Racial justice protesters have turned their sights toward problematic statues, and people are mad about it.
Monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders, slavers and other historic figures have been vandalized or destroyed by demonstrators in recent weeks. In the debate over whether to keep or tear down statues, some Americans are offering a little historical context — about the time George Washington’s men desecrated a statue of King George III.
A few days after the Declaration of Independence was approved in July 1776, the document was read to a group of soldiers and civilians in New York City. The mob was so fired up about the fight for independence that attendees toppled and maimed a statue of the British monarch.
“And that’s why no one knows who won the American Revolution,” one Facebook meme sarcastically concluded, a shot at the statue defenders who misguidedly worry that striking down monuments will scrub historical facts from the record.
In addition to decapitating the statue, the American rebels reportedly cut off the nose, clipped the Roman emperor’s wreath upon the king’s head and lodged a musket ball somewhere inside it. The head was impaled on a pike outside a local tavern, where it apparently sat for at least two months.
The decapitated head of a monarch’s statue on display at a drinking establishment no doubt was a sight to behold. But what struck me most was what happened next.
Loyalists and British servicemen retrieved the head and sent it back across the ocean to a British military commander, “in order to convince them at home of the Infamous Disposition of the Ungrateful people of this distressed country,” according to the journal of a captain with the British Corps of Engineers.
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Translation: The loyalists were snitching. The king’s defaced face was physical proof of how “ungrateful” the colonists were, and how much they deserved a forceful response.
Fast forward 244 years, and government loyalists are still at it. Instead of statue scraps, modern apologists for the state share photos and videos captured on cellphones.
When Black Lives Matter protesters vandalized Interstate 80, Kinnick Stadium and the Old Capitol in Iowa City last month, images of the graffiti were widely shared on social media by critics of the protests, held up to show how ungrateful the young Black organizers are.
In 2020, the roads and government buildings serve as effigies to the status quo. To many observers, spray painting the statue of Nile Kinnick, the football star who died while serving in the military, was akin to desecrating His Majesty, tantamount to treason.
If you have ever wondered what side you would have been on in the American Revolution — a loyalist or a rebel — this is a good test: Are you more offended by vandalism, or by state violence? Do you share photos of the protests’ wreckage, but not stories about police brutality and racism?
The American Revolution literally was a riot. If that makes you uncomfortable, you have a pretty good idea which side you would have been on.
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