Lincoln statues under attack in the largest city in the Land of Lincoln

Lincoln: The Man in 2008

By John Ruberry

On Wednesday, in response to the summer riot in Chicago that nearly toppled a Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park last month–it and another Columbus statue have been since placed in storage–Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago Monument Project revealed 41 monuments that “have been identified for public discussion.” 

The project’s web site cautions, in bold print no less, “No decisions have been made about the following monuments.”

Yeah, right. BS! Imagine that you work at a company where the annual reviews are conducted each December. But in June you are informed that you’ll soon have a mid-year review but then are told, “Don’t worry, nothing is wrong.” At that point a wise person will begin the process of résumé updating. 

The statues, reliefs, and plaques include monuments honoring four presidents, several memorials recalling the first Europeans to visit Chicago, Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette, as well as generals, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and many public art pieces with Native American themes. And yes of course those two Columbus statues. Oh, if you are one of those people who believe Leif Ericsson was the real European discoverer of America don’t be smug. He’s on Lightfoot commission’s list too.

This not a list of shame. It’s a tragic shame that there is such a list.

Five of the 41 monuments are Abraham Lincoln statues–and there are five Lincoln statues in Chicago. Hmm. Widely considered by liberals and conservatives as the greatest American president, the Great Emancipator’s presence in Illinois is profound and inescapable. “Land of Lincoln” is emblazoned on every Illinois license plate as is Honest Abe’s visage. 

I live on Lincoln Avenue in a Chicago suburb–that street winds its way south into Chicago and Lincoln Park, where you’ll encounter what Andrew Ferguson in his book Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America says is “what is generally thought to be the greatest Lincoln statue of the nineteenth century, a towering figure by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.” That makes this statue, generally referred to as Lincoln Standing although its formal name is Lincoln: The Man, a masterpiece. Yep, a masterpiece. So much so that it has been recast several times, and those Lincoln: The Man reproductions can be found in Parque Lincoln in Mexico City, Parliament Square in London, Forest Lawn Cemetery–Hollywood Hills, and the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield. Earlier this month Little Marathon Pundit and I visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, where we found one of the many miniatures of Lincoln: The Man

Of course back in Chicago the original artistic triumph is “under public discussion.” In Grant Park sits another targeted Saint-Gaudens work, Abraham Lincoln: Head of State.

Also troubling is the aforementioned Marquette and Jolliet memorials on this list. Jolliet, while crossing the Chicago Portage in what is now southwestern suburban Cook County, noted that it would be an excellent location for a canal, one that would connect the watersheds of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Lincoln, while a member of the Illinois legislature, was a proponent of the Illinois-Michigan Canal, which opened 17 decades after the Marquette-Jolliet expedition. While that canal very well may have been built without either men, if it hadn’t, Chicago may have ended up like many other small cities on Lake Michigan, like Sheboygan, Wisconin. (Oh, I’ve been there–it’s a lovely place by the way.)

George Washington has two “nominations” from the Chicago Monuments Project, including his horseback statue in his namesake park. McKinley Park’s statue of William McKinley is in peril too. Does that mean their park names will be next? While Grant Park doesn’t have a Ulysses S. Grant statue–Lincoln Park does. He has a nomination too, as do his fellow union generals Phil Sheridan, on Sheridan Road no less, and John Logan, whose statue stands in Grant Park.  

Lori Lightfoot is a failed mayor in a city that is in clear decline. Failed mayor? She’s up for reelection in a little more than two years and already there is speculation as to who her opponents will be. Since I declared Chicago a city in decline last summer its retail cash cow, North Michigan Avenue, has been hit by the announment of two closings, a massive Gap store and Macy’s at Water Tower Place. Chicago’s streets are potholed disasters, there are omnipresent red-light cameras to contend with, the murder rate is soaring, as are the number of car jackings. Taxes are oppresive, and its financial millstone, the worst-funded municipal pension progam in the nation, has never been properly addressed. Oh, this appears to be a little thing but graffiti is no longer routinely cleaned up along Chicago’s expressways. The proliferation of kudzu-like graffiti foreshadowed New York City’s descent in the 1970s.

Instead Lightfoot zooms in on statues and monuments to pander to her leftist base. 

