In these very — I mean very — weird times of ours, few phenomena appear weirder than what I would describe as the mania for pulling down or otherwise removing memorials to dead Confederates. New Orleans has done it. My own University of Texas has done it. Dallas now talks of doing it, as my respected onetime colleague at the News, James Ragland, informs us.
I feel the urgent need to inquire of the iconoclasts, the breakers of images: Why? To what purpose? With what sensible aim in view?
The reply generally comes through clenched teeth: “Humph! On account of slavery, isn’t that clear enough?” The promoters commonly think it is. Why, these unconscionable rebels — Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee, John B. Hood and so on — betrayed their country and fought to preserve slavery. Their images defile and deface the American community, sowing disharmony, perpetuating racism.
I find it’s generally a waste of time to interpose between Lee’s grave, bearded image and the wreckers’ wrath any information respecting the old general’s meritorious character and, equally to the point, his postwar commitment to healing the nation’s self-inflicted injuries. (During the war his name for the soldiers of the North was always “those people.”) The statue wreckers are seldom interested in the kind of historical detail that schools used to impart about the war itself: with due attention paid to the diligent measures required over many years to heal the gaping, bleeding wounds of war.
Let’s go back to where we started. What are we trying to do here? We’re out, are we, to heal by destroying and displacing, thereby rekindling divisive passions? What an odd conceit — that we should forcibly replace old pieties with new ones and expect thanks for it! I am sorry to inform the wreckers, but as we say in the South: That ol’ dog won’t hunt.
I can appreciate, as I think everyone must, that 1) the abolition of slavery represented an enormous gain for civilization; 2) the sooner blacks and whites learn to function as a united people, the better for America; and 3) the modern South teems with folk — Vietnamese, Cubans, Chinese, Mexicans, Californians — who wouldn’t know “Dixie” from a Mesopotamian funeral chant.
I am not in favor of, as many seem to be, re-fighting a war that ended 152 years ago. I am for continuing to absorb the experience of all the country went through then, and forging a larger unity than existed even before this statue nonsense arose.
The whole enterprise of taking down statuary to appease the ideological passions of a talkative handful is… silly. I cannot think of a better word for it. It’s ridiculous: unworthy of a mature and sensible people.
Once the statues are down, what have you got besides some suddenly vacant pedestals? Well — not moral unity, that’s for sure. You’ve made a lot of people mad who weren’t previously mad at you. You’ve called into question your intellectual bona fides by twisting historical facts to fit a manufactured, distorted narrative. To espouse a silly cause is to run the risk of becoming known as silly.
The matter goes still further. So Dallas goes along with unhorsing Gen. Lee, right there in the park bearing his name (which name, of course, has to be changed to something appropriately anodyne). Yet that’s hardly the logical end. The revolution is hungry.
We have to wipe out school names, street names, and fort names redolent of the late Confederacy. And not just the Confederacy. The American slavocracy was large; it was powerful. Among its members: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, with their large monuments and even larger legacies. What makes Robert E. Lee a likelier target than the father of our country?
This business of digging up the dead and exhibiting their shortcomings has no predictable end. Today’s heroes and heroines become fair game for great-grandkids: topics for future ridicule and disrespect. Seldom in our history — alas — has the counsel to look before you leap seemed more relevant, or more ignored, than right now.
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