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Rob Martínez

Statues and monuments are not history. They are, however, part of history; they reflect the times when they were erected and the times when they are taken down.

In New York City, 1776, American revolutionaries took down a statue of King George III. For symbolism, they removed the statue’s head, then melted down the rest to be used in weapons against the British.

The statue was put up a few years before to honor and glorify not just the king but the British Empire. By 1776, the statue had outlived its usefulness and symbolism. Yet, history was not erased. We know who King George is, why the American Revolution happened and what caused it. That history is still with us.

In 1945, the U.S. military destroyed monuments to Hitler and the Nazi movement in Germany, as those symbols and images could not stand if Germany were to move forward into a new beginning.

History was not erased. We know and study the rise and fall of the National Socialist movement in Germany in the 1930s, as well as the disturbing rule of Adolf Hitler and the lessons of history.

In 2003, U.S. Marines brought down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq when his regime was toppled and Hussein’s reign ended. History decided the monument’s existence represented an idea and a person whose time had ended, so the image and symbol could no longer be tolerated. The statue no longer made sense.

Statues and monuments have been raised and destroyed throughout history to remind us that people and societies are constantly evolving and moving forward. What once was considered acceptable is later deemed unacceptable.

Bam! Statues, monuments and buildings are then destroyed, taken down or renamed.

Colonial New Mexico had no statues to any historical figures, save for the bultos (carved statues) or retablos (painted images) of santos or saints that populated the local adobe Catholic churches in centuries past. There were no bronze or marble statues of Juan de Oñate or Diego de Vargas in colonial New Mexico or even Mexican New Mexico; they were erected centuries later.

In 1868, an obelisk was put in the Santa Fe Plaza to commemorate Union soldiers who fought in New Mexico against Confederate invaders. In 1885, an obelisk monument was dedicated to Kit Carson commemorating his involvement in the Civil War battle at Valverde in 1862.

Part of the Plaza monument was dedicated to those who fought against “savage Indians” in New Mexico during the Indian Wars. In 1868, it was acceptable language. But history moves on and changes us. It is no longer acceptable.

A civil war was fought in the 1860s for the soul of our nation and made slavery unacceptable, where such a thing had been acceptable for centuries. This is what I call the correcting of history. It is something that must be done by the people, for the people.

At this time, the fate of the statues of Oñate and de Vargas is being decided. The obelisk is gone. Whatever fate decrees, these historical figures will not be forgotten. They will be studied, written about, lectured about and remembered for their actions.

Here in New Mexico, history is once again being corrected. Natives do not want to be reminded of those things that were once acceptable but no longer are. “Get over it” is not an option. History is taking place and people are making it. Reshaping it.

This is a historical opportunity to guide our future as a community, to rethink how we use our public spaces and the purpose of public art. Our ancestors did it in their time. Now it’s our turn.

Rob Martinez, New Mexico’s state historian, writes a column about the state’s rich past every month in The New Mexican.

(50) comments

Daniel Ortiz

[thumbdown] To equate monuments dedicated to Civil War Veterans and Founders of Colonial New Mexico, Onate and de Vargas, with statues of Hitler and Saddam Hussein is OUTRAGEOUS! Knowledge of history requires context and the opinion of @RobertMartinez is an example of lazy scholarship. Juan de Onate and Diego De Vargas, while no saints, were a product of their time and should be compared to the American founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were SLAVE OWNERS and a product of their time. If monuments are reserved only for those who have no sin, then lets start at the top.

Miranda Viscoli

https://searchlightnm.org/rest-in-pieces/?fbclid=IwAR2qmE625yT8EW-2TaaNQWrsD_0b9LRnD6Jd0huUICQHpjLJgN_XBWm0KOw

Khal Spencer

Interesting article, thank you. (and written by a Ph.D. graduate of my alma mater!) It certainly has its own spin but the spin sorta hangs together too.

"...white tourism boosters, anthropologists and legislators (many of them slave owners)..."

Not terribly clear. How could they be slave owners if this happened after the Civil War? Or if was was before the Civil War, the article should say so. But the narrative implies time moving beyond 1868.

