Yesterday here at The American Spectator, the estimable Doug Bandow posted a very well-reasoned column containing possibly the best argument yet made for why the statue of Robert E. Lee that sits atop a pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, and all of the other remaining examples of public art depicting Lee throughout the South and elsewhere, perhaps ought to come down.
Before explaining why Bandow is wrong, let me first congratulate him on identifying that very strong argument: taking Lee’s statues down is what Lee would have wanted.
All of the evidence we have from the period following the Civil War until Lee’s death indicates that is likely true. Lee, as Bandow noted, foreswore any attempts to profit off his notoriety following the war, going so far as to refuse to attend war memorial events. He wrote no memoir of the war, which surely would have been a financial windfall to replace the fortune he lost when the Confederacy surrendered, and he devoted the remainder of his life to the cause of reconciliation. Lee assumed the presidency of struggling Washington College in Virginia, which is now known (at least for now) as Washington & Lee, using his position to mold young Southern men in the post-bellum era to be good Americans.
That man would very likely have been uncomfortable with the monuments erected in his name, and in all likelihood would have gladly suggested tearing them down in the name of national reconciliation.
That is an excellent argument in favor of Bandow’s position. But it doesn’t win the day.
It doesn’t win the day because that argument assumes those people attempting to tear down Lee’s statue are acting in good faith.
And they most certainly are not.
I can speak to this issue from having seen the monument controversy play out here in Louisiana. Four monuments of post-Reconstruction vintage were torn down in New Orleans during an excruciating public campaign from 2015 to 2017, courtesy of then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s quest for “woke” relevance and national celebrity. The most celebrated was the Lee monument in the circle that bore his name, but there was an equestrian statue of P. G. T. Beauregard, a Confederate general born and raised in the New Orleans area whose life story was considerably more interesting than the sum of his four years wearing the gray, a statue of Jefferson Davis, and a monument to the victory of racist Democrats over the then-reigning Republican power structure in New Orleans in what was essentially a street brawl.
The Beauregard statue was, it can be very convincingly argued, illegally taken down, as it rested in a state park. To date no one in a position of authority has had the stones to take up that cause or to reclaim the statue, which molders in a police impoundment yard in a part of town where bullets routinely whizz past. That Beauregard fought at Fort Sumter, Shiloh, Bull Run, and Petersburg might well have entitled him to such shoddy treatment, but following the war he put his military training to use in designing the streetcar system New Orleans has so long been known for, and in fact the local hero lost a mayoral campaign he otherwise might have won by running on a civil rights platform.
Those same protest mobsters who claimed Lee, Davis, and Beauregard in New Orleans celebrated their victories by defacing a statue of Joan of Arc and have since only increased their demands for defenestration of the city’s historical landmarks. Just last weekend two of these hoodlums, one black and one white, stole a granite bust of 19th-century philanthropist John McDonogh, the founder of the city’s public schools and an interesting figure who systematically freed his slaves after teaching them marketable skills, and dumped it into the Mississippi River.
That same mob has demanded that New Orleans’ iconic statue of Andrew Jackson come down, and two weekends ago it quite possibly would have had law enforcement not drawn a firm line in locking down Jackson Square to the mob of protesters threatening to bowdlerize the statue. Whatever else you might think of Jackson, the man literally saved the city of New Orleans in the battle against the British just east of the city at the close of the War of 1812; had it not been for his efforts the United States would have lost control of the mouth of the Mississippi and American history would have played out in much less grand fashion; if New Orleans cannot have a statue of Jackson then no statue could ever be warranted on public grounds anywhere in America.
We know that the people who are spearheading the efforts to take down these monuments in New Orleans are avowed communists. Malcolm Suber, the titular head of an organization named Take Em Down NOLA, which was the prime mover behind the Lee, Beauregard, and Davis defenestrations, is an alumnus of the Communist Party USA. The money behind his organization comes from a woman named Gavrielle Gemma, an avowed communist from New York.
