On March 3 it was the 86th anniversary of Mount Rushmore, and it’s really 86 too many. It’s a monument that is iconic for the United States and negatively represents the nation we live in. On land that was stolen from the Native Americans, a beautiful mountain was turned into a superficial homage. In a misguided attempt to instill pride in a nation full of both good and bad, the U.S. ignored its faults and constructed this monument. It succeeds only in glorifying our leaders as if they were unerring gods and fails to constructively explore our past.
The land that Mount Rushmore occupies was originally belonged to the Lakota Native Americans. The Treaty of Fort Laramie, which the U.S. signed in 1868, granted the territory to the Lakota, but as with most of our treaties between natives and the U.S., it didn’t work out too well for the natives. Less than a decade later, the U.S. launched an offensive war to capture the territory because the Lakota refused to hand it over — it’s now a part of South Dakota.
As if this crime wasn’t enough, 50 years later the U.S. commissioned a sculptor to deface a remarkable mountain with the leaders who represent the nation that stole the land from its rightful residents. The Lakota called the mountain “Six Grandfathers,” but the U.S. decided to name it Rushmore after a New York lawyer. Seems fitting enough?
True to this chauvinism, the sculptor who was commissioned for the monument, Gutzon Borglum, was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan. It seems white supremacy was the mentality flowing through the territory around this time. Construction commenced, and the four busts were finished, but Borglum died during its construction. His son took over the project, but funding was cut before it was finished. If you look closely you can see that the monument is incomplete as the chests of each president were supposed to be included. It also seems that they didn’t have enough money to clean up the site as a massive pile of rubble remains under the faces and has yet to be removed.
If the practical aspects of Mount Rushmore weren’t disreputable enough, the political message is equally shameful. An inherent problem with this monument is that politicians are divisive figures. Abraham Lincoln violated many principles of our nation and constitution to fight the Civil War, a conflict which many people are still bitter about. Teddy Roosevelt was a volunteer in the Spanish American war, one of our most embarrassing foreign policy endeavors, and was president during U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. Wherever people stand on these issues is not the point, but it’s important to understand that these figures have complex and even controversial histories. Mount Rushmore doesn’t ask any questions or recognize the potential faults of these men. Instead, it asks you to worship them.
If an American were to see a sculpture of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong-il’s face in the side of a mountain, it would be justly and immediately decried. Such a monument does nothing to highlight a complexity of issues and seeks only to represent leaders as all-powerful, mighty and infallible. Deification of our forebears is already a fait-accompli, but to extend this to Lincoln and Roosevelt does nothing to help our country grow and learn from history. There has even been buzz about Ronald Reagan’s face being put on Mount Rushmore, which hopefully won’t happen anytime soon. Fifty years from now though, people may forget his scandals and his bust may be taking its place with the others. Make no mistake, we will be worse off for it.
Dynamiting Mount Rushmore may not be a bad idea, but it could send the wrong message. I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and I think it should stay. But instead of a monument to supremacy, it should be a monument to the past and our excessive pride. It shows how the U.S. can forget that it makes mistakes and that it has made a lot of them. This defaced mountain should be the last homage of its kind, and what we should take away from its permanence is that we must always be vigilant of ourselves. Rather than facilitating idolatry, Mount Rushmore should be a relic of our hubris.
Teddy Papes is an LSA junior.