On Statuary

On Statuary

I know people are going to disagree with me no matter how I weigh in, so welp. I draw a very, VERY thick line between statues of Presidents like Andrew Jackson (which currently protesters are trying to topple) and the Confederate statues everywhere. There's a reason for this. Buckle up, here comes the history.

In the aftermath of Reconstruction, aka "maybe we should give a significant minority of recently enslaved citizens representation in our government", the ex-Confederates fought back, both politically (the story of presidential elections in the latter 19th century was essentially Democrat-easy on the South vs Republican-hard on the South) and literally (this is how the KKK and other such white supremacist militias were born). And sadly, they won. Southern landowners established racial superiority through other means than slavery, and it remained for over a century (in many ways, it continues).

In the 20th century, when it was looked down on for KKK night riders to lynch Black citizens en masse, the followers of the Confederate/Jim Crow ideology spread it via other means. Specifically, statuary. This is why almost every Southern city has a statue of some Confederate general - the "Daughters of the Confederacy" (I guess racism is more acceptable if women did it, back then) funded them all. (This is also why so many military bases are named after Confederate generals. Curiously, after World War 2 we didn't create a Ft. Rommel or an Air Force Base Yamamoto. Funny how that works.) It's why in Georgia there's a mural blasted out of a mountain that is more totalitarian in effect than anything the Communist bloc ever came up with. Confederate statues were the literal act of white racists lifting their legs and peeing on the commons.

So yes, tear down the artifact of that era - no Confederate general deserves commemoration. And if you want to argue for the myth-making of Lee or Stonewall Jackson - try to find statues of Rommel or Guderian in Germany. Both were extremely effective, by all accounts honorable, and Rommel was eventually killed by Hitler for not being a good Nazi. Still no statues. Because the Nazi era, as the Confederate era, does not deserve to be commemorated.

Recently this has spread to "anyone in history who's owned slaves" (including memorably, Gen. Ulysses Grant who, when gifted with a slave, freed him as quickly as humanly possible and, oh, by the way, led the reunification of America and the liberation of every slave in the Confederacy). Every historical figure can be argued - Christopher Columbus was a genocidal madman, Andrew Jackson was a war criminal, the list goes on. No one survives historical study.

I would simply ask to draw a line between the political act of the neo-Confederate white-washing of a slaveholder's revolt, and historical commemoration in general. It's a discussion that is worth having, but not drawing that line leads inexorably to a Year Zero where nothing is worthy of commemoration.

This link gives further illustration and is recommended reading.