…And then What?

A group of activists is attempting to erase Confederate history, most notably monuments, from New Orleans. I suppose that eventually, removing Andy Jackson from Jackson Square and re-naming it will be somewhere on the agenda, if they are going to wipe the city clean of the taint of glorification of antebellum history. Which raises an interesting question: if you remove all public memory of the period and conditions that lead to X, what justification remains for remembering X?

My first, smart-alec response would be “Nothing, so why should anyone be taught that they deserve to be rewarded, or should be punished, for pre-X?” My second is remembering that the point of removing monuments to Confederate military leaders, and political leaders, and people who made their money through the slave trade or something else that the current generation of activists finds distasteful, is to push everyone to look at those who “walked in darkness” and then feel guilty, and to decry the old error and pay penance for it. The point is not to erase the history of the period from, let’s say 1680-1954, but to erase anything positive that came from that period unless it was positive for a certain group or groups. So publicly acknowledging the bravery and skill of General Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson, or Andrew Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and other less well-known soldiers of the Confederacy and early national period is, per the activists, wrong because it glorifies an evil institution, namely chattel slavery as practiced in the American South between 1680-1865, and the restricted civil rights that followed.

I’m not going to re-fight the War Between the States, the Civil War, the War of the Northern Aggression, the Late Unpleasantness or whatever else people choose to call it. My point is that saying that we cannot honor and respect people, even though they fought for “the wrong side,” strikes me as being the first step down one of those slopes that becomes steeper, more slippery, and ends in a very bad place. By this rule of thumb, we cannot respect Erwin Rommel or Heinz Guderian (Nazi Germany), or General Zhukov (USSR), Charlemagne (butchered Saxon prisoners), Julius Caesar (lived in a society with slaves), Peter the Great (lived in a society with slaves and serfs, turned serfdom into near-slavery), Alexander the Great (slavery again, and oppressed followers of non-Western cultures), Plato, Homer, Socrates (slavery yet again), heck, anyone who lived in a time or place where chattel slavery was practiced. Or any other thing that moderns find unacceptable, such as restricting women’s rights (almost every culture in history, even today) or disapproving of homosexuality (there goes the three monotheisms and probably a few others). Once we’ve said we can’t respect bravery and competence and achievement because of the surrounding culture’s errors, the next step is insisting on contempt for everyone who lived in that culture and did not try to change it to suit modern understandings of right and wrong. And then punishing the descendants of that evil culture for their ancestors not having lived up to 2017’s latest standards.

Where do you stop? Do you go back to Moses, or to Abraham, since he and the Most High began the process of creating the three cultures that spread ideas such as the free market, individual responsibility and individual effort, exploration and cultural expansion, the Bill of Rights, chattel slavery as justified by Scripture and as challenged by Scripture (although Islam gets a pass on that one. The Quran describes slavery as a normal practice, and in fact orders it under certain conditions,) modern medicine, eugenics, women’s rights, and the idea that homosexual activities and other out-of-wedlock sexual practices are wrong (including rape)?

We erase all respect for slave-holders in US history and out goes Washington, Monroe, Jefferson, Jackson, several generations of loosely-related Lee family members, Madison, and others in the northern colonies who also had slaves. And American Indians, and African Americans who owned slaves, no matter when or where they lived. Oh, and we’ll need to erase from memory those Northerners who did not support abolition for whatever reason.

And if they are not worth respect, then are they even really fully human? What about their descendants? Yes, I’m exaggerating for effect, but you can see where this kind of thing can lead, can’t you?

I’m not in favor of overstating the accomplishments of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, or Sam Houston for that matter (or Stephen F. Austin, who did not institute a purity test to prevent slave holders to settle his land grant or in the area around it. Oops, I see two big cities getting renamed.) But I’m not in favor of tearing out all memory of them and their talents, either, removing them completely from general public memory. I grew up learning the stories of Lee et al, with the proviso that they fought to defend a system that was wrong, just as General Rommel did. I could admire their good points while understanding and acknowledging the bad things they supported. They were humans, with human faults and blindnesses.

Going back to my opening paragraph, I’m tempted to wonder how many people outside of New Orleans, especially urban people, know that Jackson Square is named for General, President, brawler and Indian fighter and general trouble-maker Andrew Jackson, and how many assume the area is named for someone more modern like Jessie Jackson?

