23 June 2020

No, it is not "erasing history"

History needs to be recorded and remembered, regardless of how we today judge the events and people of the past.  What happened is what happened, even when the truth is painful.  But historical memory does not require that we preserve monuments explicitly meant to honor criminals and insult black Americans.

Most of the Confederate monuments now scattered across the country were built not right after the Civil War but between 1895 and 1920, when the post-war progress on civil rights had been mostly reversed and the grinding down and terrorization of blacks reached an apex.  They were less commemoration of history than assertion and celebration of the resurgence of white supremacy.

This is perhaps fitting given that that was the cause for which the Confederates fought.  The Civil War was entirely about slavery -- the Confederacy was created solely to preserve slavery.  The declarations of secession passed by the Southern states at the time make this clear.  Any assertion to the contrary is simply a lie.  Yet it's the people who claim to be concerned about preserving history who keep repeating this fundamental lie about it.

In every other case, the difference between remembering history and honoring its villains does not seem to confuse anybody.  Germany preserves the history of the Third Reich with grim determination, lest forgetting the horrors of the past make it easier to repeat them someday, but it has no statues commemorating Hitler or Himmler.

Arguments about honoring "Southern heritage" don't hold water either.  The South as a distinct cultural region is at least two centuries old.  Why focus on the four-year period of shame?  The South has produced many great figures before and after that time, including military heroes who fought for the United States rather than against it.  Again, Germans can take pride in centuries of achievement in many fields without defending the twelve years of Nazi atrocities.

It is sometimes said that if Confederate statues are removed, we would need to get rid of commemorations of other past figures who owned slaves or did other things which would be considered immoral today.  It is a valid point that almost any powerful figure from more than a couple of generations ago probably did or believed things which we today would judge abhorrent -- and never forget that we do not know how people a few generations in the future will judge things considered normative in our own time.

But there are differences in degree.  Owning slaves in 1800, when slavery was almost universally accepted and had been for millennia, is not the same thing as fighting to preserve slavery in 1861 after it had emerged as the central morally-contentious issue of the day.  Columbus lived in a brutal age, but his atrocities as governor of the Indies were shocking even for that age, and led to his being removed from his position and briefly imprisoned.  Some degree of racism was normative in the 1940s, but Auschwitz was not.

And the Confederate case is unique because these men fought a war against the United States.  That makes it absurd that the country is dotted with statues honoring them, and even more absurd that American military bases are named after them.  I'm aware of the argument that they should not be considered traitors because in those days loyalty was felt more to individual states than to the whole country.  But even if you buy that (I don't), they were still enemies of the United States and fought a war to break it up.  Admiral Yamamoto was not a traitor to his own country, but we don't name American military bases after him.

It's not just that these statues are offensive and degrading to black Americans; it's that they were intended to be so.  If they deserve preservation at all, it should be in museums, as relics not of the Confederacy but of the age of resurgent racial oppression two generations later, which built them as assertions of its own triumph.  The bases should be renamed, honoring the country's heroes rather than its enemies.  And as for that stupid flag, the First Amendment protects individuals' right to display it, but we all know what it really stood for -- and it still does.


Blogger Jack said...

Even if this ends up with us having fewer statues overall, I'm not sure why that is necessarily a bad thing. Why do we need them? It isn't like a people would forget their history without statues.

23 June, 2020 03:31  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

"It's not just that these statues are offensive and degrading to black Americans; it's that they were intended to be so." And this is key to really beat their argument. The Daughters of the Confederacy wanted these statues in public places as a slap on the face of the people they consider inferior.
For all their pride in four years of attempted white supremacy, they surely are a whiny bunch.


23 June, 2020 04:06  
Blogger Lady M said...

Well said! I live the little cartoon at the top.

23 June, 2020 05:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: Statues are almost never actually about remembering or teaching history. They're about honoring admired figures. That's why these should go.

Sixpence: Exactly. They think they're being "oppressed" because some of their symbolic lording it over black people is being challenged.

Lady M: That's the part of history they never want to recognize.....

23 June, 2020 06:30  
Blogger Tommykey said...

The same people lamenting the removal of Confederate statues were absolutely giddy when the statues of Lenin and Stalin were torn down after the collapse of communism 30 years ago, as they were when Saddam Hussein's statue was torn down in Ferdos Square in Bagdhad in 2003.

23 June, 2020 07:08  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...


23 June, 2020 08:25  
Blogger Lady M said...

Sorry love the cartoon not live it. Proofreading or lack there of is something the Donald and I have in common.

23 June, 2020 10:04  
Blogger Mike said...

We should call the flag what it really was. The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Along with several other uses.

This is from Wikipedia.

Despite never having historically represented the Confederate States of America as a country, nor having been officially recognized as one of its national flags, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and its variants are now flag types commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag. This design has become a widely recognized symbol of the Southern United States, racism, and white supremacy. It is also known as the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern cross. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Stars and Bars, the name of the first national Confederate flag. The "rebel flag" is a highly divisive and polarizing symbol in the United States. A Politico-Morning Consult poll of June 2020 shows that 44% view it as a symbol of Southern pride while 36% say it is a symbol of racism.