Mike Johnson

Indeed, the "spin" is quite biased and one-sided of course. Hardly a scholarly article, just another Op/Ed of some still in denial of the recent history and reality that is New Mexico. I am also not unbiased, as my great, great grandfather fought at Glorieta Pass and Valverde, on the Confederate side in the Texas 3rd Calvary. He was so impressed by the landscape and people of NM, he moved his family to Roswell to settle in the beautiful, fertile valley he retreated from Glorieta to rest on the way home. His son, my great grandfather, became a community organizer in Chaves County, and served as a delegate to the 1910 Constitutional Convention for NM's statehood, the sole Socialist member. But of course, this author would view such people as evil and unworthy of mention......

Khal Spencer

Yeah. The white privilege and Yankee privilege hung together through the whole piece.

Miranda Viscoli

Searchlight nailed it! https://searchlightnm.org/rest-in-pieces/?fbclid=IwAR0rX673ysAQPpkRmiYLrh3IZ6J62iZ_N9n-ZlPuxs0kbCA-RhemVUC0n_c

john coventry

Obama's Medal of Honor Statue in front of Santa Fe, NM City Hall attacks a local hippie. Blue man made by a red man attacks a white man in front of a brown man.

If you want to see the video go to youtube and search 'Statue Attacks Hippie'

john coventry

For me the most offensive statue (monument) in Santa Fe is the one in front of City Hall that glorifies the most recent militarism in this country ... not the past but the present.

John Martinez

Militarism should be glorified, these military men and women are heroes who keep us free and a safe community.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Well said!

Comment deleted.
Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup]

Richard Reinders

But that statue was done by the Gov. of Pojoaque Pueblo George Rivera

Eslee Kessler

This is the most excellent article on the controversy of outdated statues snd monuments. Thank you! Our undrr we standing if history changes and so should public monuments which do not represent the best values in our society.

Miranda Viscoli

[thumbup]

Miranda Viscoli

Thank you, Mr. Martinez for your insightful, intelligent and much needed editorial.

Mike Lord

As the oldest colonial capital in the US, I believe that Santa Fe itself is the target of these revisionists. Watch for demands to change the name of streets, parks, schools, etc.

Jim Klukkert

Monuments in the long story of ‘civilization,’ are testimonies to Power, and the Victories of those Powers over lesser groups and tribes. So the Vanquished were often paraded along roads lined with those Monuments. In Roman times, sometimes living humans nailed to crosses lined those same roads.

Anyone who thinks that History is ‘taught’ by Monuments, Place Names or Street Signs has a very shallow and limited view of History. History can be learned by the study of many things, including Monuments, Place Names or Street Signs, but real study does not end there. It continues with each newly discovered, or reconsidered, vein of evidence or data. The results of those studies are always in flux, never fully perfected, and so always awaiting Revision.

I do not support the ad hoc quality of the destruction of the Obelisk, that Pyrrhic Victory was the work of Fools. So it is another group of Fools who claim that History inscribed immutable like the tablets of Moses, and that any new understanding or revisions are Cancelations.

So many fools, only one ship among us, and so little time.

Ramon David

"There were no bronze or marble statues of Juan de Oñate .... in colonial New Mexico or even Mexican New Mexico" yes, because Oñate was banished from New Mexico for life and exiled from Mexico City for 5 years. Why would the Spanish colonial government put up a statue to someone who was banished from the area? Why would people now want to honor someone who who was tried and convicted of his crimes in his own time?

William Gruber

Well done Rob.

Khal Spencer

Rob has a lot of good points, but starting out with an implicit comparison of our statue problems to the memorials to George III, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, or other people of a nefarious nature was not my idea of a great introduction. I suspect the Union troops who fought at Glorietta Pass are spinning in their graves.

Mike Johnson

Indeed Khal, he is totally off base to compare George III, Saddam, Hitler, etc. to the brave and courageous soldiers and settlers that made NM and America great. Their descendants are still making America and NM great, and his ridiculous false equivalencies are really laughable. A really trite and shallow piece of writing.