I don’t have a dog in the monument removal fight, since I don’t live in a place that has monuments to Confederate leaders. I had ancestors on three sides of the Civil War: Confederate, Yankee, and “just leave me the heck alone, please.” I do have strong feelings about de-humanizing the past, and for assigning collective guilt to later generations. Or collective perpetual martyrdom to later generations.

Edited to add: Welcome, Instapundit readers, and thank you for stopping by! I apologize for delays in comment moderation. I’m on the road, with intermittent internet!

Added 4/22: Welcome to readers from IMAO!

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34 thoughts on “…And then What?

  1. Actually, Charlemagne has something going for him. He was declared a Saint after his death, the local bishop doing the honors (purportedly with the ‘encouragement’ of Charlemagne’s son and successor).

    One of the reasons advanced for his canonization was Charlemagne’s success as a missionary. Allegedly, every time he conquered a Hun or Goth or Vandal tribe, he’d line up the survivors next to the nearest body of water and give them a choice: be baptized in it, or be drowned in it. It’s said the cries of “Hallelujah! Now I see it!” were positively deafening.

    Of course, whether the new converts stayed Christian after Charlemagne’s army had gone back over the hill is another story . . .

    🙂

    • IIRC Charlemagne usually “conquered” pagans after the pagans practiced their “culture” by raiding Charlemagne’s people. 😉

      • Eh, it went both ways. And the big massacre came after the Saxons converted once, went back to being pagans, had some of their groves torn down, and returned the favor by burning churches and a monastery or two. Charlamagne’s response was a little too thorough even by the standards of the day, at least if the surviving documents and complaints are accurate.

      • No argument.

        My point was that these were not “fuzzy bunny pagans”.

    • Actually, Charlemagne is a Blessed, but as a Church reformer and defender, which he did try to be, and as a generous king who cared for his people. Fewer girlfriends, and he would have a better rep.

      But of course, our knowledge of folks like Caesar and the existence of Latin literature is thanks to his big program of finding and mass copying Latin books (for which he paid both monasteries and convents). He also had a pagan Frankish ballad collection program, but none of those vernacular books seem to have survived.

  2. Your last sentence, “collective perpetual martyrdom” struck a chord… THAT is the real goal, so that they can continue to live on the dole/free cheese, blaming what happened 150 years ago for their ‘situation’, rather than accepting the fact that they are lazy, illiterate, and have no work ethic, going back at least three generations.

    When one looks at the cesspool that was/is the 9th Ward in NOLA, one sees, in a microcosm, what happens when people refuse to take responsibility for their own action/inaction. Many of the ‘residents’ of the 9th Ward during Katrina were, in fact, street people. Many of them had been turned out of State Hospitals, thanks to the ACLU’s suit against the State of Louisiana. They lived by aggressively panhandling, theft, drug running/selling and robbery of tourists in the Quarter. Per Ray Nagin, the mayor, NOPD wouldn’t go in an root them out, figuring the tourists were transients, so no great loss, there were plenty more tourists coming.

  3. I’d figure something were named for Jesse Jackson it would have a name like Credibility Gap. But perhaps I imagine people to be more sensible than they really are.

  4. I’m far from a fan of the Confederacy.

    Tearing down monuments and memorials to Confederate soldiers diminishes the memory of their valor. “Well, good, exactly” say some. Thing is, the Union and the Confederacy fought against each other. They fought hard. Suggesting that the Confederates were scrubs makes it sound like it was easy for the Union. (Which perhaps would feed into the Segregation apologist claim that Sherman’s march was not truly necessary.) It was not easy for the Union, it was not something the Union did ‘just because’. It was a difficult task taken on for serious reasons, and I would have that understood. The monuments and memorials to Confederate soldiers are, I think, a necessary part of that.

    • Agreed. I read a furious essay by a Comanche college prof that boiled down to “Look, the only people who defeated us were the US Army and they defeated the whole world! Who are you to call us wimps by insulting the US Army?”

    • As part of the process of national reconciliation, it was tacitly agreed that the losers would be allowed to console themselves with their courage. If that bargain is no longer in effect, do the descendants of the Confederates still owe any loyalty to the Federal government?