Of course they’re communists. The bowdlerization of American history is thus for them a compulsion to which there is no satisfaction; that is clear from the current spate of rioting and lawlessness. Bandow notes there are attacks on Washington and Columbus and suggest those be taken on a case-by-case basis, but he’s wildly off the mark there — the wreckers don’t share his powers of discrimination. When statues of abolitionists are defaced in Philadelphia, the Lincoln Monument is vandalized in Washington, and the “protesters” attack churches and even mosques, they’re not reasonable people with whom an accord can be made. What they’re after is a revolution of the proletariat, and they see black people in the cities as that proletariat. To make accommodations with these people is to validate the words attributed to Lenin, that a capitalist will sell you the rope with which you hang him.
Back here in Louisiana, a current controversy has erupted over demands to rename LSU’s main campus library, which is in any event slated to be torn down as it is an architectural eyesore in poor physical condition. The library’s namesake is a famous World War II figure, Gen. Troy H. Middleton, who served as a professor and administrator at LSU between World War I and World War II and then was the school’s president from 1951 to 1962. In uniform, Middleton’s career marked him as one of America’s greatest military heroes. He fought Pancho Villa, he served at the Battle of the Marne and in the Argonne campaign in World War I, and in World War II he emerged as the flag officer most under fire — spending 480 days at the battlefront. He led the charge into Salerno and Sicily, he secured the French port city of Brest for the Allies, and he was a major figure in the drive not just across France but all the way into Czechoslovakia by the end of the war. Middleton was the commander who refused to surrender Bastogne, a decision Patton later called “a stroke of genius,” and he was therefore responsible for the victory in the Battle of the Bulge that broke the Nazi war effort and sealed the result of the war in Europe.
But Middleton must go, because of a 1961 letter he wrote in response to the then-president of the University of Texas offering advice on how to handle the early desegregation of their respective universities. The letter reads horribly in a current context, but it wasn’t written in that context; at the time it was a very real threat that black students on integrated college campuses might suffer the fate of an Emmett Till or Medgar Evers, and at stake wasn’t just the question of Troy Middleton’s Neanderthal racism but how to keep integration from boiling over into rioting and loss of life. Nobody who wasn’t alive to see conditions on the ground at the time can make a true judgment on Middleton’s character in 1961, and even were that possible the 1961 letter wasn’t the sum of the man’s performance on the race issue.
Following his retirement as LSU’s president the next year, Middleton served on a gubernatorial commission on race relations that was credited with a largely orderly desegregation of Louisiana’s public facilities, and he earned accolades for his efforts at racial reconciliation — specifically the National Conference of Christians and Jews’ annual brotherhood award for 1966, and that same year a bronze plaque awarded by the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters to Middleton for his accomplishments in racial peace-keeping.
There will be no end to these demands to remove statues, because they are not made in good faith. The people making them are not attempting to make a more just and harmonious world; they’re aiming to tear America down beyond its foundations.
But if Bandow insists on serving the communist revolutionaries at his rope store, may I suggest he at least charge full retail prices? Before we accede to demands that statues of Lee, or Washington, or Columbus, or Lincoln, or any of America’s other founding figures, be obliterated from public view, can we at least get something for them beyond empty promises of peace in our time? Can we at least force the bowdlerizers to offer up a consideration or two?
I suggested to a state representative here in Louisiana that the Black Lives Matter activists demanding Middleton’s name come off the library, something that will be decided at a Friday meeting of the LSU Board of Supervisors, be made to offer something in return. If they want to unperson Middleton, then how about they take responsibility to raise $50 million for a new library on campus? Surely all of these “woke” corporations posting homage to Black Lives Matter on their websites and in obsequious emails to their clientele would be willing to pony up for a new, socially just library at LSU, no? Or if not, then perhaps BLM doesn’t actually have any junk in its trunk.
Or perhaps what they really are is takers, and nothing else. Perhaps they aren’t capable of any real positive activity. Perhaps all they know is vitriol and victimology. And perhaps they’ll never mature beyond the destructive mentality into which they’ve been indoctrinated.
We’re unlikely to find out, because none of the cowards who run LSU, up to and including Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, who certainly didn’t win reelection on a promise to trash the state’s historical personages (and certainly wouldn’t have won had the issue come up last year), are willing to resist demands from BLM. Everyone in that negotiation is on the same side of the table.
Lee might have gladly offered his likeness up to the altar of reconciliation. But Lee also was willing to engage in horrors current Americans can barely contemplate in defense of his home and heritage. The guess here is he would be quite skeptical of today’s mob gunning for him and everyone else whose visage is displayed in bronze from Fairbanks to Key West.