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    M.F. Maury and the progress of history
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2020 Jul 13, 23:33 -0700

    A long-term NavList member sent a message earlier today which fortunately ended up in the moderation queue, and I will not post it as a public NavList message. It does, however, contain a newsworthy note that may interest some readers. He quoted the Wall Street Journal:
    "U.S. Navy officials have informally discussed renaming several ships, including the USS Chancellorsville, which is named after a Confederate victory, and the USNS Maury, an oceanographic survey ship named after Matthew Fontaine Maury, who served as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and later joined the Confederate Navy."


    The legacy of Maury has been fraught and complicated since the beginning of the US Civil War. He was a Confederate bastard --worthy of contempt-- and yet he was also a scientist of considerable achievement --worthy of respect. Can we understand both men?? 

    Informal discussions of names of minor USN vessels aside, it should be added that Virginia is busy removing monuments and legacy-namings honoring Maury right now. Lake Maury, a small reservoir nestled in the park and grounds of the Mariners' Museum in Newport News Virginia (famous for its vast collection of artifacts related to US maritime history and the history of celestial navigation and also home to the recovered turret of the USS Monitor), was renamed a month ago. They're calling it "The Mariners' Lake". Does this mean that history is being "erased"? No. Of course not. Surely we are able to recognize that morally bankrupt people like Maury can also do good science, right? Wernher von Braun was a Nazi who designed and built the world's first ballistic missile that killed thousands intentionally, and yet he also dominated the magnificent, noble Apollo program that landed astronauts on the Moon. We honor him for Apollo. Can we forgive the Nazi? No, and we would be erasing history if we did. Should we raise statues to him?? I leave that as an open question.

    And there's the problem with those so-called "Confederate heroes". Must we venerate them, honor them like heroes, and raise statues to their legacy, as if their treason and heartfelt advocacy of slavery was a footnote in their lives? That was certainly fashionable in the Jim Crow era when the apartheid US South (primarily under the power of the the Democratic Party --O how times have changed) brutally crushed the rights of African-Americans and pretended that the US Civil War was merely a tragic misunderstanding among family members. But now?? Have we not, at long last, moved on from that ugly era? They were traitors. The Confederacy was a monstrous, ugly aberration. Those "heroes" deserve no statues.

    Maury had his statue in Richmond for, what, a century (I don't know --and don't care!-- exactly how long). That statue was somewhere on the spectrum from grossly inappropriate to utterly disgraceful. Maury was an advocate of slavery in the South so ardent he even sought to transplant it, in all-but-name, to Mexico post-war (a recent essay on this topic). Somehow during the 20th century he was rehabilitated into the most important oceanographer of all time. He certainly did some important early organization work, but it is a fantasy to suggest that "Bowditch" or "pilot charts" or modern oceanography would not exist without him. The tide has turned on this early oceanographer, and Maury is once again recognized for what he was: a scientist, yes, and also a traitor to the United States and an advocate and patriotic servant of a republic founded upon and committed to explicit racism and the horrific institution of slavery. Oceanography will not change in the slightest in the absence of his veneration. And history is not erased by recognizing and calling out his multifaceted, morally-corrupt, damaged life. History is enhanced. And thank god for that.

    Raze the statues. And raise history!

    Frank Reed

       
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