5. Last year Kevin Levin published something I wrote about why acting like jerks was likely to result in the toppling of a lot of Confederate icons. These guys don’t realize how perishable their eternal tributes are:

    http://cwmemory.com/2013/09/07/are-the-virginia-flaggers-a-threat-to-confederate-heritage/#comment-123041
    http://cwmemory.com/2013/09/08/are-the-virginia-flaggers-a-threat-to-confederate-heritage-continued/

    1. Great essays Pat. I’ve been thinking more about those essays after the recent turn of event.

  6. […] object, but very weakly so. Cleaning the statues will cost money that could go to other things, as Al Mackey points out. The message would be as well expressed by a sign left at the site, and more durably so by getting […]

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