The importance of statues and plaques: Each Saturday morning, the Washington Post publishes a special extra page composed of nothing but letters from readers. Those readers are often irate.
The special page is called Free For All. From the comedy stage, we've incomparably suggested that its letters may perhaps be chosen to illustrate a pressing problem--the nonsense our journalists feel they have to endure from These Readers Today.
However the letters are chosen, one of today's selections seems instructive to us. It was written from Alexandria, Virginia, a city of 150,000 population which borders D.C. to the south.
The writer was troubled by a word the Post used in this preview of an upcoming PBS series. In our view, his sense of certainty, and his preoccupation, might be instructive as we continue discussing Missouri and Yale at the start of next week.
We include the hard-copy headline the Post affixed to the letter:
Alexandria in the Civil WarThe letter writer seems to say that he's discussing "modern Alexandria’s relation to the Civil War."
I was surprised to see The Post, rarely a bastion of conservative thought, use the phrase “occupied Southern town of Alexandria” in the Nov. 7 Metro article “Alexandria preps for invasion after PBS series.”
Defenders of secession and states’ rights use “occupied” to describe places recaptured by U.S. forces. The accurate term is “liberated.”
Modern Alexandria’s relation to the Civil War is murky, shaped by the views of Southern sympathizers who once made up the city’s population.
A statue of a Confederate soldier with his back turned toward Washington can be found on Old Town’s Washington Street.
A hotel on King Street bears a plaque marking the spot where a Confederate sympathizer shot and killed a U.S. Army officer for removing a Confederate flag.
The plaque fails to mention that the officer was shot in the back.
The building that housed Alexandria’s slave pen (closed by U.S. troops) still stands on Duke Street but is unmarked.
If you cannot tell that the side that opposed slavery was right in the Civil War, you cannot tell the difference between good and evil.
At this point in time, does Alexandria actually have a "relation" to the Civil War? We aren't sure how to answer that question, though our inclination would tilt us toward no.
That said: one hundred and fifty years later, the letter writer was willing to share the accurate term the Post should have used in discussing the matter at hand. Beyond that, he seems disturbed by the direction in which a certain statue is facing. Plus, he knows who was shot in the back. A plaque disappears that fact.
We found ourselves asking these questions:
Should the statue be turned so its back is facing Richmond? Should it be torn down? After he cancels next year's election, will Obama order that the statue be turned so it faces Mecca?
That rumor is starting to make the rounds. Let's return to the topic at hand:
One hundred and fifty years later, the writer seems preoccupied with the use of that one troubling term. Knowing what we know of such things, we suspected the Post may have copied that term from a PBS press release.
We don't know if that's what happened. But PBS uses that very same term at the program's web site.
We also don't know if that officer really was shot in the back. On line, the Post provides a link to this report, at Smithsonian.com, about the incident in question.
At least according to that report, it doesn't sound like the officer was shot in the back (although he certainly may have been). And uh-oh! The Smithsonian also uses the inaccurate term in question!
At this point, we'll admit it. When we read that slightly overwrought letter, we thought of our current series of posts about the reporting of recent events at Missouri and Yale.
Yesterday, we launched a few suggestions. As we read about a bright young student at Yale who says she's considerably disturbed about what a certain building is called, we suggested that professors and journalists may be encouraging her and her classmates to ignore the larger questions which surround them in New Haven and even perhaps in the world.
We suggested that our new class of fiery youngish black professors may, in some cases, be privileged bags of hot air. We suggested that younger people are perhaps being badly treated by the bad advice, and lack of substance, of those blustering academics.
We suggested that deans may be kissing young people's ascots, hoping they won't be the next ones fired. We suggested that young people are being dumbed down, exploited and driven to depression and tears by the self-serving ministrations of this unimpressive class.
We also suggested that major news orgs will work to keep you from imagining such possibilities. Our elites exist to bolster other elites, and our elites are mostly vapid.
At any rate, the Post has published another letter from one of These Readers Today. Should that statue be turned, or perhaps taken down? Did the Post use an "inaccurate" term? Is that plaque still hiding the truth from us the people? Does modern Alexandria have some sort of "relation" to the Civil War, even today?
Across the pond, the Taliban and ISIS are tearing down historical remnants. Revolutionary cadres with time on their hands often exhibit such zeal.
For ourselves, we'd be perfectly happy to see that residence hall renamed at Yale. But is there anything else our ranking professors have for that school's important young people? Is there any larger way those professors can fire those students' hearts and minds?
Our country is crawling with slacker professors. Warning! Many of these slackers are "white," but some of these slackers are "black."
What Coates said: Just this morning, we read this passage from Ta-Nehisi Coates' award-winning book:
COATES (page 50): The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.In this negative new review, Professor Kennedy complains that Coates never quite explains what he means by "the Dream." Whatever! We're with Coates on that general portrait.
The process we've long called the "novelization of news" thrives on "limiting the number of possible questions" and thereby "privileging [certain preferred] answers." In the reporting and discussion of Yale and Missouri, we'll suggest you ask yourself this:
Is the journalism designed to keep you from asking this possible question: Is it possible that our college students are exhibiting imperfect judgment?
In our view, the reporting hasn't tried to answer that question. It has tried to keep you from asking that question. It has tried to "limit the number of possible questions," the process Coates names in that passage.
Partly out of concern for those students, we think that question should be asked. If it's professors we actually serve, we will simply continue along in our novelized dream state.