Welcome to the first installment of a weekly blog I am posting on Lakedegaulle.com.
In the aftermath of the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, President Trump and some in the right wing media attempted to equate hate groups with leftist groups such as Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and others. They push specific talking points which include: “we can’t remove history, we need to protect free speech, and violence is committed by both right and left wing supporters.” Let’s pick these arguments apart one by one.
Erase history? I love hearing this talking point. The Confederate Statues in the South really honor the soldiers that fought in the tragic Civil War. These honorable soldiers died fighting for the south and not for slavery- because the war wasn’t fought over slavery- so we should honor their memory. Most of the people I hear parrot this talking point have a misconstrued understanding of history. Yes, the Civil War fought to protect the institution of slavery. The founders of the confederacy made this clear as they were seceding from the union. Anyone with Google can look up “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” This document, signed December 20th, 1860 states that South Carolina must secede because of “…increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery …”
The Civil War was fought over slavery and anyone who died fighting for the confederacy died protecting slavery. Stop saying otherwise.
Secondly, let’s consider when southerners erected the Confederate statues that honor the sacrifices of the men who died fighting for the south, specifically the sculpture of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA since this was the scene of recent violence. Paul Goodloe Mcintyre, a wealthy stockbroker from Virginia, donated the area and paid for completion of a sculpture of General Lee. The statue was completed in 1924, long after the end of the Civil War and at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was exceptionally popular. Statues of confederate generals only started to be built in the 1890s when the south was instituting Jim Crow era laws to reinforce the subjugation of southern blacks. The statues were not monuments created to honor the generals of the confederacy, but rather symbols of intimidation reminding the black people of the south: don’t forget your place.
But isn’t the sculpture just honoring General Lee and his unwavering dedication to his country? Think about who Robert E. Lee was for a moment. Lee was an American traitor. He worked to unravel the United States of America. General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia are responsible for thousands of American deaths during the Civil War. Had Le succeeded, the United States would have been dramatically diminished in power and prestige. I doubt anyone would advocate flying the flag of ISIS or building a monument to Osama Bin Laden so why should we continue to honor Lee?
If some are still worried that we are “erasing history” by taking down the statutes, we can still remember history without honoring the men responsible for protecting slavery, promoting white supremacy, and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. I have a proposal that should satisfy both sides in the confederate statue debate.
Lithuania, a small country in Eastern Europe, was forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union after World War Two. During the Soviet occupation, thousands of Lithuanians were killed by the repressive Communist government or sent east to the gulag in Siberia. The Soviets also erected a number of statues honoring the memory of famous communist leaders and Lithuanian communists during the occupation to remind Lithuanians of Soviet power. After Lithuania declared independence in 1990 these statues came down. Lithuanians did not erase their history of Soviet occupation, rather they just refused to honor the memory of their oppressors. In 2001, a man named Viliumas Malinauskas collected the discarded Soviet statues and created Grūtas Park, located near Druskininkai. The park displays all the Soviet era statues while also giving a short summary of the atrocities committed by the men and women the statues honor. I propose we create a similar park in the United States. We should collects all the statues of Confederate generals, place them in a privately funded and maintained park. Each statue can have a description of each general and how they fought to support a system of repression, exploration, and violence. History is saved.
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