    • Both sides were Americans. Many on the south were fighting for something specifically American; states’ rights. Can we really imagine the run of the mill southern soldier fighting for slavery? That was the objective of the political and economic leadership. The soldiery of the south was all-American and deserves to be honored for their service with a tip of the hat to their states’ rights position.

  5. In a similar vein, I wonder if we’ll see calls for a name change to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (St. Louis) or the removal of the Jefferson Memorial (DC)? Are the great stone faces of Mount Rushmore safe from these cultural vandals? Is the name of our capital safe from these philistines?

    • Actually, I heard talk from some people about removing Teddy Roosevelt from Mount Rushmore and replacing him with then-President Obama. While I’m not T.R. fan, that’s a little much.

      • I’d not heard that, and I wish it was a jest. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me anymore. I have major problems with many of T.R.’s presidential policies but there’s no way I’d want to see such a pro-American hero (even if progressive) replaced by Obama.

  6. I have watched the long slide from Affirmative Action, to address actual grievances of racism, to Quotas to affirm special status for specific races. Now we’re on the final slope in which a specific race is, once again, to be oppressed, only this time roles are to be reversed.

    ‘Cultural appropriation’, too, is a new weapon to afflict but it only counts if one wears cornrows or hoop earrings, not ifoneu uses antibiotics and computers.

    There are to be ‘Black seats’ which, once attained, cannot be filled by other races, and Hispanic advocates who alone can speak for a specific race. There will be no White seats or White advocates, however, because that would be racist.

  7. I had ancestors on four sides. Your three sides, and didn’t live in the United States and had no dog in the fight.

    • The first rumors were circulating when I was in Atlanta in the mid 1990s. At the time most of us rolled our eyes and went back to studying for the next exam.

  8. “Cleansing” or rehabilitating history is dangerous. The past needs no filter and God help us if we don’t learn from our collective past successes and failures.

    I cringe when I see surveys of young people that know nothing about history. Critical thinking requires historical context.

    • History, really learning history, is hard, uncomfortable, and can leave you either wanting a bath or feeling prickly all over. It can also make you weep in awe for what people have managed to accomplish despite, and to spite, the world.

  9. I wonder, if in the future the attitude on abortion changes so that there develops a consensus that it is wrong, whether these self same activists will erase the memory of Obama, Clinton, Sanger, et al.

  10. Please. this is so much blather…slavery here, slavery there. We all know that the ONLY slavery to count was in the Southern States (PBUT). Slavery? What slavery? Except for American South.

    • And of course, for the modern activist, slavery can’t exist today, except in the US. Or if it does, it can’t be as bad as working for a mere $7.25 an hour.

      • Unless it’s forcing Christians to participate in a blasphemous parody of one of their sacraments.
        In which case, there is no freedom of religion, association, nor speech, and their labor is not their own.

  11. Removing a public memorial which celebrates some historical figure != abolishing all reference to that figure.

    And there is a considerable difference between Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington, who did great things for the U.S. but were incidentally slaveholders, and Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or Nathan Forrest, who made war against the U.S. because they were slaveholders.

    • True, but where will the line be drawn? I seem to recall that one of the arguments for replacing some of the portraits on the US currency was that the men were slave owners (and male, but that’s a whole ‘nuther matter).

  12. Trying to impose today’s cultural mores on the cultural mores that existed two centuries ago is a fool’s game. And, of course, those who do it are big time fools.

  13. To put the Civil War into perspective you must realize that everyone who fought for the Confederacy was a Democrat.
    There were no Republicans in the Confederate army.
    After we won the war the democrat party should have been outlawed, it’s leaders hunted down and executed and it’s partisans marched to the nearest border or coast and sent on their way,
    Instead, we not only let them stay in our country, we let the traitors vote.

    • I have to disagree. If you mean the party leaders and those later politicians like Ben Tillman who established Jim Crow and disenfranchised a lot of poor whites in the process, then you might have changed things. But eliminating all Democrats would have opened up a vacuume that the Farmers’ Alliance, Populists, and others might not have filled; it might have been someone worse. And I for one would not be here, because you would have eliminated 2/3 of my ancestors, north and south.

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