Are Statues Historical or Political Symbols?


The French have stories to share with the U.S. in their current struggle over Confederate statues and symbols. The tension caused by figures such as Southern general Robert E. Lee resembles the attitude of the French toward the French Revolution or later, the emperor Napoleon. In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson draws parallels between Confederate monuments in America and certain national landmarks in France, called lieux de mémoire, or “sites of memory,” that were created primarily to be political, not historical, reminders.

He explains how the construction of the famed Basilica of the Sacred Heart was an act of payback by conservatives to revolutionaries for the Commune of 1871. Another landmark, the Place Vendôme in the heart of Paris has a column topped with a gilded statue of Napoleon. Once toppled by those who believed the column symbolized barbarism and brute force, it was replaced by others who believed Napoleon was the embodiment of French glory. Wilkinson sees a parallel in the U.S. where erecting a statue of Lee in a park and tearing it down years later is not about memory but rather a show of power, and who holds it.

Read more at Bloomberg.