When heroes go down


columbus 3

Columbus in his sweat box, awaiting shipment to a new world.

I wonder how Christopher Columbus is feeling. He’s locked up in a plywood box on Marconi Plaza until Philly’s illustrious civic leaders figure out what to do with him now that it’s become fashionable for protesters to topple statues of flawed heroes. The July heat in Philly is gruesome, so it must be awful stuffy in there.

“That’s a damn shame,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Now Columbus knows what them Indians felt like when he crammed them into ships and sent them back to Spain to be slaves.”

“Columbus was a creature of his times,” I replied. “In those days, it was okay for ambitious guys to rob and kill for queen and country.”

Swamp Rabbit laughed. “A lot of guys still do them things. But that don’t mean it’s okay for you to defend Columbus.”

I told the rabbit I wasn’t defending Columbus, just trying to make a point about historical revisionism. “I’m torn on this one, rabbit. On the one hand, Columbus was a monster, his own journals tell us this. And the statues of those Confederate traitors have to go, too. They’re monuments to the Jim Crow South. And Frank Rizzo… well, don’t get me started.”

But sometimes revisionism can go too far, I told him. For example, Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner but he also was influenced by Enlightenment thinkers. He was pro-slavery in practice but not in principle. This makes him a world-class hypocrite but it doesn’t negate the good he did in helping invent a government based on the notion that all men and women are created equal.

“You saying Jefferson should get a pass on account of he wrote the Declaration of Independence?”

“Not exactly. I’m saying that Jefferson, despite his terrible flaws, did as much as anybody to make the abolition of slavery in America inevitable.”

Swamp Rabbit rolled his eyes. “He was a racist, Odd Man. His solution to slavery was to give all them slaves a one-way ticket back to Africa.”

“So what should we do about him?” I said, exasperated. “Encase all his statues in plywood and send them to Monticello?”

“Just put a caution note on them, like they do with cigarette boxes,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “‘Believing the hype may be hazardous to your health.‘”

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2 Responses to When heroes go down

  1. scribblegal says:

    We’re on the same track, on the rewriting of history. I’ve detested Columbus since I read his own version of his life, back in undergraduate school. The guy was a monster. But there are historical figures who accomplished good things despite their moral failings, and the harm they ended up doing to minorities.

    Like

  2. oddmanout215 says:

    Across the street from the Columbus statue is a statue of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor who helped develop the technology that made radio transmission possible. The man for whom the plaza is named. He should get a lot more respect and attention than Columbus, a greedy killer who “discovered” America hundreds of years after the Vikings landed here.

    Like

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