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One Tin Soldier Rides Away

Recently in America we have witnessed the removal and destruction of statues that allegedly symbolize an ideology that is unpopular to many. It might be interesting to note that this practice is nothing new. It was occurring over 5000 years ago. People were told to tear down the idols and destroy the “high” places of those whose ideology was not to be tolerated. Religions were notorious for the destruction of the icons of competing religions. Throughout history as governments toppled the statues of the defeated regime were obliterated. More recently Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria attacked and destroyed archaeological sites at the Syrian site of Palmyra. A myriad of statues, historical relics and religious art was decimated. The question is, does the elimination of symbols accomplish anything positive or do these actions further precipitate the conflict? Here are a couple of the inherent dangers of such actions:

  1. (1)  One must suppose that the reason for the destruction of these statues is to somehow eradicate the ideology that they appear to represent. Of course, this is a fallacious supposition. Out of sight does not necessarily mean out of mind. In fact, in many instances, the result is just the opposite. The violent destruction or removal of an ideological representation will only deepen the commitment of some who are steadfastly dedicated to that unpopular precept. Those who respect or believe that the statue should remain will be enraged by its removal and this anger can, and many times does, precipitate greater violence and resentment toward those who are intolerant of what the statue presumably represents. This kind of action then only serves to give rise to more intense hatred and additional violence.

  2. (2)  The destruction or removal of these icons can result in additional repercussions from individuals and groups that do not respect what the statue presumably represents but who hold to an ideology that protects the rights of those who want the statue to remain. So now there are additional parties who become involved against the faction who has insisted on the removal of the symbol. Advocates of freedom and tolerance, lovers and respecters of history are now drawn into the conflict. In this case, the result of this action of intolerance is the increased number of individuals and groups involved in the dispute.

The essential point is this: symbols are not the source of the problem and eliminating them will not solve the confrontation; it will only intensify the problem. The source of the problem is an ideology that advocates a certain, specific agenda or concept or belief that is considered to be unacceptable. It will not be eradicated by the elimination of a statue. Removing crosses will not wipe out Christianity. Burning all of the copies of the Torah will not destroy Judaism. Confiscating all of the copies of the Koran will not eliminate Islam. Removing the statue of Stalin did not cause the end of communism nor will the removal of confederate statues result in the elimination of bigotry and prejudice. I reiterate: the cause of the problem is an ideology. Until that ideology is eliminated, the problems associated or caused by the principles of that philosophy will never be solved.

Unfortunately, the truth is that an ideology cannot be eradicated by force or coercion. Religions have tried it and governments have attempted it. It cannot be accomplished short of brainwashing or some other kind of mind control procedure. An ideology is a set of concepts, and concepts cannot be erased. There is only one way of ridding society of an undesirable ideology and that is for the individual followers of that philosophy to experience a change of mind and voluntarily denounce those tenets. This change of mind comes through understanding, knowledge and experience, but never by force. Unfortunately, many people who are committed to such a philosophy adamantly resist any kind of argument or information that is in opposition to or threatens their viewpoint. For example, it is virtually impossible to change the mindset of most Christians or Muslims. The same is true of almost any religion or philosophy. We all believe that what we believe is what everyone else should also believe.

Therefore, the future looks gloomy. I have always said that exclusivity leads to intolerance and intolerance inevitably results in violence. As long as there are those who insist that their way is the only way, history will continue to repeat itself. As long as ignorance and closed-mindedness prevails and knowledge is ignored, we will not advance as a civilization. As long as we resort to violence rather than reasonable debate, people will die and our problems will not be resolved. Statues have little to do with it.


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