bookmark_borderMy letter to Stone Mountain Memorial Association

I recently wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association asking them to preserve Stone Mountain’s Confederate Memorial Carving. This likeness of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson is the largest Confederate monument in the world, and sadly but unsurprisingly has come under fire from the politically-correct bullies. I got this idea from the awesome organization Monuments Across Dixie, which works to protect existing Confederate statues and build new ones. I urge you to write a letter as well, following the instructions in Monuments Across Dixie’s Facebook post, if you also support preserving this amazing piece of art and history. 

bookmark_borderConfederate lives matter

It is horrible enough that supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have brutally and mercilessly attacked, both physically and verbally, statues of historical figures in public places. What is even more disturbing is that these acts of vandalism and destruction are not limited to monuments on city streets and in public parks but have extended even to the graves of fallen soldiers.

For example, back in June, someone “tarred and feathered” several Confederate soldiers’ grave stones at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana. The area of the cemetery that the vandal(s) targeted is known as the Confederate Mound and contains the remains of 1,600 prisoners of war who died at Camp Morton. Tarring and feathering was a form of public humiliation popular during the 18th century that was often used by angry mobs against British tax collectors. 

In another incident, someone pulled down Confederate flags that had adorned graves at the Resaca Confederate Cemetery in Georgia. Some of the flags were arranged to spell out “stop racism” and others were scattered on the ground. Over 450 Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Resaca are buried in the cemetery. 

Additionally, at the Confederate Cemetery in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, someone defaced an obelisk honoring known Confederate soldiers as well as unknown Confederate soldiers who were discovered in a mass grave nearby. A swastika was spray-painted on the obelisk and the names of the soldiers crossed out. 

In Little Rock, Arkansas, vandals beat, attempted to pull down, and graffitied an obelisk in Oakland Cemetery that honored 900 mostly unknown Confederate soldiers who died in various hospitals in the area. “They destroyed one of our obelisks and wrote all over it with spray paint, and chipped it very badly beyond repair,” said cemetery employee John Raines, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “They wrote a bunch of racial slurs and f this, f that.” The vandals also desecrated nine nearby wooden grave markers, gouging the word “Confederate” out of them. To their credit, cemetery staff reported the incident to law enforcement as a hate crime, and a man named Mujera Benjamin Lungaho was recently arrested and charged with vandalizing the graves and obelisk.

In Silver Spring, Maryland, someone knocked down a grave marker in the Grace Episcopal Church cemetery that honored 17 Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Fort Stevens. A note left on the scene read: “Here lies 17 dead white supremacists who died fighting to keep black people enslaved. The Confederacy was and always will be racist. Let this marker be a more accurate depiction of history because the last one was a disgrace.” The original grave marker, which the vandal(s) characterized as “disgraceful,” simply read, “in memory of seventeen unknown Confederate dead” and provided additional factual details about them. 

The behavior demonstrated in these and similar incidents is beyond despicable. It is wrong to argue that Confederate statues should not be displayed in city squares, but to deny fallen soldiers a dignified and peaceful rest is an entirely new level of wrongness. The fact that people would take it upon themselves to go into a cemetery and desecrate soldiers’ graves, in some cases bringing spray paint or even a strap with which to pull down a memorial, is disgusting. It takes a truly cruel, nasty, and mean-spirited person to demonstrate such hatred towards someone who died over 150 years ago. Yes, the South had slavery, but it is ignorant to view that as the single defining attribute of the Confederacy and of the soldiers who fought for it. Confederate soldiers were people, just like you or me, each with different motivations for joining the Confederacy and each with an individual story. (See this Facebook post for an eloquent example of this.) One does not need to agree with or support the cause that these soldiers fought for in order to acknowledge their personhood and show them basic respect.  

The BLM movement is based on the presumption that most people believe that black lives do not matter. But essentially no one holds this view. Instead, it is rebel soldiers who are treated as if their lives did not matter. In our politically correct society, it is considered “disgraceful” to provide a Confederate soldier with a simple, factual grave marker, while an “accurate depiction of history” requires these soldiers to be reduced to “white supremacists” and their cause reduced to “fighting to keep black people enslaved.” Acknowledging those who fought for the Confederacy as individual people is no longer acceptable; instead they must be posthumously sworn at, insulted, beaten, thrown on the ground, stomped on, tarred and feathered, their very names violently obliterated. This is true bigotry, and this is true intolerance. And it is not limited to a handful of vandals but extends to prominent politicians as well. 

An attempt by Congress to replace Confederate-inspired military base names has received a lot of publicity, but what is even worse about Section 377 of the National Defense Authorization Act is that it would actually require Confederate soldiers’ graves in Arlington National Cemetery to be desecrated. This amendment would require that the government “remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense.” The website Conservative Daily points out that there is a large Confederate monument at Arlington that is surrounded by the graves of 482 soldiers. The amendment would presumably require the removal of the monument, which would be logistically impossible to do without disturbing the graves. And even if somehow the Confederate graves were allowed to remain, the amendment would ban any sort of signage or plaques pertaining to them. “Just think about how small of a person someone would have to be to write an amendment in 2020 that could force the exhumation of 482 Civil War soldiers because they disagree with the cause they fought for,” the Conservative Daily article continues. “The GOP is so spineless, they actually believe that posthumously punishing Civil War dead is a reasonable ‘compromise’… Three years ago, this started as a debate over whether cities should have statues honoring Confederate officers like Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee. Today, it has transformed into a debate over whether Civil War grave sites should be exhumed so that the dead can be posthumously punished.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

bookmark_borderWhat part of “preserved and protected for all time” do you not understand?

