Looking at Statues From Both Sides

by Paul C. Binotto

© 2019

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There has always been much tyranny seen in the faces of Confederate Statues found most prevalently in the American South; most especially over the last few years has there been calls for their removal. In some cases, they have been toppled without official proclamation or prior notice.

The racial undertones associated with these monuments is easily understood, even as the reason for retaining them is less easily understood, and likely more complicated than the mere desire to perpetuate an air of racial intimidation, and the subtle bestowment of second-class citizenship on minority classes.

Sometimes when seeking to understand the inexplicable, it is helpful to look at the issue from other, almost completely dissimilar circumstances and perspectives. I hope to offer here, based only on the personal experience and speculative impressions of a stranger in a strange land, what will likely be considered little more than a somewhat plausible, possible explanation and insight into why it may be that so many Southerner’s have proud attachments to their statues. I have to take you to Rome to do it.

If anyone has a great reason to topple statues, it is the Roman; Roman men especially. 

Ancient Rome, as the legend goes, had as its original founders, twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were said to have been suckled to strength on a she-wolf – that was nearly three millennial ago.

Modern Rome, (actually quite ancient itself and only modern in relative terms), it might be said, also owes much of whatever current strength it has left, to the milk suckled from wolves of another sort – the type that comes to them as fattened tourists.

They descend on the Eternal City, flush with Euros and American dollars, very much like packs of famished wolves, and devour up every sign of life not their own. Or, so it must seem to the proud Roman, who is always forced to smile and shake the hand that feeds them.

Foreign hands from foreign lands, who almost certainly feed not only on the native’s last nerve, but on their very hearts; and in the process, seem to squeeze out every last measure of pride and peace.

The Roman knows well enough how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen in his own country by these mostly wealthy American and Western Europeans, (and also, increasingly, wealthy Asians), who crowd their cobbled streets, and sidewalks, and best cafés much of the year.

How they must always seem to be looking down on them from over the tops of designer sunglasses, except when they are over-looking them, or climbing over top of them, to claim the last seat, or last loaf.

More angrier smiling men have I rarely encountered as in Rome, (though, in interactions with tourists, it is expressed very subtly, almost imperceptibly, in their eyes, unmistakably, contemptuously so, in their eyes, and in how they receive you); I have encountered eyes like these only once before, as a Northern white man, staring back at me from mostly other white men in the American South.

And, it is in these similar stares and encounters that I seek not to draw unfair caricatures, but fair comparison of the similar character of both Romans and American Southerners.

It is really of little wonder, to find this reaction in a city and country where unemployment is so high and opportunity so low; that one should become so torturously cold, when everywhere, and at every turn, crumbling, but majestic, monuments to a mighty and glorious past block out the sun. And, where wealthy tourists block it out where the statues do not – to be always forced to walk in the shadows of each, in just about every street.

The irony of course, is that the only impulse greater than the temptation to tear down these painful reminders is the shocking certainty that to do so would also mean tearing down of the only viable commercial enterprise remaining for the beleaguered city.

Worse still, it may also mean, that in the process, the tearing down of the last remaining vestiges of hope they have for a brighter future; that in the pollution patina-ed faces of those monuments to past glories, they can yet detect what they seek most in themselves.

In classic Roman fashion, its like being given the choice between either one of two double-edged swords to fall on; one edged by “tourism and torture”, the other, “survival and servility”.

So you see, whether it’s in the American South or in Rome, there may be more to saving statues than simply the saving of face.

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