I went to Washington and Lee University. Robert E. Lee, who was the college president after the Civil War (that he thankfully lost), is buried on campus in what’s basically a shrine. His horse is buried next to the shrine. A short distance away lies Stonewall Jackson, who taught at the adjacent Virginia Military Institute. And I fervently hope that now that the governor of Virginia, in a virtue-signaling attempt to show black Americans how much he cares about them when he’s not mocking them in blackface, has vowed to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from the state capital, we can finally settle, definitely and in the affirmative, a debate that shouldn’t even be necessary: whether we should take down the statues of racist, Confederate traitors, that never should have been erected in the first place, and that we would never erect today.
For those who haven’t been keeping up with the news since the early 1860s, you’ll be glad to know that the Civil War is officially over and the good guys won, but not before Confederate forces slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Americans. And more than that, in the century and a half since, the nation has rejected what the South was fighting for: not some romanticized, revisionist “way of life” characterized by gentility, hospitality, and superior values, but white supremacy and its most noxious manifestation, slavery.
Yet, ubiquitous throughout the South are found statues and other memorials which honor the men who led the war against the United States and its people, in order to imprison and enslave their fellow man, and thereby violate the foundational American principles that actually do deserve enshrinement: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And, we might add to that, capitalism.
It’s one thing to debate the proper place of men who did great things and incidentally owned slaves, like Washington, Jefferson, and Columbus, or who, post-slavery, still harbored racist feelings of white supremacy that remained prevalent, especially among the “enlightened” class, such as Woodrow Wilson, all of whom arguably get more of a pass than they should. But Lee and the Confederates are honored specifically for fighting in defense of the institutions of slavery and white supremacy. And on that point there can be no serious disagreement. Without slavery and white supremacy, nobody cares about these people. We would never build statues to these men for fighting for these principles today, so why must we suffer those already in place?
And “suffer” is the right word, because this is not without harm. I can’t imagine being a black child, or adult for that matter, and having to see statues like this, and feeling the invalidation that is concomitant to knowing that a lot of people sympathize with the Confederate cause, if not wish they had outright prevailed.
And before anyone starts chirping about how the Confederates were really fighting for “states rights this or that,” go read the Constitution of the Confederate States, which was substantively identical to that of the United States, except that it explicitly protected slavery; or the articles of secession of each of those states, and observe that almost all of them put slavery and the supremacy of the white race front and center of their reasons for leaving. You might start by reading that of South Carolina, the first state to secede, which cited very explicitly, so there would be no confusion (or room to feign ignorance), “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” as their primary reason for secession.
Yes, the Southern cause was about state’s rights… to have slaves!
And please, stop with the histrionics about book burnings, and the tired, self-congratulatory laments that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” We all know that we can remember history without honoring those on the wrong side of it, as we normally do. Nobody would ever tell Jews to erect statues of Hitler lest they forget the Holocaust, and yes, that is the same thing. Slavery was the Black Holocaust, and if anything threatens history, it’s these statues, and the honor that comes with them, which compel a negationist history that demands we forget the racist nature and purpose of the Confederacy and their vainglorious War.
But, of course, re-writing history is the entire purpose of these statues. So what really concerns Confederate sympathizers (and oh my goodness can you believe we still have such things two centuries later???) is not that history is being threatened, but rather that removing these statues threatens their revisionist, white-washed, sanitized for public consumption, pseudo-history.
States rights, and local rights, are indeed important, nay, essential, to a nation with a diverse body politic. But so are federal rights. Every nation needs foundational principles of general application, and among the least controversial should be that no person should be treated as less than any other because of his race.
And if we can’t agree on that, well, too bad, because your side lost, and we shouldn’t honor losers, especially racist losers who fought against America and its values of freedom and justice for all made in the image of God.