Us China


TOP PLATE WRITE — Don’t dead sculptures tell stories? Maybe they still do. Recently, the long-display Pillar of Shame statue in Hong Kong has been removed from the University of Hong Kong campus by those in power.

The sculpture had shaped the famous Tiananmen Square incident in terms of the bloody clash between soldiers and protesters. Last week it was emphatically removed and moved elsewhere, presumably not to appear in public for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the western news media has framed this story as a new government clamp against unwanted history. However, China isn’t the only polity where public statues and the like are dragged out of sight.

Inconvenient historical facts deceive people and governments around the world. Lately, the United States has tailored politically uncomfortable public displays left and right.

Earlier this year in Richmond, Virginia, a giant statue of Robert E. Lee – one of the leading generals on the Confederate side of the American Civil War – was lifted off its pole by helicopter and sent to storage. The 12-ton monument had stood in a prominent place in Richmond, once the capital of the Confederate States of America, for more than 130 years.

Considered by many to be one of the leading military tacticians of his time, contemporary politics has transformed Lee into a symbol of sympathy for the days of the Confederacy, with its radioactive racism, and therefore had to be buffed out in this era of historical retouching.

Virginia has swept under the carpet many of the state’s southern exhibits on public land. A statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in Richmond was demolished last year and thrown into a lake. Other Confederate landmarks across the country have been removed from view in what cultural critics have viewed as a kind of national political purge.

Perhaps worse, it seems that questioning the wisdom of these disappearing acts is no more politically permissible than careful consideration of the disappearance of the Tiananmen statue.

Right is right and wrong is wrong and that’s it. The ghosts are closing and historical images have been discarded in Belgium, England and elsewhere.

There could also be something else going on, at least in the US: opening deep rifts of instability. It is a potential nightmare in America, with some imagining the possibility of another civil war.

I’d take this thought to the extreme as paranoid, except it’s seen as believable by some very astute thinkers. The meltdown scenario goes something like this:

Structural flaws in the political system continue to spread and the cracks become apparent. Large segments of the American electorate remain cruelly underrepresented by a voting system that has been tragically modified for decades by elites opposed to power-sharing.

Non-white people, in particular, are being targeted and deprived of their rights by Republican state legislators, deliberately diluting the one person, one vote principle. Meanwhile, the federal justice system does not seem to neutralize toxic trends that are clearly undemocratic.

Add other irritating factors — including corrosive partisanship, ethnic tensions, labor issues and economic inequality — and you have a country divided, a frustrated people and elected representatives sunk in the dirty waters of corruption, incompetence and denial.

In this pessimism, I introduce the perspective of Gregory F. Treverton, a career intelligence analyst with senior positions at the US National Intelligence Council during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Trained at Princeton and Harvard, Treverton is not an ideological fighter, but a concerned American who writes essays with exceptional insight.

In a recent post, he and Karen Treverton — a contributor and manager of the Rand Terrorism Database — noted: “Half a dozen years ago, what seems like a different life now, one of us had the honor of being chairman of the National Intelligence Council as we have prepared Global Trends, the Council’s look into the future.

“A colleague from academia asked if we take the red-blue divide in the country seriously. Then he continued: ‘If you look 20 years ahead, shouldn’t you take seriously the possibility of the country physically falling apart?’”

Now the authors think that this pessimism may well be justified. “Then, well before Trump, that exchange became the benchmark for thinking about America’s future. Now it seems clear that a civil war is coming, and the only question is whether it will be fought with lawsuits and secessions or with AK-15s.”

Enemies of the US should not be encouraged by these developments. A dysfunctional America with seething masses and a frustrated military struggling to win intervention wars could be a nightmare for China, just as China or India headed for political instability would prove to be more than just a regional mess.

As the Trevertons put it, “Let us hope, however, that the coming civil war will be a civil war. But in a country whose extreme violence compared to its related rich countries can only be explained by the ubiquity of weapons, we would be foolish to bet on it.

“Even more ominous for democracy, Americans who are or lean Republican are more than twice as likely to own guns as their Democratic counterparts.”

A valid point, but let’s not forget the American political left, which is doing its best to vaccinate the population with politically purified ideas and discarded statues.

The multi-tiered American political system has historically had osmotic tendencies to deal with all kinds of challenges. But now the system seems ramshackle and dried up, running on countless nostalgia rather than broad inspiration. A society that feels the need to put up statues must ask themselves.

LMU Clinical Professor Tom Plate teaches in the University’s Department of Asian and Asian-American Studies and is the founder of Asia Media International.