Khal Spencer

Statues on the Move

https://northmesamutts.blogspot.com/2020/06/statues-on-move.html

Jim Klukkert

Proud to call you my friend, or at least one of my correspondents, but you are over the top with your comment "So you are telling me that you are willingly living on stolen land? I'm shocked, shocked..."

Very unlike you to go low and thoughtful like that.

Khal Spencer

Jim, if the genocidal acts of those "brave and courageous soldiers" is such an affront to bring on such sarcasm, then I reiterate, why are those who make such statements as Mark made willing to profit off of the spoils of genocide? After all, I suspect everyone commenting here is living on conquered land.

As you said above, more or less, the history of humanity is a history of migration and conquest. My original comment objected only to the implied comparison of statues of Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or similar folks being toppled to the destruction of a monument to Union soldiers who repelled the Confederates at Glorietta Pass. The rest of that inscription was indeed a testimony to what white folk thought about Native Americans a century ago. Period. The fact that the chiseled out part of the rest of that inscription was left for everyone to see was actually a good modification to the statue.

If we want to get into the fact that all of North and South America was conquered by Europeans, often with brutal acts that would not be tolerated in the present, that is another question. One cannot run history in reverse.

Personally, I don't need statues and if this whole argument shows anything, it is that they create intense tempests in teapots. I have a whole collection of history books. They make much better reading than statue inscriptions.

Mark Stahl

Many of your brave and courageous soldiers and settlers pursued policies of forced removal, land theft and genocide against the people that had lived here for many generations.

Mike Johnson

Indeed, and you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Progress for all mankind's civilization and society requires difficult choices be made, and the best ones were made by and large, as the alternative was to remain a brutal, uncivilized country not ruled by man's laws. Imagine what America and NM would be today without these hard choices being made to allow our glorious culture and society to prosper, grow, and succeed. Progress will happen, no matter what, it could not be stopped, our Manifest Destiny was assured.

Khal Spencer

So you are telling me that you are willingly living on stolen land? I'm shocked, shocked...

Miranda Viscoli

Thank you Mark. Well stated!

John Martinez

Mark, what you failed to know or understand, is the different Indigenous tribes that were here and fought each other before the settlers came, were actually killing each other, forced removal, stole land, and took slaves of many other tribes.

Jim Klukkert

Human beings have great capacities for bravery and cowardice, anger and forgiveness, compassion and cruelty. Political views and other sorts of perspective do not seem to endow various groups with more of less of these qualities. Perhaps we can lighten up praising, for example, “the brave and courageous soldiers and settlers that made NM and America great.”

I think the usefulness of ascribing heroic qualities to our ancestors, at the expense of those who opposed them, is not useful in reaching the broad and deep understandings needed to heal the divisions amongst us.

Unless one's definition of 'us' leaves out a substantial number of people. Which of course is sad.

Jim Klukkert

John Martinez– You wrote that "Indigenous tribes ...before the settlers came, were actually killing each other, forced removal, stole land, and took slaves of many other tribes."

Wow, the Native Americans are human beings, with the same gifts and failings of any other group of human beings? Not revelation for most of us.

What's your point, John Martinez?

Jim Klukkert

John Martinez-

No where in Mark Stahl’s comment do I find Mark claiming that Europeans were the ones ‘only responsible for killing, and theft of land.’

Here is his comment, please review and get back to me if your read is different than mine. Thanks

We are all agreed then that there was Pre-Columbian violence among the Indigenous folks.

I have plenty of other things to do John, besides pay attention to the errors in many of the comments here. I would appreciate your help, so please be a little more rigorous in composing your comments. Thanks Sr. Martinez.

Miranda Viscoli

[thumbup]

Jim Klukkert

I don't know Mike, the enslaved in revolt against their 'masters' have had sympathizers opposed to enslavement probably as long as enslavement as a system of exploitation existed. Proof that for some enlightened souls, values are shared across the centuries.

At least in part, the "arguments against 'presentism'" are just made up stuff by those opposed to understanding history as a growing and changing understanding of peoples progress.

