It’s Reckoning, Not Wrecking

People are asking: where does this end? The list of monuments and emblems slated for removal in the US and Europe is a daunting, ever-expanding one.

Some are labelled as glorifying racism, others for venerating war, imperialism and colonialism.

Statues to Christopher Columbus and Confederate leaders in the US have been toppled this week, so too have landmark effigies in Britain, Belgium, and other European countries.

The anger on both sides of the Atlantic has come like a torrent following the racist police killing of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May.

That anger goes beyond racist policing and now engulfs wider historic issues of slavery and colonialism.

Defenders of the statues remaining in place say the calls for their removal amount to anarchy, comparing it to barbarian acts by the cults like Al Qaeda. They say it can only lead to chaos and obliteration of history itself. Without these statues, even if they are dubious, how can one discuss past epochs of history, it is contended.

These are glib arguments, maybe even disingenuous, put forward in some cases by people who in reality are apologists for the misdeeds attributed to the historic figures.

If some statues have been torn down or defaced recently, it is because popular demands for their removal have been ignored for decades by the authorities, leading to frustrated direct action by citizens. In any case, most people objecting to these symbols have called for the statues to be taken down in an orderly fashion to be placed in a museum where the public can view them in a context of critical history.

As to the question about where does all this end? Well, one can understand the disquiet. The list is truly awesome and encompassing of national icons.

How about US army bases named after Confederate military leaders who are associated with fighting for “the right” to slavery? How about statues to British war time leader Winston Churchill who espoused racist contempt for colonized peoples of the British empire? How about Belgian King Leopold II who oversaw genocidal slavery in Africa at the end of the 19th century. Many more figures central to Western “heritage” could be cited.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of landmarks, statues, bases, street names, colleges, hospitals and other public buildings could be renamed or replaced throughout the US and European countries owing to their association with historic crimes of slavery, colonialism and imperialism.

This is not a wrecking crusade against supposed Western culture. It is a reckoning with the systematic crimes of these nations whose vile legacy prevails until today. From racist police killing of ethnic minorities, as well as poor working class whites, to endless wars of aggression against foreign nations that are waged with impunity. The pathological policies of Western states are the result of these states never properly being held to account for their crimes, past and present.

To call for a rooting out of despotic public symbols in Western states with histories of slavery and imperialism is not some kind of insipid “cancel culture” or expression of trivial “wokeness”. Writing it off like that is a failure to understand the nefarious depth of accepted depravity-as-normal.

The list of reckoning for Western states is indeed an enormous one. Because of the enormous responsibility for crimes against humanity upon which the wealth of Western states was largely created and is sustained by. It is an integral part of the capitalist system that exploits human beings for private profit, which necessitates oppression and war.

If such a reckoning seems daunting, that’s because it is. But it doesn’t mean that it should be ignored or demeaned. Until Western states are held to fully account for their complicity in genocidal slavery, wars and colonialism, then there will never be justice or peace. Either at home or abroad.

Without genuine accountability, which reflects genuine consciousness of horrors and why and how the horrors were and are perpetrated, the system is allowed to continue in its destructive, murderous ways.

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