The ultimate responsibility for this real-life dystopia of course goes to Chicago’s misguided voters. What was it that H.L Mencken said of democracy? Ah yes, here it is, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Chicago voters are a special kind of common people it seems

That being said there has been surprisingly little anger here in the Chicago area about these possible monument removals, as coverage has been modest and a major snowstorm earlier last week, on top of another one, had people focused on more immediate needs. 

But that needs to change. Click here on the Chicago Monuments Project web site to offer your thoughts. As always, please be polite–but be firm too. The form asks for a ZIP code. A Chicago one will make you more acceptable to those reading the replies; choose any 606 ZIP code between 60601 and 60661. Just saying.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. He has visited Lincoln’s birthplace, his Springfield home, Ford’s Theatre, and the Peterson House, where our 16th president passed away.

Kneecapping AI to maintain a bloated military bureaucracy

One of two prototypes purchased by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office for its Ghost Fleet Overlord program, aimed at fielding an autonomous surface ship capable of launching missiles. (U.S. Defense Department)

Military drones are popping up everywhere. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we became used to seeing Predator drones flying around with Hellfire missiles, flown from bases in the United States and providing a near 24/7 watch for opportunities to blow up terrorists. The latest batch of drones are now becoming increasingly autonomous, meaning they can not just think for themselves, but react faster than a human and respond to an ever changing environment. In the news recently was how Artificial Intelligence that beat a top US Air Force F-16 pilot, and previously the Navy discussed how its Sea Hunter would operate as an autonomous missile barge.

But I’m not here to talk about technology, not only because details are classified, but also because any technological issues will solve themselves over time. Human engineers are pretty smart. If some piece of code doesn’t work, we’ll find a solution. Technology isn’t holding us back in the realm of military drones. People are, and unfortunately people are the real weakness, as emphasized in this quote:

“AI matters because using drones as ‘loyal wingmen’ is a key part of future air power developments,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia via email. “It’s less important as a fighter pilot replacement.”

If we build an AI that is smarter, faster and all around better than top notch fighter pilots, why on earth would we not replace pilots? The Army just raised the minimum contract for pilots to 10 years, which in military human resources speak means that they can’t keep these people in. All the military services struggle to retain people with skills like flying, electronic warfare, cyber, and anything else that requires significant technical expertise. Using AI to fill these billets gives the military significantly more flexibility in where it sends its manpower. This manpower can be used to lead squadrons of drone aircraft, or on people who lead armies of online bots in cyberspace. It’ll require more training and expertise, and certainly a culture change in how we view people in the military.

Besides being short sighted about replacing people, the other weakness we are going to find with autonomous systems is that we do a terrible job writing out our intentions. I worked with some highly skills folks on the Navy’s autonomous sea systems, and one of the biggest challenges was turning what we call “Commanders Intent” into code. If a vessel is out looking for an enemy, its easy to say “Kill this type of enemy when you see them.” It’s harder to give instructions like “Taking the current geopolitical events into consideration, make a judgement call on whether to shoot down an adversary aircraft.”

To put it bluntly, what does that even mean? The military throws around the idea of “Commanders Intent” like its some sort of magic that springs forth from someone’s brain. In reality, its a lot of processing happening in the back of your mind that constantly takes in data from the world around you. The military benefits from having extraordinary people that stick around long enough to reach command. These extraordinary people find ways to take an ugly bureaucracy devoted toward mediocrity and somehow make it work. As our military bureaucracy has grown, this has gotten more difficult. Extraordinary people are less likely to stick around to fight a bureaucracy devoted to maintaining status quo, especially when business is happy to snap them up and pay them more. Autonomous systems give us a chance to drop much of the bureaucracy and focus on intent, strategy and “end state,” or what we want the world to look like at the end. If we don’t embrace this change, we’re missing out on the truly revolutionary changes that autonomy gives us.

Future warfare is going to feature autonomous systems, and its going to highlight how weak human beings are in a variety of areas. Rather than fight this, the military should embrace autonomous systems as a chance to recapitalize manpower. It should also begin training its future commanders, flag and general officers, about how to actually write out their intent, and stop relying on chance to give us great commanders. We can’t let a military bureaucracy devoted to maintaining a status quo on manpower stifle the massive innovation that AI offers us.

This post represents the views of the author and not the views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.