Right down there in the debris of history with “Manifest Destiny” and “American Exceptionalism.” Bunch of horse potatoes designed to justify the dreams and crimes of entitled old white men of privilege. No longer functional, profoundly discredited in the larger world.

John Martinez

Ok Jim since you have nothing better else to do but to comment on everyone's comment, I was obviously replying to Mark's comment where he stateted that settlers were only responsible for killing, and theft of land. My point was that killing and theft of land was occuring long before the settlers.

Mark Stahl

The physical and cultural genocide of native people is hardly making an omelette. And if murder and theft are the benefits of civilization, we’re in pretty sad shape. And finally, why is it when people of color march, protest and knock over statues for social justice, they are anarchists, agitators and “scum” (your words) but white people who brutalize women and children called brave heroes deserving of statues?

Mike Johnson

What you call "genocide" is what happens when civilization progresses and the strong and best civilizations defeats the weak and poor ones. It has happened in every country I know of over all of human history, and America is a shining example of how well this works for the vast majority of citizens and how civilization excels and grows for the vast majority of people. If you want to deny your country and the way we attained our exceptional greatness in the world, then that is your choice. You can live in shame and denial, while doing nothing about it personally except complaining on a comment page, or you can enjoy the fruits of our ancestors sacrifices for our society, the greatest in the world. I chose to honor and revere my ancestors for what they did, you can tear down monuments and act like that will change anything, which it will not, we are still in power and the world is still ours.

Jim Klukkert

First Kahl, at least some of the brave Union troops who fought at Glorietta Pass, went on some 2 1/2 years later to the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. Pardon me if I do not leap to one sided accolades for men who after all, were but men.

Secondly, human beings have great capacities for bravery and cowardice, anger and forgiveness, compassion and cruelty. Political views and other sorts of perspective do not seem to endow various groups with more of less of these qualities. Perhaps we can lighten up praising, for example, “the brave and courageous soldiers and settlers that made NM and America great.”

For now, I will stay away from the topic of American Exceptionalism. For now…

I don't know Khal, I think Rob did a pretty good job in his comparisons, though obviously he did not win over everybody.

George III is an excellent example of a figure memorialized in a statue, with whom to start as a comparable figure to remove now, or in 1776, from a place of public prominence. I would not think a space dominated by George III as ‘my space,’ anymore than I would expect a Native American to think a space dominated by a memorial to those who fought 'savage Indians' would be theirs.

In fact, the analogy between the murderous savage, Saddam Hussein, and Don Diego de Vargas does not seem a far stretch, as both used painful violence to mark those who opposed their rule, not only to slow the victims, but also as public examples of the consequences of opposition. That public display is the text book definition of terrorism.

Now that I am rolling, I will call out the name of three of my favorite Civil War Heroes: Generals Ulysses S. Grant, who waged a successful war of Attrition against the traitorous slavers of the South; William T. Sherman, who employed "hard war,” which we now call “total war” to break the Deep South; and Philip H. Sheridan, who is known for one of the first uses of scorched-earth tactics during the War in Shenandoah Valley. Gen. Grants orders to Sheridan were “ “destroy and carry off all the crops, animals, negroes, and all men under fifty years of age capable of bearing arms.” Sheridan’s destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley was called "The Burning" by residents.

Would I endorse placing a statue of any of these ‘heroes’ in the South. Certainly not, nor do I doubt that their role in that conflict will ever be neglected in a thorough history of the Civil War. 


About the Civil War that has too often been forgotten or worse, is that that War was a war fought over Slavery. I can think of no monument that would preserve that lesson, though many monuments of Southern Traitors were put up as part of a campaign to defy that Victory, and to relegate people of color to a subservient status.

And about Philip Henry Sheridan, who supposedly said, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead,” and who employed scorched earth tactics against Native Americans including the eradication of the Buffalo. [Understand that for many Native Americans, the Buffalo is Sacred, and provides much more than physical nourishment.]