As I wrote about earlier, during this summer of political correctness run amok, the beautiful Confederate carving at Stone Mountain has become a target of anti-Confederate intolerance. Now, a group of politically-correct, intolerant people have formed an organization called the Stone Mountain Action Coalition and have presented their demands to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the group in charge of maintaining the mountain and its surrounding park.

For those who have never seen Stone Mountain, it is a huge mountain near Atlanta, Georgia with an enormous image of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson carved into the side for all to see. Near the base of the mountain are various statues, flags, and plaques honoring people from each of the 13 states of the Confederacy. Stone Mountain is, in my opinion, a truly unique, amazing, and awe-inspiring sight.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Stone Mountain Action Coalition is demanding that the carving no longer be maintained, that the nearby Confederate flags be removed, that Confederate-related names of streets and buildings in the park be replaced, and that the park focus on themes such as “nature, racial reconciliation and justice.”

One of the co-chairs of the coalition, Ryan Gravel, said, “We don’t believe that taking a piecemeal, token kind of approach to adding little trinkets here and there is going to be good enough to really resolve the history of the mountain and the way that people see it.” Meymoona Freeman, another co-chair, said, “It’s time for transformation, it’s time for healing, and it’s time for progress.” Other members of the coalition stressed the need to make the park “more welcoming.” 

But what exactly needs to be “resolved” about Stone Mountain? The carving is an incredible feat of engineering and art honoring three historical leaders. The fact that some people dislike those historical leaders, and by extension the carving, is not a problem that needs to be solved. Every single thing in the world has people who like it and people who do not like it. No one has the right to demand that everything they do not like be obliterated from the world, particularly when the thing in question is a unique, magnificent, and beautiful landmark that took years of creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work to create. There is nothing hateful or racist about honoring the Confederacy and its leaders. As the Confederate point of view falls further out of favor among the mainstream media, political establishment, and society as a whole, it is even more important that sites like Stone Mountain be preserved. Even if the carving is not actually removed, to cease maintaining it and to get rid of the Confederate flags and street names would be to strip the park of its uniqueness and identity. It would be to make Stone Mountain, and the world, a more bland, homogenous, and character-less place. For those who admire the Confederacy and enjoy this memorial park, getting rid of the Confederate features would be the exact opposite of healing, the exact opposite of progress, and the exact opposite of making the park more welcoming. And to actually destroy the carving would be so unfathomably awful that it hurts to even consider the possibility. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked several geologists for their thoughts on how such a thing could be achieved. Their ideas, which involve explosives, disfigurement, years of dangerous work, and millions of dollars, are sickening when one considers that these measures would be employed with the goal of destroying a priceless work of art.)

The reason the Stone Mountain Action Coalition is not demanding removal outright is that Georgia law currently protects the Confederate memorial carving. This law was enacted as part of a compromise in 2001 when the state legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Georgia state flag. The law reads: “The memorial to the heroes of the Confederate States of America graven upon the face of Stone Mountain shall never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.” The fact that some people are even mentioning the possibility of changing this law demonstrates the intolerance of the politically-correct crowd. What part of “preserved and protected for all time” do they not understand? First, Georgia’s flag was changed, with the assurance that Stone Mountain would remain. Less than 20 years later, those who seek to destroy Confederate history have broken their promise and are trying to get rid of Stone Mountain as well. Attempts at compromise have done nothing to stop the inexorable progression towards a complete erasure of Confederate heritage. There can be no compromise, there can be no moderation, and there can be no “pushing the limits” of the law by ceasing maintenance of the carving and hoping that nature and the elements gradually erode it. Stone Mountain must be preserved and protected for all time, just as the law says. And given that the anti-Confederate bullies have reneged on their part of the compromise, advocating for a return of the old state flag wouldn’t hurt either. 

bookmark_borderConfederate statue removed in Charlottesville, Virginia

Yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia, a statue of a Confederate soldier known as “At Ready” was removed from outside the county courthouse. The statue had stood since 1909, but county supervisors voted to get rid of it in August after Governor Ralph Northam signed a law giving local governments the power to more easily get rid of statues.

Disgustingly, crowds of people celebrated this erasure of history by cheering, dancing, and playing music, according to the Washington Post. They voiced their happiness and satisfaction with the removal of the statue and expressed how offensive they found the statue and its pedestal to be. “This is a magnificent moment,” said community organizer Don Gathers. “Now we’re moving the needle in a positive way.” State Delegate Sally Hudson said, “These statues have been haunting the community for decades… Taking down this statue is one step in reclaiming these public spaces.”

