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Port: Teddy Roosevelt and the modern Bildersturm

Moving the Roosevelt statue to Medora would allow us to use this wonderful piece of art to both provoke awe of the man's deeply important legacy in both our region, and our nation, and to draw attention to the more problematic elements of American history he played a part in. This art can still inspire, is what I'm trying to tell you, but not if the iconoclasts get their way and destroy it.

Roosevelt Statue.jpg
The statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback alongside an American Indian and African American has drawn controversy as a symbol of colonialism and will be removed from display in front of New York's American Museum of Natural History.
Contributed / Equestrian Statues
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MINOT, N.D. — When it comes to Catholicism, I don't have a dog in the hunt.

I was raised a Lutheran but left the church and spirituality behind in adulthood. And some of the uglier elements of Catholicism's legacy, from the mass graves at boarding schools to the Magdalene laundries in Ireland , are atrocious.

Yet even I can look upon great works of Catholic art, like Michelangelo's Pieta , or the Chartres Cathedral , and feel awed by a sense of what Catholicism, for all its manifest failings, aspires to be.

The Catholics, those great lovers of icons, have often been a target of iconoclasm. Violent uprisings such as the Protestant-prosecuted Bildersturm destroyed many great works of masters and left scars visible on some of Europe's most beautiful buildings that can still be seen today.

We will never see those works with modern eyes. They're lost to us.

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MORE FROM ROB PORT
I'm just not seeing a constituency of North Dakota voters that Mund could appeal to that's large enough to lead her to victory. But, again, that's assuming that she's running to win, and not as a way to keep her celebrity alive post-Miss America.

It's this history I think of when I consider the debate over a Theodore Roosevelt statue public officials in New York have gifted to the new Roosevelt presidential library established in Medora, North Dakota.

Roosevelt's legacy is flawed , and the composition of this statue, which has stood outside the American Museum of Natural History since 1940, is jarring to modern eyes in that it places Native American and African American men in supplicant positions flanking the former president.

I can understand wanting to give the sculpture new context by moving it to North Dakota where officials have promised to display it in a way honoring more points of view than just that of white European colonists and their descendants.

I don't understand the demand that it be destroyed instead .

Not all iconoclasms are bad.

In 1945, the U.S. Army blew up a giant marble swastika that loomed over the Zeppelintribüne near Nuremberg, the site of some of Hitler's most infamous speeches.

In 2015, the Ukrainian government passed decommunization laws against Soviet-era public art that resulted in one statue of Vladimir Lenin being turned into a monument to Darth Vader .

We ought to do something similar to the Lenin statue in Seattle , but I digress.

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We need not mourn the loss of art commemorating abject evils like Nazism and Communism.

1280px-Dirck_van_Delen_-_Beeldenstorm_in_een_kerk.jpg
The painting Beeldenstorm in een kerk, 1630, by Dirck van Delen.
Public domain image

But Teddy Roosevelt? He's no Lenin. He's certainly not Hitler. Destroying his statue is not a good kind of iconoclasm.

Moving the Roosevelt statue to Medora would allow us to use this wonderful piece of art to both provoke awe of the man's deeply important legacy in both our region, and our nation, and to draw attention to the more problematic elements of American history he played a part in.

This art can still inspire, is what I'm trying to tell you, but not if the iconoclasts get their way and destroy it.

Destroyed art, like burned books, leave us with nothing.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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