LETTER: Let’s rediscover our sense of tolerance

To the editor:

Former RCDJ editor Corey Friedman’s thoughtful Aug. 23 column questioned why government should be in the business of public monuments. In these unsettled times, it’s tempting to agree with him. The monuments on Washington, D.C.’s mall would inspire us with uplifting reminiscences of our history. But at a long-ago dinner not far from that mall, I heard a visiting Italian artist castigate them as little more than glorifications of the state. Yes, I disagree, but the thought was provoking.

Other monuments provide glimpses into past cultures, not unlike million-year-old insects trapped in amber. Think of cultural losses sustained with the destruction of Palmyra’s treasures, or the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan. Is there really no room in the public space for the quirky and the controversial? Must there be absolute consensus where only the pure in thought and deed need apply?

No single thing makes America special, but high on that list, I believe, is our national sense of self-confidence. Consider how that is reflected in our national values. Our legal system still frees the factually guilty if “technicalities” are violated, however undeserved. Certainly reprehensible to most, there are not many nations where you are as free as here to desecrate the national flag. It’s legal toleration speaks volumes.

In how many places would such displays as the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick’s be tolerated during the national anthem? Despite the strong exceptions of most of us, may he always be so free.

Nothing tested our country, nor threatened our survival, as our Civil War. Yet, nothing reflects our self-confidence quite like the tolerance for memorials to the participants of that armed insurrection. That cement memorials to its erstwhile enemies can stand amidst a union cemented with a new purpose, afterwards, seems to say it all.

Memorials beyond CSA figures are attracting the crosshairs of an emotional outpouring. Consider Christopher Columbus, former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, and Boston’s revered Faneuil Hall, for starters.

N.C.’s 2015 monuments law is wise, and timely. Let’s rediscover our national sense of confidence and tolerance before it’s too late.

Douglas Smith