Nothing could be further than the truth. As I’ve written numerous times on this blog, the removal of Confederate statues and other Confederate symbols is intolerant and bigoted. This politically correct assault on the Confederacy and its iconography is essentially the winning side of a war beating up on the losing side. The removal of the “At Ready” statue, like all instances in which Confederate statues are taken down, is a mean-spirited act of bullying, and every person who supports it is a bully. It is the furthest thing possible from a magnificent moment, and it is moving the needle in a negative way, not a positive one. As for Hudson’s comments that Confederate statues have been “haunting” the community… speak for yourself. People who like Confederate statues would not characterize themselves as being “haunted” by them. Similarly, the statue’s removal does not reclaim public spaces for everyone. Those who like the statue will now feel less, nor more, welcome in the public space around the courthouse. But as usual, opinions and wishes that do not conform with the current requirements of political correctness are completely disregarded.

One silver lining to this demoralizing moment is that the statue was given to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which is figuring out a plan for a new location. But naturally, even that tiny piece of good news was intolerable to some anti-Confederate bigots. “We feel like it’s just basically toxic waste disposal in another community,” said Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

To call a beautiful statue “toxic waste” is not merely incorrect, but despicable and reprehensible. Schmidt’s comment is beyond disrespectful to the brave soldiers represented by the statue, as well as to the artist who painstakingly sculpted it. Confederate statues belong not only on battlefields, but in front of courthouses, in parks, on city streets, and everywhere. The fact that Schmidt and those who share her views unjustly got their way is bad enough, but for them not to accept even one tiny consolation for their defeated opponents demonstrates the depths of their intolerance. Confederate statues, flags, and names are being removed all across the country, and it’s not okay for the minority of people who like this statue to have a place where they can go to admire it? It is disturbing that such a nasty, thoughtless bully was able to get a job as an associate professor. Jalane Schmidt is a piece of toxic waste who deserves to be fired.

bookmark_borderHorrendous legislation aims to remove Confederate statues from national parks and battlefields

Full of rage, grief, and devastation, I’ve read and watched news reports of the barbaric destruction of statues across America, beginning in 2015 and accelerating disturbingly over the past few months. Despite the senseless removal of statue after statue from our city streets and parks, there was one thing that I thought would always be safe: monuments at battlefields. But sadly, in this era of political correctness run amok, even that is no longer the case.

Last month, for example, someone vandalized the statue of Robert E. Lee at the Antietam battlefield in Maryland, writing messages such as “BLM,” “racist,” and “You lost the war.” (What do the results of a war have to do with the moral worth of a cause or the individuals associated with it?) Fortunately, the National Park Service, which manages the battlefield, cleaned off the graffiti.

More recently, two pieces of legislation were introduced that would – and it hurts to even type these words – order the removal of all Confederate monuments from the Gettysburg battlefield. The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1-3, 1863, was the deadliest battle in U.S. history. Approximately 50,000 people lost their lives in the brutal fighting between the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, and the Army of the Potomac, led by General George Meade. Today 1,328 statues and plaques commemorate the individuals, regiments, and brigades who fought there.

Commemorating history being a foreign concept to many people today, the House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior, called HR-7608, on July 24. It would require the National Park Service, which manages dozens of battlefields and historical sites across the country, including Gettysburg and Antietam, to “remove from display all physical Confederate commemorative works, such as statues, monuments, sculptures, memorials, and plaques” within 180 days. Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), who authored this provision, said in a press release that “our public spaces must be open and inviting to all,” which is interesting because honoring only one side of a war does the exact opposite of this. Fortunately, according to the blog Emerging Civil War, this bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee in the Senate and is considered “dead on arrival.”  

Sadly, there was also a resolution introduced in the General Assembly of Pennsylvania on August 6 calling for the removal of all Confederate statues and monuments in the state. Known as Resolution 954, it does not specifically mention Gettysburg, but given that Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, its monuments presumably would be included. The resolution, which alleges that Confederate ideals “were on the wrong side of history” and “comprise treason and traitors to this nation,” was referred to the Committee on Rules.

Making things even worse, just this week, Representative Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) introduced a bill calling for the removal of Confederate monuments across the country, not-so-cleverly called the Rejecting and Eliminating the Foul Use of Symbols Exulting (REFUSE) Confederate Principles Act. This bill would create a grant program called the Emancipation Historic Preservation Program to pay for the removal of the statues. “It’s past time that we eradicate these totems of treason and replace them with symbols that represent the true promise of America, such as the emancipation of Black Americans,” Rush said. He also called Confederate statues “abhorrent” and demanded that they be replaced with art that “we can actually be proud of.”

Like so many people associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and its accompanying cult of political correctness, Rush demonstrates no acknowledgement of, or consideration for, opinions that differ from his own. News flash: some people are actually proud of Confederate statues. Just because you are not proud of something does not mean that no one is. And even those who do not admire the Confederacy or its leaders must acknowledge that monuments at battlefields are priceless historical artifacts and crucial parts of what makes these sites so important.

