Future generations may look back at 2020 as the Year of Madness. In the name of racial justice, statues of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant – the two men most responsible for the eradication of American slavery – have been defaced. The destruction in Madison, Wisconsin of the monument to Hans Christian Heg may mark the nadir of the inanity. Heg, a Norwegian immigrant, devoted his life to the abolitionist cause, fought bravely in several Civil War battles, and died leading a charge against a numerically superior Confederate force. His statue was torn down, decapitated, and thrown into a lake.
The equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the entrance of the American Museum of Natural History is another target of our national Cultural Revolution. The monument features Roosevelt on horseback, with a Native American on one side and an African on the other, both on foot. According to James Earle Fraser, the sculptor, the two figures at Roosevelt’s side “are guides symbolizing the continents of Africa and America, and … stand for Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.” According to John Russell Pope, the Museum architect, the three figures together comprise “a heroic group.”
The statue will be removed because some object to the fact that Roosevelt occupies a position of prominence, seated in the center on horseback while his Indian and African guides stand on either side. The configuration, socially conscious critics insist, signifies that the Indian and African are inferior.
Of course there is another, less contentious explanation for Roosevelt’s central placement: the statue was erected to honor him. Roosevelt was a devoted conservationist and the author of many books on natural history. As President, he placed some 230 million acres of land under protection. His father was a co-founder of the Museum, which has enjoyed a long association with the Roosevelt family. He occupies the central position for the same reason a newly wedded couple occupies the center of a family photograph. It doesn’t signify that the family members off to the sides are inferior; it simply means that they are not the main subject of the photograph.
The fact that removal has been ordained by the Museum Board itself, rather than by a mob, should fool no one. The Board acted under the same pressure animating the rest of our Cultural Revolution.
Rather than organize counter-mobs to protect such statues, perhaps the best response may be to use these events to educate the public. As the destruction of the Hans Christian Heg statue demonstrates, much of the current madness arises from plain ignorance. The best cure for ignorance is knowledge. Continue reading