With that knowledge of Gen. Sheridan, might a rational person reasonably compare Sheridan to Hitler? After all, had a policy of removing the ‘Slavic People of the East’ so that Germany could resettle those lands with their own citizens. Sounds vaguely similar to our history of ‘Westward Expansion.’

Monuments in the long story of ‘civilization,’ are testimonies to Power, and the Victories of those Powers over lesser groups and tribes. So the Vanquished were often paraded along roads lined with those Monuments. In Roman times, sometimes living humans nailed to crosses lined those same roads.

Anyone who thinks that History is ‘taught’ by Monuments, Place Names or Street Signs has a very shallow and limited view of History. History can be learned by the study of many things, including Monuments, Place Names or Street Signs, but real study does not end there. It continues with each newly discovered, or reconsidered, vein of evidence or data. The results of those studies are always in flux, never fully perfected, and so always awaiting Revision.

I do not support the ad hoc quality of the destruction of the Obelisk, that Pyrrhic Victory was the work of Fools. So it is another group of Fools who claim that History inscribed immutable like the tablets of Moses, and that any new understanding or revisions are Cancelations.

So many fools, only one ship among us, and so little time.

Mike Johnson

"Understand that for many Native Americans, the Buffalo is Sacred, and provides much more than physical nourishment." Understand that for many Americans, that means absolutely nothing.

Khal Spencer

Jim, if everyone left comments as thoughtful and well considered as yours, I would have nothing more to say.

"...Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and others may have been pretty keen military tacticians and in most situations, no less honorable soldiers (with the exception of incidents like Fort Pillow) than their adversaries, but they were fighting for a pretty rotten cause. Grant and Sherman may have been just as ruthless in war (Cold Harbor was a senseless Union sausage grinder and Sherman's March to the Sea presaged 20th Century economic "total" warfare), but Grant and Sherman were fighting for the winning side. The bottom line is that in our Civil War, States Rights and then secession were being used in the service of slavery. One would think that would be enough to put those Lost Cause heroes to rest quietly even if they were d*mn good and brave soldiers. After all, Irwin Rommel, Heinz Guderian, and Erich von Manstein were great military leaders but all their leadership did was prolong the carnage of World War II in the service of Hitler (Rommel was forced to commit suicide after he was implicated in the July 20th plot against Hitler, Guderian fell out of favor with Adolf, and Manstein was eventually convicted of war crimes). Indeed, there were many other excellent Werhmacht generals. We don't see statues of them although no military history is complete without their stories. If only that Germany had more lousy generals..."

https://northmesamutts.blogspot.com/2017/08/war-memorials-arent-created-equal.html

Khal Spencer

I am all in favor of the conversation, as long as it is a serious conversation. You say that some of the soldiers who fought at Glorietta also participated in the Sand Creek Massacre. Correct. And indeed, I've said myself that comparing Lebensraum with Manifest Destiny is a distinction without a difference. Well, the difference is we won and created the present United States. If folks feel guilt, they should do something about it. Reparations? Land grants? Not everyone feels that way. I thought Assoc Justice Gorsuch aimed us in the right direction in McGirt v Oklahoma.

What do we do with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? Some of the GI's whose names are inscribed on that black granite undoubtedly participated in the killing of innocents. After all, what did Westmoreland do other than count bodies and send the numbers home to McNamara. So much winning! We deforested vast parts of the country using Agent Orange. Dropped more than 3x more bomb tonnage than in WW II. The whole war was a tragic mistake, as anyone reading even a cursory history of that conflict might consider, given that we saw Vietnam only through Cold War eyes. Start with Stanley Karnow's history.

https://www.amazon.com/Vietnam-History-Stanley-Karnow/dp/0140265473

But I think folks would have a literal war on their hands should someone decide, retrospectively, that we should not be honoring the Vietnam dead because the war was wrong and many Vietnamese perished in a mistake (we now trade with the Communist government!). Any volunteers out there to take the ropes and sledges to the black granite?

I agree with you wholeheartedly that anyone who wants to learn something about history but who does it with a Tour de Monuments is swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool.