To its credit, the National Park Service has stood up for statues, calling those at Gettysburg “an important part of the cultural landscape.” On a webpage about Confederate monuments, the NPS writes:

Across the country, the National Park Service maintains and interprets monuments, markers, and plaques that commemorate and memorialize those who fought during the Civil War. These memorials represent an important, if controversial, chapter in our Nation’s history. The National Park Service is committed to preserving these memorials while simultaneously educating visitors holistically about the actions, motivations, and causes of the soldiers and states they commemorate. A hallmark of American progress is our ability to learn from our history….

Still other monuments, while lacking legislative authorization, may have existed in parks long enough to qualify as historic features. A key aspect of their historical interest is that they reflect the knowledge, attitudes, and tastes of the people who designed and placed them. Unless directed by legislation, it is the policy of the National Park Service that these works and their inscriptions will not be altered, relocated, obscured, or removed, even when they are deemed inaccurate or incompatible with prevailing present-day values… The NPS will continue to provide historical context and interpretation for all of our sites and monuments in order to reflect a fuller view of past events and the values under which they occurred.

Additionally, the NPS reiterated their support for preserving statues in a statement to Newsweek. They correctly called the removal attempts “part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct.”

Guides who work at Gettysburg and other battlefields have also expressed opposition to the attempts to remove the monuments. “We urge the U.S. Senate to strip out this provision that would destroy the unequaled collection of monuments, Union and Confederate, that set Gettysburg apart as a great battlefield park and a top visitor destination,” Les Fowler, the president of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, said in a press release in response to HR-7608. “The monuments representing all of the soldiers who fought here are a critical component of interpreting these sacred grounds.”

Fowler also wrote an excellent opinion piece for the York Daily Record in which he explains exactly what the legislation would do:

If enacted into law, the House bill would mean a visit to any of these battlefield parks would be immeasurably diminished… It would mean removing the five-figure sculpture group at Gettysburg’s North Carolina Memorial, a masterpiece that depicts the emotions of men facing a desperate attack. It would mean the loss of the emotional “Angel of Marye’s Heights” sculpture at Fredericksburg depicting Confederate Richard Kirkland coming to the aid of a fallen Union soldier. It would mean taking down Shiloh’s Mississippi Memorial just five years after it was put up.

Gary Gallagher also wrote an editorial in defense of Gettysburg’s monuments for the Civil War Times. “No education of any value depends on selective erasure of troubling dimensions of America’s story,” he writes. “History should not be turned into a simplistic morality play juxtaposing good and evil, heroes and villains, and contrived to serve current political goals.”

The fact that opinion pieces would even need to be written in defense of Gettysburg’s monuments is heartbreaking. This issue should not even be up for debate. To say that I oppose these bills that would order the removal of Confederate statues from battlefields and national parks is a gross understatement. Every single person on earth should be against these pieces of legislation, and there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to support them. The fact that members of the House of Representatives actually voted in favor of requiring battlefield monuments to be removed is disgusting. What makes Gettysburg an important historic site is the fact that it was the location of a momentous battle fought by two sides. Soldiers on both sides bravely fought, and in many cases sacrificed their lives, for what they believed in. To remove the monuments to the losing side of this battle and war is not only bigoted, intolerant, and authoritarian; it also completely defeats the entire purpose of the Gettysburg battlefield.

bookmark_borderState Senator and others charged with felonies for destroying Confederate monument

Finally, a small step towards some semblance of justice. On Monday, various people, including a state senator, were charged with felonies for destroying a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Virginia. On June 10, a mob surrounded the monument, covered it in profane and insulting graffiti, decapitated the four soldier statues standing on the monument’s base, and pulled down one of them. (If you have a strong stomach, photos of the destruction can be seen here.)

According to local news station WAVY News 10, the following people were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, as well as injury to a monument in excess of $1,000 (also a felony):

  • LaKeesha Atkinson, Portsmouth School Board member
  • Amira Bethea
  • James Boyd, Portsmouth NAACP Representative
  • Louie Gibbs, Portsmouth NAACP Representative
  • LaKesha Hicks, Portsmouth NAACP Representative
  • State Senator Louise Lucas
  • Kimberly Wimbish
  • Dana Worthington

And the following people were charged with injury to a monument in excess of $1,000:

  • Raymond J. Brothers
  • Meredith Cramer, public defender
  • Hanah Renae Rivera
  • Brenda Spry, public defender
  • Alexandra Stephens, public defender
  • Brandon Woodard

The Portsmouth Police Department is asking for help identifying 13 additional people involved in the destruction of the statue, and they are asking for anyone who recorded video during the incident to share it with them.

Lucas’s attorney, Don Scott, accused the police department of “doing what they always do which is they weaponize the criminal justice system against black leadership.” The ACLU of Virginia demanded that the charges be dismissed because the police department directly asked a magistrate to charge the defendants instead of going through the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. (Police Chief Angela Greene said that her department did this because discussions with Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales “did not yield any action.”) Governor Ralph Northam called the charges “deeply troubling.” Former Governor Terry McAuliffe described Lucas as “a trailblazing public servant who isn’t afraid to do and say what she believes is right” and praised her “opposition to a racist monument.”

