Unlearning history: pulling down Confederate statues in the US

Unlearning history: pulling down Confederate statues in the US, by Eric Raymond.

I’m a Yankee from Boston by birth and inclination. I’ve never bought into Lost Cause romanticism; I’ve studied the history and don’t buy the revisionism about tariffs or troop callups. The South revolted to defend the indefensible of chattel slavery, and deserved its defeat. …

But once the war was won, the victors (both Northern and Southern Unionists) had to win the peace as well. It was not a given that the South would be reconciled to the Union …

The South could have become a running sore, a cauldron of low-level insurrection and guerilla warfare that blighted the next century of U.S. history. Instead, it is now the most patriotic region of the U.S. – as measured, for example, by regional origins of U.S. military personnel. How did this happen?

Looking back, we can see that between 1865 and around 1914 the Union and the former South negotiated an imperfect but workable peace. The first step in that negotiation took place at Appomattox, when the Union troops accepting General Robert E. Lee’s surrender saluted the defeated and allowed them to retain their arms, treating them with the most punctilious military courtesy due to honorable foes. Over the next few years, the Union Army reintegrated the Confederate military into itself. …

The political leaders of the revolt were not executed. Instead, they were spared to urge reconciliation, and generally did. By all historical precedent they were treated with shocking leniency. This paid off. …

Overall, the reintegration of the South went far better than it could have. Confederate nationalism was successfully reabsorbed into American nationalism. One of the prices of this adjustment was that Confederate heroes had to become American heroes. An early and continuing example of this was the reverence paid to Robert E. Lee by Unionists after the war; his qualities as a military leader were extolled and his opposition to full civil rights for black freedmen memory-holed.

The statues now at issue were mostly erected between 1865 and 1914 by organizations like the Daughters of the Confederacy who were fully invested in the soft version of Lost Cause romanticism. In view of current revisionism, it should be remembered that, in the time before the early 1960s when one could express white-supremacist and segregationist beliefs in the South and expect a lot of applause, the statue builders generally didn’t play that song.

We know this because we can read the dedications they chiseled on their monuments. Whatever the statue-builders may have privately believed, the face –- the myth — about that they presented was not one of white supremacy justified but of virtue and heroism in a lost cause.

My cultural and political ancestors, the Yankees who had won the war, got out of the statue-builders’ way because we understood that the statue-builders were, in fact, cooperating in the great settlement between South and North. Making heroes of the rebels was not a large price to pay if it meant that Southern pride became American pride.

In fact, the deception was quite mutual. Southerners, by and large, tried to pretend their revolt had not been a defense of the indefensible. Northerners by and large, decided that agreeing with that pretense (or at least not disputing it in public) was a polite fiction useful to everybody.

The statue-smashers either fail to understand that great settlement (likely), or intend to undo it (not likely), or are pursuing a broader aim …

Some people are going to want to interject at this point “What about the insult to black people? Aren’t those statues symbols of white supremacy that should be smashed on that account alone?”

Brother, if I believed that I would be swinging a hammer myself. But the mission of the statue builders was to redeem the honor of the South in part by editing white supremacism and slavery out of our cultural memory of the war. They largely deceived themselves with Lost Cause romanticism. Making those statues into symbols of black subjugation would have undercut their whole project. …

Th new left:

Many of these people are, in effect, Red Guards. They don’t just want to erase icons of Confederate pride, they want to smash American pride. Statues of Columbus have already been defaced; I am pretty sure Washington and Jefferson will be next. The actual agenda is that Americans must be made to feel their nation was born in sin and cannot be redeemed -– patriotism must be replaced with obsessive self-criticism and eternal guilt. Anything positive in our national mythos must be razed and replaced with Marxist cant.

If there were no other good reason for it, I’d defend everybody’s statuary just to oppose the Red Guards.

Statue smashing spread to Australia and to statues of other white men, even scientists, so it is more than the US.

Tearing down white males also tears down white men vis-a-vis other identity groups, and tears down European culture vis-a-vis black African culture, Islam, Marxism, etc etc. This is a consequence of the adoption of identity politics by the new left, who champion the rights of all identity groups — except white straight cis-gender males — in an effort to convince all of the members of those identity groups to vote for them.

A reader in the US comments:

This article made more sense to me than anything I have seen on the subject. This is something I lived through in the Deep South. Things have changed so much for the better in just my lifetime.

Before every football game we played Dixie. That practice died long ago. They don’t even play it for Ole Miss games now.

If your goal is to improve race relations, I think the positive needs to be accentuated. There are so many positive steps that have been taken in the South.

As president, Obama had the opportunity to really do something positive here. Instead, he had a chip on his shoulder. He essentially failed at everything and left a negative legacy we are now struggling with. There are many more chips on the shoulder now than when he took office.

Contrast what happened after the brutal killings in South Carolina with what happened in Missouri and Baltimore. There were no riots and the populace went out on a bridge to show solidarity with one another. That is what Christianity did for the citizens of South Carolina. After witnessing that it made me a little proud to still call myself a Southerner.

Let’s also not forget that there some positive aspects in Ferguson, Missouri. The black witnesses who saw what happened told the truth and exonerated the cop. We can be thankful that telling the truth is still important even if your leanings were for the other side.