Mind Candy

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Historic symbols that have been misinterpreted in the modern day

Posted by mandyf on January 15, 2012

What’s in a symbol? Ask a variety of people and you will surely get a variety of answers. To an advertising executive a specific symbol can mean prestige or a feeling of affluence. To a another person it may be a means of identifying a person’s social caste. For others a symbol may represent something of spiritual or historical significance. All are valid takes on what is in a symbol, but what about when the literal meaning of a symbol is contrary to it’s perception?

Take a look around you one day at the symbols people adorn themselves with or that are used as logos of same nature by a company. Take a quick inventory of what that symbol means to you personally, and what you think the person or entity using it is trying to portray. Then get real and take a few minutes to see if what you associate the symbol with is even close to being accurate against what the symbol means from a historical perspective. The answer may shock you.

Take for instance the upside down cross. To many Christians this is a sign of disrespect bordering on or serving as actual blasphemy. It must be, Satanists use it as their symbol after all, and you can find any number of “weird” looking kids, rockers, and ne’er do wells that adorn themselves with the upside down cross. It is a sign of evil that is beyond awful. Or is it?

In actuality there is one highly recognizable figure that has an inverted cross cut into the top of his throne – The Pope. Il papa sits on a throne that bears this symbol and does not hide it from anyone. The reason he does not hide it is because historically speaking the inverted cross is the symbol of St. Peter who is about as heavy a hitter as you get in Catholicism. When St. Peter was to be crucified, he asked he be crucified upside down so  that he not have his life ended in the same way that Jesus Christ did as he felt unworthy of that. Maybe Tipper Gore missed that lesson when she hawked morality for the PMRC and claimed the inverted cross symbolized the destruction of the church.

Who hasn’t seen a tee shirt or poster of Che Guevera? The odds are if you went to college, and happened to partake of some courses in amateur pharmacology, you likely did so in at least one dorm room with a Che poster you may have noticed between hits to the bong.  Ask around these days and people will tell you he was an anti-imperialism warrior that stood for the common man. He’s a damn hero! Is that true though?

diaries which were finally released by Cuban authorities in 2001, the answer is not really what those Che garb wearing and flag waving fans want to hear. Che Guevera was not just abut latin America or Cuba specifically, he was about the Congo too. A piece of Che history that was conveniently forgotten for far too long is his trip to the Congo after the death of Patrice Lumumba where he tried to launch a revolution for the people – and Cuban idealism as well as Cuba needed to spread out a little bit.

It was not just a failure, it was a disaster. Che was not a hero to the Congolese people, he was interfering white outsider that treated them like stupid beasts. Instead of being a real revolutionary, he brought in his own Cuban mercenaries to fuel the revolution because he felt the Congolese left on their own would not revolt, and if they did were mentally ill equipped to understand warfare or how to pull the trigger on a gun. In the end, the revolution did come, without Guevera who was run off and lucky to escape with his life.

How is that for being an anti-imperialist hero? Imposing your will on people that not only do not want it, but were gracious enough to allow you to live so you could take the walk of shame of the continent and never return is his truer legacy.

Remember the Alamo – it is a famous as the cry “Don’t mess with Texas.” In the case of don’t mess with Texas, that was never meant to portray Texas as a real badass state, it was a 1968 campaign slogan for an anti-littering initiative, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Getting back to the Alamo, the battle of the Alamo is often portrayed as a heroic struggle for freedom against impossible odds because freedom is worth it dammit! Is that the truth though?

In reality the Battle of the Alamo occurred for freedom to a certain degree. Mexico was in the process of abolishing slavery, Texas was dependent on slaves and wanted to maintain their supply that came from and through Mexico. Why should they have to work when buying humans to do so was much easier? The general feeling among the 25% of Texans at the time who were slave owners was that to take away their ability to enslave others was to take away their freedom.

Remember the Alamo, that much is to be sure. When you remember it however take out the romanticized Hollywood version of it, add in the parts of the story still omitted from school text books, and remember that at least in part it was a fight to re-institute slavery. If fighting for the right to own other human beings is something to be proud of…well…that is just sad, and it is hard to take seriously as a symbol of freedom.

Over and over everyone from the hot rapper of the minute to Spike Lee has gone on and on at some point about 40 acres and a mule. The slogan is the symbol of reparations for enslaved African Americans. What is the real story behind 40 acres and a mule though? It really isn’t what everyone seems to think it is, and to this day remains a very touchy and misunderstood subject – for good reason as you will see.

Most people that have read any of their Civil War history are well aware of the tactics employed by Gen. Sherman. He believed in a slash and burn approach to war and that approach was incredibly successful. In his wake he left unfathomable destruction at times. The destruction was so severe that some areas would not be viable for years to come under optimal circumstances. That led to a problem as besides destruction being left in his wake, there were hundreds and even at times as many as a couple thousand newly freed slaves as well.

Not knowing what to do or how to try to survive when the land was decimated, they did what seemed rational – they followed Sherman. While they followed Sherman they had a degree of safety, but more importantly Sherman ordered that the newly freed slaves following them be fed. The problem with that was that it ate into the food supplies Sherman had for his army and tending to the needs of his new followers slowed him down too much and posed the potential to compromise his missions.

Sherman, not the government, came up with the idea to give these newly freed slaves 40 acres that were still viable along with a mule of which he already had too many of in tow. This would serve two purposes – it would get them off his back and stop them from draining supplies meant for his soldiers, and they would get a chance to support themselves and get on with life as best they could.

The kicker to all of this is that as this was never even close to be any officially endorsed government proclamation, there in reality is no claim for 40 acres and a mule that is valid. It was a decision made by a battlefield commander as a wartime measure as a temporary solution to a problem. There is no arguing the newly freed slaves deserved something in the form of reparations, but Sherman was nowhere near having the authority to permanently grant land to anyone. If anything, the only thing that ever came close to the 40 acres and a mule stopgap was the Homesteading Act that was open to all free men and granted 160 acres of federal land to anyone that agreed to make improvements to it.

So while there was a temporary policy allowing people to borrow a government mule for 6 months to temporarily tend land they did not own, there was never anything ever nearing the promise of any permanence on either count made by anyone that had the actual authority to do so. It was proposed for permanence, and for a time appeared as if it may be permanent, but when Andrew Johnson took office after Lincoln was assassinated he reversed Special Field Order No. 15 (The 40 acres promise) before it was ever really official. Hence, the belief that the 40 acres and a mule were real reparations promises of a permanent or official nature are not wholly accurate. The shame is they should have been.

The South Dakota mountain sculpture that is currently only half finished after 60 years of work is said to symbolize the spirit of the naïve American people and serve as a symbol of the friendship between the white settlers and the great Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. What a load of baloney! Sure it may symbolize that to the people that conceived the idea, but it is a ridiculous symbol – and here is why.

Chief Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed. In fact it is said he didn’t even allow himself to be sketched. He wanted no likeness of himself made in any way. To carve a monstrously sized 563 foot bust of his face on the size of a mountain is at the least disrespectful, although asinine comes to mind as well. To add insult to injury, the mountain the bust appears on sits on what is regarded as a sacred land which is something any idiot should know better than to deface.

Maybe the intentions were good and heartfelt, but the execution was way off base. Rather than conveying the intended message of friendship, they may as well have commissioned carving a hand flipping the bird, because in essence, that s how many of the people regarding that land as sacred feel. Not only that, would you want to meet Crazy Horse in the afterlife and have to explain why you carved a 563 foot likeness of his face after he spent a lifetime refusing it ever be reproduced by any means?

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