I could not disagree more strongly with these comments. The felony charges are 100% justified. Destroying a monument to the outgunned, outnumbered, losing side of a war is an act of bullying, bigotry, intolerance, and authoritarianism. Anyone who participates in such a despicable action is a bad person and deserves to be severely punished. A Confederate monument is not racist, nor is the decision to hold people accountable for vandalizing it. For Lucas’s attorney to accuse the police department of racism is deeply wrong – any person who damages a statue deserves to be criminally charged, regardless of his or her race. Does he think that his client should be able to destroy statues with impunity because she is black? As for the decision to bypass the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, the police department should be saluted, not criticized, for its determination to seek justice. Does the ACLU believe that people should be able to destroy statues with impunity because the Commonwealth Attorney refused to do her job?

It is particularly disturbing that people in positions of leadership  – a state senator and members of the school board, NAACP, and public defender’s office – would vandalize a statue. As Jazz Shaw at Hot Air points out: “When your average citizen does something like this it’s bad enough. But when an elected official such as a state senator is caught red-handed, you’re talking about someone who was placed in a position of trust by the public to uphold the law.”

Lucas might be a person who is not afraid to do what she believes is right, as McAuliffe claims, but in this case, what she allegedly did was 100% wrong. There is nothing honorable about openly and unabashedly doing a morally repugnant action. There is nothing brave about being an intolerant bully who tramples on the underdog. And that is exactly what Lucas, and all the other individuals who were charged, allegedly did. Assuming that these defendants were actually part of the mob that destroyed the statue and this is not a case of mistaken identity, every one of these individuals deserves the harshest possible punishment. 

bookmark_border59 Confederate symbols removed since George Floyd’s death

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 59 Confederate symbols have been removed across the country since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. This includes 38 monuments that have been removed entirely, 5 monuments that have been relocated, 9 schools that have been renamed, 5 parks/trails/roads/water bodies that have been renamed, the fact that the Confederate flag was removed from the Mississippi state flag, and the fact that the Confederate flag was removed from a police uniform in South Dakota. This total accounts for nearly half of the Confederate symbols removed since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, meaning that the pace of removals over the past 3 months has drastically accelerated.

Contrary to the opinions of the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is a tragedy. The removal of Confederate monuments, names, flags, and other symbols is not only the removal of an important part of America’s history; it is also the removal of values and ideals that are a crucial part of our nation’s identity.

The Confederacy is not synonymous with racism, or with slavery. The Confederacy was a collection of states that attempted to form their own country, a collection of people who fought for their independence. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned and having a less industrialized economy, the Confederacy stood up to the federal government. Therefore, the Confederacy stands for freedom, defiance, rebelliousness, and resistance to authority. These are all positive qualities that are central to what it means to be an American; after all, our country came into existence as a rebellion against unjust taxation. To obliterate Confederate iconography is to erase not only Southern heritage but the very values upon which America was founded.

Each Confederate statue, just like any other statue, stands for a human being from history, with both good and bad attributes. The fact that the individuals honored by these statues fought for the Confederacy does not make them bad, any more than a statue of someone who fought for the Union is inherently bad. No person is perfect and no country is perfect. Yes, the Confederacy had slavery, which nearly everyone today would consider a negative attribute. But the Union and its leaders invaded the Confederate states, carved a swath of complete destruction across the South, instituted the draft, made it illegal to criticize the government, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, meaning that anyone could be jailed for any reason. And they did all this in order to force the people of the South to remain part of the country against their will. Why is this considered perfectly acceptable while the Confederacy, along with everything associated with it, is condemned?

Both sides in the Civil War deserve to be recognized and celebrated. Erasing and defaming the losing side of a war is intolerant, conformist, and authoritarian. Every removal of a Confederate symbol is an assault on diversity, moving America closer to becoming a completely homogeneous, conformist, cookie-cutter nation in which all people think alike, a nation with no culture, no identity, and nothing that makes it different from any other nation. People from all backgrounds and all regions of the country should be able to honor their ancestors and celebrate their heritage.

One tiny glimmer of good news is the fact that there are still 725 Confederate statues and 1,800 total symbols of the Confederacy remaining, according to the SPLC’s report. However, because it is almost certain that no new Confederate symbols will be added in the current political climate, each instance of a symbol being removed is tragic beyond measure. Each loss is essentially permanent, a thing of glory, beauty, and magnificence lost forever, never to be replaced. All true patriots must fight to ensure that each and every one of these 1,800 Confederate symbols is preserved forever.

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues (part 2)

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote a column last month entitled “Statue-toppling, right and wrong,” in which he gave his opinions on how to determine which statues deserve to be taken down and which do not.

First of all, Jacoby is 100% right that decisions about statues should not be made by mobs who take the law into their own hands.

But unlike Jacoby, I don’t believe that these decisions should be made through the democratic process, either. Jacoby argues that decisions about which statues to remove should be made by people acting through their government. He suggests the following criteria to decide whether a statue should stay or go: “(1) Was that person honored for unworthy or indecent behavior? (2) Is that person known today primarily for unworthy or indecent behavior? When the answer to both is no, the statue or monument should stay.”

