In the midst of the various riots and spikes in violent crime sweeping the nation, we find a few hopeful words about the future in our friend Jim Geraghty’s latest edition of the Morning Jolt today. On the subject of statues and monuments being torn down by angry mobs, Jim opens up with the positive message of “destruction is easy. Creation is hard.” This is basically an accepted truism that’s been with us for all of recorded history. The creative process is difficult, whether you’re talking about a work of art, a building or a new society. And those who labor over generations to create have historically been frustrated (if not chopped to pieces) when the destructive army of Khan comes riding over the horizon in their direction. The same applies to modern-day movements, such as Occupy Wall Street and the anarchists that regularly plague various economic summit meetings. But how will history remember them?
History is full of destructive forces than can inflict great pain and suffering, but that cannot leave any lasting legacy: the Axis Powers, the Manson Family, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Destructive forces can shape our lives, but they do so mostly in temporary ways. Once their destruction stops, they get forgotten, left on “the ash heap of history.”
Did Occupy Wall Street leave a lasting impact on American life, or, with the passage of time, does it seem more like a cringe-inducing gathering of young people play-acting as revolutionaries and just leaving a mess in Zuccotti Park? Can the Weather Underground or FALN really say they changed America for the better? Angry mobs and violent gangs can’t build anything. If they could, they would choose to be something besides angry mobs and violent gangs.
These forces driven by destruction can rarely ever invent, renew, cure, or improve the lives of others. They have difficulty distinguishing the symbolic from the real; tearing down a statue of Christopher Columbus does not erase Christopher Columbus from history. Who is going to do more to influence the way Thomas Jefferson is remembered by the rest of America? The protesters at a high school in Portland who tore down his statue, or Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs? What force shapes our futures more: destruction or creation?
As noted above, creation is generally seen as a positive force and destruction as the opposite. There are exceptions of course, particularly if you happen to be creating an improvised explosive device for a marathon or destroying the Berlin Wall. But for the most part, those who build are admired where those who destroy are viewed as the Vandals. While the original Vandals arrived with horses and spears, their modern-day counterparts wield spray cans of paint and ropes to pull down the constructions of others.
I would also agree with Jim about the place of groups like Occupy Wall Street and the Weather Underground in the long view of history. People who got their message across by setting off bombs or turning Zuccotti Park into a toxic dump are unlikely to be lionized by subsequent generations. Honestly, without resorting to Google, can you remember the name of a single speaker or protest leader during Occupy Wall Street’s heyday? I certainly can’t.
But we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the destroyers do leave their mark on history and it can last forever. There’s a reason we still use the term “vandal” so many centuries later. The Third Reich was one of the most destructive forces in the modern era and they have had an undeniably lasting impact on our society. Most people constrain themselves from invoking the name of Hitler or that of his merry band of Nazis when drawing comparisons to anyone or anything else. The Nazis affected how we speak because they were simply that evil. Other parts of the world have their own super-villains, such as Pol Pot in Cambodia.
Today we are facing a tide of humanity in the streets that’s doing more than simply tearing down statues. By calling for the abandonment of law enforcement and the rule of law, they are clawing at the fabric of the society that so many fought, bled and died to create over the past three centuries or more. It’s still possible, or I would suggest probable, that the majority of people in America will be forced to stand up and speak out against this destruction and we will see order restored. But in a worst-case scenario, if the current liberal madness gripping so many cities continues to spread, we could be witnessing the next chapter in the progression of the various generations of vandals that have overthrown societies in the past. How will they be remembered by whoever remains to sweep up the ashes and start again? Just something to contemplate as we launch into the work week.