By any current measure, the U.S. as well as all of the judging countries at Nuremberg have committed war crimes in their history, but that is indeed, as Michael said, judging history by modern standards. One has to ask whether the people at the time recognized their crimes. Or as stipulated at Nuremberg, "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.". If a moral choice was possible, we should enforce it retrospectively. So for the history buffs out there, I suggest we look back to see what ideas the Federal troops were exposed to as they conquered the West.

So sure, our historical soldiers feet were made of clay--right up to the present. But I would hold off on the extreme condescension offered by some here who love to judge the past only by their arrogant standards. Sure, history must be reevaluated. But taking stuff down has unavoidable consequences and the ad hoc destruction, as you correctly call it, provided a cure worse than the disease.

Mike Johnson

Some good points Khal, and as an enthusiastic participant in the Vietnam War, I would say I am extremely proud of my service to my country there, as I am sure all the soldiers honored in that obelisk in the plaza were and should be. Those wars were not "mistakes", they were for a noble purpose, and the participants served with honor, valor, and distinction. Not at all like Nazi Germany, or Fascist Japan's wars.

Khal Spencer

Michael, I think we thought we were doing the right thing in Vietnam geopolitically, but digging back, it seems we thought Vietnam was not much more than a domino. I think politically, it was more complicated than that. But as I keep saying in these columns, one cannot run history in reverse to find out "what would have happened had we not sent troops to Vietnam?" Unless, that is, you are Mr. Peabody and Sherman...

Stefanie Beninato

This "opinion" piece seems like a cop-0ut. What exactly is the state historian trying to tell us? That values change over time? Earthshattering!!! and so (not) helpful.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Mike Johnson

He is still off base to use the historical fallacy of presentism to judge actions of previous generations as justification of nullifying and demonizing their actions when their actions obviously progressed society and culture in America and NM.

https://www.voicesandimages.com/presentism-dont-judge-ancestors-actions-by-todays-standards/

Jim Klukkert

I don't know Mike, the enslaved in revolt against their 'masters' have had sympathizers opposed to enslavement probably as long as enslavement as a system of exploitation existed. Proof that for some enlightened souls, values are shared across the centuries.

At least in part, the "arguments against 'presentism'" are just made up stuff by those opposed to understanding history as a growing and changing understanding of peoples progress.

Right down there in the debris of history with “Manifest Destiny” and “American Exceptionalism.” Bunch of horse potatoes designed to justify the dreams and crimes of entitled old white men of privilege. No longer functional, profoundly discredited in the larger world.

Mike Johnson

Jim, Manifest Destiny happened, it was overwhelmingly successful for many hundreds of millions in America, look at where and how you are living today. You cannot deny reality. If you are ashamed of it, have some guilt complex eating at your white privilege, and your prosperity and "exceptional" circumstances compared to others in the US or the world, then why not give everything away to the less privileged? Remember Thoreau, simplify, simplify......

Richard Reinders

Cancelling culture also has its repercussions:

If you remove the identity from Santa Fe, then you remove the reason for people to visit, so what do we replace tourism with? Santa Fe has no industry but tourism or government jobs and their is not enough government jobs, removing Santa Fe 's identity is like asking a restaurant to remove the most popular items from their menu. The locals are being replaced by California and NY refugees that left their states after ruining them with high tax's, regulation, bad government and over crowding, continuing this cycle will eventually replace the identity of the country. Currently the housing boom is being filled with financially secure retirement types from the baby boom era, and this generation will be gone over the next 15-20 years with no one to fill those homes because there is no industry much like Detroit. The City Council in Santa Fe are short term thinkers instead of playing the long game and should rethink replacing De Vargas and supporting the culture. Would you ever see Egypt removing the pyramids, Mexico removing Mesoamerican pyramids , Rome removing the coliseum instead of rebuilding them.

mark Coble

Yes, the liberals from other cities have been seeking Santa Fe for years. They are usually rich and don't work so they can comment without fear of losing jobs or needing work. Santa Fe government is weak, see DA, district judges, etc. Government here is too busy lowering hiring standards so any idiot can be your boss these days.

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