But different people will have vastly differing opinions on what constitutes unworthy or indecent behavior. Jacoby mentions Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi as people who deserve to be honored with statues according to his criteria. He considers Christopher Columbus to be somewhere in the middle. And when it comes to Confederate monuments, he writes:

“By that test, every memorial that glorifies leaders and generals of the Confederacy should be hauled away. The cause for which they struggled was the vilest cause in American history: the perpetuation of African slavery. They were extolled because they went to war in defense of human bondage. Monuments to such men should have no place in our public square.”

I completely disagree. In my view, the Confederacy went to war not in defense of human bondage but to form an independent country, while the Union fought to force people to remain part of the United States against their will. I consider the Union’s cause to be vile and the Confederate cause to be honorable and correct. The majority of people in the U.S. probably don’t share my views, and I don’t expect them to. What constitutes unworthy and indecent behavior is in the eye of the beholder. 

That is why decisions about which historical figures to honor should not be made through the democratic process. To make decisions this way is to treat the views of the majority (or the group that happens to hold the most influence over the political process) as more important than those of the minority. This is wrong. Just as the majority should not get to take away the rights of a minority, the majority should not get to deprive a minority of the statues and monuments they love and cherish. There are all sorts of different views about which actions are honorable and which are not, and therefore which people from history are worthy of admiration and which people are not. The government should not take a position one way or another on this issue, because to do so would be to discriminate against those who hold other views. The only thing that is fair and inclusive towards everyone is to have a wide variety of statues representing a wide variety of historical figures. That means that all statues that currently exist should stay exactly where they are. Any statues that have been destroyed by vandals should be repaired and restored, and any statues that have been removed should be put back. If it is determined that the existing collection of statues is lacking in racial, gender, or some other sort of diversity, then the solution is to add statues from underrepresented groups, not to remove existing ones.

“History’s verdict is not immutable, and society is entitled to change its mind about whom to celebrate,” Jacoby writes. But society as a whole is never going to agree on whom to celebrate. There are always going to be people (such as myself) who do not share the views of the majority, and it is not fair to us to give the majority the power to determine which statues are allowed to remain standing and which are not. I don’t think statues of Lincoln or Union generals should be taken down, even though I don’t think it was right of them to forcibly make the South remain part of the United States. By the same principle, those who believe the Confederacy fought for dishonorable reasons have no right to demand that monuments to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson be taken down.

So no, not even people following the democratic process and acting through their government have the right to remove statues. All statues and monuments should stay. All of them. 

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues

As statues are unjustly being criticized and removed all across the country, there are various ideas for what should be done with those statues deemed unfit for public display.

For example, an article by Murray Whyte in last Sunday’s Boston Globe asks, “Toppled by a historical reckoning, should statues to our past be locked away or put on view elsewhere to decay in an act of public neglect?” The toppled monuments discussed in the article include not just statues of historical figures disliked by the politically-correct crowd, such as Confederate leaders and European explorers, but also works of art that depict minorities in ways that some people find offensive, such as the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History in New York, flanked by a black man and a Native American man, a statue in Boston depicting a newly freed slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln, a statue of a Native American outside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and even Boston’s 54th Regiment Memorial, which honors the first African-American volunteer infantry unit in the Civil War (some people don’t like that it shows Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who was white, on horseback, with the rest of the soldiers marching on foot).

The most objectionable of the options mentioned in the article is to round up the unwanted statues and put them in a park where they will be left to decay. This is what happened in Lithuania and other eastern European countries as they gained independence from the Soviet Union and also in India after it won its independence from Britain. To leave beautiful, historic statues to gradually fall apart and rot is not a suitable option, in my opinion. This is disrespectful to the people depicted in the statues, as well as to the artists who painstakingly sculpted them. I would hope that even people who dislike certain statues would recognize that historical, irreplaceable works of art should not be left to be destroyed by the elements, with no one maintaining or taking care of them.

Another option discussed in the article is to give statues and other works of art to museums. This would at least allow the statues to be displayed and appreciated, although in a less prominent place than a city street or public park. Those who like the statues could still visit them, those who are interested in history could learn about them, and those who hate them could simply avoid the gallery where they are located. But it is unclear whether or not museums would be willing to accept statues that society considers undesirable. “Museums are not the dumpster for racist art,” said Jami Powell, associate curator of Indigenous art at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College. “It costs money to store and care for these things. Those are resources being taken from other opportunities.”

The possibility of adding explanatory signage, either while leaving the statues at their original sites or as part of moving them to museums, is also mentioned in the article. This signage can be physical or virtual. In Boston, for example, the Friends of the Public Garden have created an app that displays stories and information related to public monuments such as that of Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This organization has also installed interpretive signage near the monument while it is being restored (a planned restoration project by the way, not a result of vandalism by protesters).

The article also mentions the possibility of leaving statues in place, but building additional statues to provide balance. For example, a massive bronze statue of a black man wearing a hoodie and dreadlocks, in a heroic pose on horseback, was installed on Monument Ave in Richmond last year. “I think that the best thing to do is to respond to them with more statues,” its creator, Kehinde Wiley, said of the Confederate monuments that until recently dominated that street. “What I’m saying is, the answer to negative speech is more speech, positive speech.”

