The ongoing unrest over how to address the problem of police use of excessive force in America has spilled over into other aspects of life, including the official use of “the” “Confederate” flag and monuments to the generals and other leaders of the Confederate States of America (which waged war on the USA).
There are complexities to this discussion. We’re now hearing about vandals expressing their contempt for colonialism by defacing or removing statues of Christopher Columbus, Cervantes, and Junipero Serra. I have friends on social media at each other’s throats over whether Columbus deserves to have statues erected or beheaded.
But before we get to complexities, can we start with simplicities? Because some people actually don’t get this.
No one is trying to change or erase history. That is a reactionary non-argument lacking in context and intelligence. More to the point, it’s a straw man fallacy because it misrepresents the other side of the argument in order to defeat it more easily.
Simply put, no one is pushing to erase history; some people are pushing to erase monuments from places of honor in society. I don’t have a picture of Hitler hanging on my living room wall, but I know what he looks like. I can find a picture of him pretty easily. We know who he was without having a statue of him on the Capitol steps. There is no WWII memorial that boasts his image, no American military bases named for SS officers or Nazi soldiers. And they killed fewer American military men than Robert E. Lee did.
Tearing down Confederate statues does not change history. Would you like to know what does?
Erecting Confederate statues decades after the Civil War ended and acting as if they they fought for a noble cause that is worthy of honor.
Their cause was not worthy of honor. The Confederacy abandoned US citizenship in an effort to preserve the institution of slavery in the name of white supremacy, and they were willing to kill American soldiers to do it. The post-war decision to confer on these traitors the status of “veteran,” a bid to heal the division in this country, was the most significant erasure of American history in American history.
Yes, their statues should come down. They should be moved to museums and other settings where their history should be placed in context, including the fact that the majority of them went up not to honor the dead, but to intimidate the living. The statues, along with the use of the emblem popularly referred to as the Confederate flag, were given places of honor with the rise of Jim Crow policies that codified anti-Black segregation into law.
They were erected as monuments to white supremacy, a gigantic middle finger to Black Americans who had the uppity audacity to fight for their rights to be equal under the law.
It is in recognition of that history, not denial of it, that so many are finally severing their ties with the lost, unworthy, vile, inhuman, execrable cause.
It is in recognition of history, not denial of it, that Mississippi is removing the Confederate emblem from its state flag.
It is in recognition of history, not denial of it, that America is finally having a serious conversation about removing traitors from places of honor.
Yes, I said traitors. Now the same crowd that talks about how political correctness drags this country down, the same crowd that celebrates open bigots for “telling it like it is,” is going to come down on me for using an accurate word to describe a political movement that took up arms against the USA.
When the Russians changed the name of Leningrad back to St. Petersburg, you didn’t see a bunch of whiners balking at how they were changing history. When a US tank helped Iraqis “spontaneously” topple a statue of Saddam Hussein, you didn’t see a bunch of one-toothed yahoos saying “but you’re erasing history!”
These statues should be toppled because we recognize and know our history, not because anyone is trying to deny it. We know they are not worthy of the honor, and we’re tired of the excuses people are making to deny history by keeping the statues in place.
So where does it end? What of statues of Columbus and Washington and Jefferson, our national and historical heroes who, by our standards and sometimes even by theirs, did some pretty horrible things?
We all need to be able to have that conversation with each other. I’m a fan of having that conversation. I am not a fan of the decision being made in anger in the dead of night, no matter how righteous that anger might be.
Personally, I have no problem with the Lincoln Memorial, even knowing Lincoln once advocated sending Blacks back to Africa for their own good. The fact that Washington and Jefferson once owned slaves does not lead me to want their images taken off our currency. But that’s me. I believe we have no statues of perfect people, because we have no perfect people. We put up statues of people in spite of their flaws and shortcomings as human beings (unlike the Confederates, whose statues were erected to honor their flaws and shortcomings as human beings).
Other people feel very strongly about these issues and want their statues taken down, their cities renamed, their faces off our money. Because of history, not in denial of it.
It’s our history too.