Confederate statues: What do they stand for?
Behold, the newest batt leground in our interminable culture wars, said Kyle Smith in NationalReview.com—Confederate monuments. In the wake of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., over the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, leftists are baying for the destruction of all 700 or so Confederate memorials dotted across the country. Officials in Baltimore and Austin have already removed several statues under the cover of darkness. Towns and cities in such states as Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Florida have agreed to do the same. In Durham, N.C., an out-of-control “mob” tore down a monument to a Confederate soldier with “orgiastic glee.” Personally, “I have no fondness whatsoever” for Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or any other rebel icons. But where will this “war on symbols” end? As President Trump rightly noted last week, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners—are statues of the Founding Fathers next to be torn down and erased from history?
That argument really is “uncommonly stupid,” said Paul Waldman in TheWeek.com. Washington and Jefferson are memorialized not because they owned slaves—which no one denies is a “moral stain” on their legacies—but because they helped found a nation devoted to the principle that “all men are created equal.” Lee, in contrast, is known solely for leading a rebellion that arose to tear the country apart, in order to preserve the abominable practice of slavery. Confederate monuments were erected as political statements, not “historical markers,” said Zack Beauchamp in Vox.com. Most of them went up from 1890 to 1920 or during the 1950s and ’60s, when the South was, respectively, “establishing Jim Crow and defending it from the civil rights movement.” The organizations and elected officials who put up the statues expressly said at the time they were meant to reassure Southerners that the rebellion “was a just one, that the people who fought it were morally upright, and that white supremacy should be cherished.”
That’s a pinched and distorted way of looking at it, said Arthur Herman in NationalReview.com. To many Southerners today, these monuments commemorate the “honor, valor, and sacrifice” of soldiers who fought for their region. Let’s not forget President Abraham Lincoln’s determination after the war to avoid “retribution” and heal the wounds of the nation through “reconciliation.” That this country can “honor the heroes of both sides” of such a devastating conflict is a shining example of American exceptionalism. When we tear down statues erected by previous generations, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal, we’re “toppling more than brass and marble.” We’re tearing down our nation itself—“all the things, good, bad, and inadequate, that made it.” Why try to hide from our imperfect past?
By that standard, said Max Boot in ForeignPolicy.com, Germany should have erected statues to Nazi generals, who “showed considerable prowess and bravery on the battlefield.” Bravery cannot be separated from the cause in which it is exercised. Confederate statues and flags belong in museums, “where history can be recounted in an even-handed and accurate fashion.” Confederate statues are part of “the 150-year fiction of the Lost Cause,” said Tony Horwitz in The Washington Post. After the Civil War, white Southerners “forged a potent mythology” that their rebellion was actually a defense of their sovereignty against Northern aggression. The Confederates may have lost, but they fought in a just cause. This was a lie—one the white supremacists in Charlottesville helped expose. That’s the good news in all this: We may finally be “nearing the end of the Confederacy’s interminable afterlife.” ■