What struck me about this article is that the option of doing nothing and simply allowing the statues to exist is not even mentioned. It is assumed that the statues are bad. For example, Whyte characterizes the calls to take down statues as “necessary conversations.” When explaining that most statues that have been removed are currently in storage, he writes, “for now, it’s enough that the monuments are gone.” The possibility is not even mentioned that people might consider it a bad thing for the monuments to be gone; it is just assumed that making them gone is everyone’s goal. Nor is it acknowledged that to some people, Confederate monuments are not “negative speech” but positive! The article briefly mentions the lawsuit against the removal of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue and the fact that defenders of such statues consider them to be heritage, but it derisively puts the word “heritage” in quotes. Efforts to halt statues’ removal are treated as impediments to achieving the desired outcome, not as actions taken by actual people with feelings, thoughts, and opinions who are trying to achieve their goal of preserving the statues.

Jami Powell, the museum curator, is quoted as saying: “I think that people have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen. There’s been this wave of support that I think demonstrates that public institutions don’t need to be fearful of doing the right thing.” Did it ever occur to her that to some people, removing magnificent statues is not the right thing, but the wrong thing? To say that people “have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen” presumes the truth of what Powell is trying to prove, namely that our society ought to get rid of all art that is not considered politically correct by today’s standards. But some people strongly disagree with this contention.

In my opinion, the best option is the one not acknowledged in the article: letting statues be, regardless of whether or not they meet the politically-correct crowd’s standards of acceptability. Let’s repair the statues that have been vandalized, put back those that have been taken down, and guard them to make sure no one harms them again. What is wrong with that? If governments insist on removing statues from from public streets and parks, which they should not, the statues should be relocated to places where they will be lovingly cared for and appreciated. This could mean a museum, a library, a cemetery, or a site owned by a private organization or individual. Adding more statues to increase racial and gender diversity is not a bad thing, but it is important to note that ideological diversity is equally important, if not more so. For this reason, the existence of Confederate statues is crucial. The ideology of authoritarianism and government power won in the Civil War and is dominant today in terms of public opinion and government policy, so it is particularly important for the sake of diversity to ensure that the values of rebelliousness and states’ rights are represented in our country’s public art.

One criticism of monuments in the article that I found particularly interesting is the fact that they are static as opposed to dynamic. In Whyte’s words, the problem with statues is “exactly their immutability in a world in constant flux.” Powell, the museum curator at Dartmouth, said, “that’s the thing about traditional monuments – they don’t really allow us that space for growth.” And another curator quoted in the article, Jen Mergel, expressed criticism of “single statements to last in perpetuity.” In my opinion, these things are precisely what make statues and monuments so awesome. Statues are supposed to be immutable and to last in perpetuity. They are not supposed to grow or change. When I look at a beautiful statue, I feel a connection to the past. Seeing magnificent monuments of generals, explorers, presidents, and other leaders makes me feel connected to these historical figures. The present is always changing, from clothing styles to music to social norms to government policies. The ideologies and values that are popular today are no more likely to be correct than those popular hundreds of years ago or those that will be popular hundreds of years in the future. That’s why it is so important to have some things in the world that do not change. It is a beautiful thing to know that no matter how much the world changes, monuments to heroes from long ago, wearing the clothing of their time periods and representing a wide variety of ideologies and values, will always be there. But now, because of some people’s intolerant actions, lovers of history both today and in the future will be deprived forever of the monuments that we cherish. To alter or obliterate statues in order to conform to the predominant values of the present completely defeats their purpose.

bookmark_borderStatues matter

All across the country and world, statues have been under attack. Statues of explorers, saints, Confederate leaders, founding fathers, generals, and pretty much any historical figure who does not meet today’s strict standards of political correctness. And occasionally statues that do not represent historical figures at all but were targeted for no apparent reason other than that someone wanted to destroy a statue. Sometimes, the attacks on statues are carried out by lawless mobs who spatter paint and graffiti all over them, tear them down, and/or set them on fire. Sometimes the attacks are carried out by state and local governments that hire work crews to remove them and put them in storage. Some of these anti-statue actions are more barbaric than others, but they are all morally wrong.

As someone who loves both history and art, I love statues. I love studying historical figures and learning cool facts about them. Statues are essentially the physical manifestation of historical figures in today’s world, and as such, I cherish them. I love to visit and photograph statues in my native Boston and everywhere I travel. Every statue represents a person who walked this earth at some point in time, a person with both positive and negative attributes. Each one is a beautiful work of art. In short, statues make the world a better place.

Like everyone in the world, I like and admire some historical figures more than others. Therefore, I like some statues more than others. I would never tear down, vandalize, or ask my local government to remove a statue depicting a historical figure I do not like, and I do not understand why so many people feel that they have the right to do this when it comes to the historical figures they do not like. Each person has his or her own opinions about what makes a historical figure admirable, or not admirable. Each person has his or her own ideas about which flaws are forgivable and which flaws make a historical figure unworthy of being celebrated or honored. What is so disturbing about the recent trend of vandalizing and removing statues is that it prioritizes one set of views above others. Those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum and those aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement are allowed to destroy statues that they dislike with relative impunity, and local officials are bending over backwards to remove any remaining offending statues that have somehow managed to escape destruction. The feelings, wishes, and opinions of those who like these statues are not taken into account at all. In other words, in today’s society, one group of people enjoys the ability to have its preferences with respect to historical figures and statues enacted into public policy, while the preferences of other people are completely ignored. To say that this is unjust is an understatement.

