Different Times

Monuments from earlier ages often contain symbolism that makes less sense in latter day times. This I noticed with a couple of statues: one a person famous worldwide, the other a local celebrity.

Up top is Winston Churchill, known to all. There are a few little known things about the man and the statue.  Churchill’s mother was American, something Winston himself liked to bring it up with American friends and allies. Most of the statue stands on the grounds of the British Embassy, which according to international law & custom means he has his feet planted on British territory. Well, not both feet. He has one foot thrust forward. This foot is on American soil, symbolizing the unity of our two peoples both in the person of Churchill himself and the broad sense.

You also may notice that Churchill is flashing the V for victory sign. Some people who came of age in the 1960s might think of that as the peace sign. That would not have been in Churchill’s nature.

The statue along side is James Buchanan Duke, who endowed Trinity College, later named Duke University where the statue now stands. The basis of Duke’s wealth and the basis of much of the local wealth was tobacco, now a noxious weed despised in polite company.  

If you look at the statue closely, you notice that Mr. Duke is smoking a cigar. I suspect that was his characteristic pose. In the past even cartoon characters were shown smoking. It was ubiquitous.  

My father smoked two packs a day, Pall Mall unfiltered. It was a nasty habit and I am glad that is has so generally disappeared, but it is a mistake to project our current values onto people of the past. A postage stamp depicting the artist Jackson Pollock airbrushed out his cigarette, even though it was clearly present in the photograph on which the stamp was based. Trying to understand the past doesn’t mean imposing today’s morality ex-post-facto.