(Picture of a similar-looking flag)
An elongated version of the Battle Flag of the Army of Tennessee, and similar to The Second Confederate Navy Jack, in use from 1863 until 1865, although with the darker blue field of the Army's battle flag.

Great post BTW. Clear and precise. A+

23 June, 2020 10:23  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Beautifully stated, Infidel753.

So many folks in the south that I know (my brother lives in Tennessee) always fall back on this "heritage" excuse for the Confederate flag and even statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is remembered for the Fort Pillow massacre of African-American troops and being the first grand wizard of the KKK. How that, for example, can be interpreted as anything but intending to intimidate African-Americans is hard to imagine.

Here in Boston"s Waterfront Park, a statue of Christopher Columbus was decapitated (for the second time since I moved here in 2004), and it's unlikely it will be restored, considering the controversy surrounding it.

23 June, 2020 10:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tommykey: Because they, like everyone else, recognized that those figures were legitimate targets of mass hatred. They're just getting honked off to realize many people feel the same way about their own slavery-defending ancestors.

Debra: Thanks!

Lady M: No problem.

Mike: It has a distinctive and dramatic design, much more so than the "real" Confederate flag. No doubt that helped it win acceptance as the emblem of the modern whiner-supremacist movement. At any rate, its meaning today is clear.

Shaw: Thanks. It's had to avoid concluding that terrorizing blacks is the "heritage" they're proud of. The case of Columbus is even weirder. Italy's real heritage of achievement is almost unmatched in the world. It's baffling that some Italian-Americans get so invested in Columbus when they have Galileo, da Vinci, Dante, the Roman Empire, some of the world's greatest architecture, and on and on.

23 June, 2020 15:50  
Blogger Richard said...

Don't lose the metal! It is useful,and it takes a long time to get it. Me,I'd like to see Andrew Jackson pulled down off his pedestal and made into tools.

24 June, 2020 01:18  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I have no problem taking down statues and putting them in museums where the reality of our past can be taught to those that want to know it. What I do have a problem with is the way they are being brought down. Do it the right way, the legal way. All of those people who illegally deface and topple the statues are now criminals in my mind and they should have to pay for their crimes. Want the statues removed, fine but do it the legal way.

24 June, 2020 09:55  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Yeah, it's weird that Columbus has a federal holiday dedicated to him, when he never even set foot on or so much as saw any part of the mainland United States. I think it is all about tying the United States into the history of the discovery (by Europeans) of the Americas in general, and because Columbus was Genoese, that is supposed to translate into epic bragging rights for all Italians. Maybe some people believe that if it were not for Columbus the Americas would not have been discovered at all, or for a very long time, though I suspect the Portuguese would have came upon Brazil as they continued with their voyages of discovery. I have also read claims that either Bristol or Basque fishermen were already fishing off the coast of North America at the time, but that they kept it secret so that they could have the fishing areas all to themselves.

24 June, 2020 11:39  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Richard: or statues of more worthy honorees.

Mary: Good point, and I should have mentioned that in the post. Many local governments have been moving toward removing Confederate monuments, and my intent was to advocate for that. If we legitimize vandalism we'll just end up with a free-for-all of competing mobs tearing down anything they don't like.

Tommykey: I think the discovery of America was inevitable once positional notation made complex math, and thus transoceanic navigation, possible. Even without that it might well have happened by accident. It's not even true that Columbus was a visionary in believing the Earth was round. Most educated people in Europe knew that by his time. The debate was about the size of the Earth. Columbus believed it was small enough that China was not far west of Europe -- and he was dead wrong.

24 June, 2020 12:46  
Blogger Dave Dubya said...

In the interests of "preserving history", let's look at the Constitution of the Confederate States:

Article I, Section 9, Clause 4:

"No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed."

Article IV, Section 2:

"The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired."

Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3:

"The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States."

No wonder racists prefer mute statues and waving their flags of racism. They don't tell the whole story.

25 June, 2020 13:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Dave: Exactly, and thanks for the cite. It was always just about preserving slavery.

26 June, 2020 01:27  
Anonymous Rancid said...

Could we at least preserve the John Hunt Morgan Memorial in a museum? It's not every day that you can see a mare with such prominent testicles.

26 June, 2020 10:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It would be fitting if the most worthy thing the Confederacy was remembered for was horse bollocks.

26 June, 2020 16:18  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Dave, in addition, one need only look at Lee's Gettysburg campaign, in which the Confederate army seized blacks living in Pennsylvania and sent them down to slavery in Virginia. Some Confederate apologists try to paint Lee as the "good" Confederate who was an honorable man fighting for his state of Virginia, but the kidnapping of blacks could not have happened without at least his tacit approval, as he was very adamant and strict about not destroying the property of white citizens.

27 June, 2020 10:14  
Blogger Unknown said...

Confederate Flag ad from the time of LBJ.

"The Confederate Flag is no longer a sectional emblem. It is now the symbol of the White race and White supremacy. Fly it on your car and house."


28 June, 2020 07:06  
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11 July, 2020 16:43  

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