The mobs that destroy statues have been referred to as protesters, rioters, anarchists, and even domestic terrorists. Senator Ted Cruz called them the “American Taliban.” I don’t think any of these terms are harsh enough to fully convey how morally repugnant these attacks on statues are. The mentality of these excuses for human beings seems to be that only things that they personally like should be allowed to exist. Their goal seems to be to destroy for the sake of destroying, to obliterate everything that is beautiful or glorious, and to make the world as bad a place as possible. Those who destroy statues are bigots and bullies. They practice complete intolerance for anyone different from them. It would not be inaccurate to say that they have no souls.

Some people consider statues unimportant. They argue that statues are just stone or metal objects, and we should focus on protecting and improving people’s lives. They do not care one way or the other about whether the world and its cities and towns have beautiful statues. I do not feel this way. As someone on the autism spectrum, I tend to be drawn to inanimate objects more than to people. Because I love historical figures, I love statues. I have a visceral reaction when reading about or watching a video of the destruction of a statue, more than I do when reading about bad things happening to living people. Fighting back against the destruction of statues is incredibly important to me. Statues may not be necessary to have a functioning world. People can go about their daily lives and have their basic needs met without the existence of any statues in public spaces. But the world would be immeasurably worse. The feeling that I get when I see a statue of a brave general on a horse, or an explorer from a long-ago era, is difficult to put into words. The inherent value that statues and monuments bring to our public spaces is difficult to quantify or explain with logical reasoning, but that does not make it any less real.

Without a doubt, every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world is made worse. Every act of destruction against a statue is disgusting, disgraceful, dishonorable, repugnant, reprehensible, and any other negative adjective that can be imagined. Every news report of a statue being vandalized, torn down, or removed is painful and heartbreaking. The videos of workers removing the statues of Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and J.E.B. Stuart from Monument Avenue in Richmond. The images of graffiti covering the magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee. The Christopher Columbus statue in Boston, a statue that I walk past almost every day, with its head brutally knocked to the ground. The footage of mobs pulling down a Columbus statue in Baltimore, causing it to smash into pieces as it hit the ground. The Junipero Serra statue in San Francisco toppled, brutalized with a jackhammer, its hands severed. The statue of philanthropist Edward Colston in Bristol, England being dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbor. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson splattered with red paint. The iconic elk statue in Portland (yes, an elk) set on fire.

I could keep listing examples until this blog post became as long as a novel, but the bottom line is that actions like these are among the most morally wrong things someone could do. Therefore, they need to be punished severely. Police departments need to prioritize arresting those who vandalize statues, and district attorneys need to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Laws should be changed to make punishments harsher; life in prison is not an excessive punishment, in my opinion. At the absolute least, cities and towns should never, ever take down statues that have been the targets of vandalism. This condones vandalism and rewards its perpetrators. Every statue that is vandalized needs to be repaired and then guarded around the clock. In some cases it will be impossible to catch the culprits who destroy statues – sometimes these acts take place in the middle of the night with no witnesses or cameras nearby – but restoring and protecting the vandalized statues punishes the culprits without even needing to know their identities. Even better, whenever a statue is vandalized, local governments should build ten more statues of the same historical figure. A message needs to be sent that intentionally damaging statues is unacceptable. Those who do this cannot be allowed to win under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, contrary to what is depicted in the above picture, statues cannot defend themselves. It is up to governments and if needed, private citizens, to protect them. One of the few pieces of good news that has happened in the world recently is that unlike most mayors and governors, President Trump is taking a stand in defense of statues. On June 26, he signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice to enforce federal laws that authorize up to 10 years in prison for anyone who vandalizes a statue or monument on federal property. On July 3, during his speech at Mt. Rushmore, he condemned the “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.” And on the same date, he signed another executive order creating a task force for building and rebuilding monuments and ordering the creation of a national statue park. It is for this reason that unless something drastically changes between now and November, I will vote for Trump. This will be the first time that I have not voted for a third-party candidate. I have considered the Libertarian Party to be the party that comes closest to matching my beliefs, and I agree with its presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, on most issues. However, Jorgensen has not, as far as I know, expressed any outrage about the destruction of statues. The statue issue is so important to me that I will support the candidate who most agrees with me on this topic, and right now that’s Trump.

People around the world need to take a stand against the destruction of and removal of statues. Enough is enough. Every time a statue is destroyed or removed, the world becomes a worse place. No statue should ever be removed, unless for the purpose of replacing it with an even more magnificent statue of the same historical figure. If there are concerns about the racial and gender diversity of statues, the way to address those concerns is to build additional statues, not to take down existing ones.

Statues matter. All statues.