Monica Showalter, American Thinker, May 1, 2017
Totalitarians always seek to erase history.
The sad preamble to the horror of 9/11 was in the Taliban’s brazen destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a magnificent old relief sculpture that stood as testimony to Afghanistan’s rich and many-layered history as a crossroads of civilization. To know of that history was anathema to the Taliban, which wanted absolute power over the lives of the Afghanis they terrorized. Allowing the Buddhas to stand could only allow Afghanis to take strength from their past.
The same dynamic was also seen in 1917, when the Bolshevik atheists destroyed most of Russia’s abundant churches and synagogues, literally grinding their relics into the mud and leaving hollowed out dead shells to spiritually devastate the devout public. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote at length about this effort to deracinate Russia from its past to create a spiritual “exhaustion” or wasteland.
We see the same dynamic now with the left’s movement to wholesale destruction of Confederate monuments in New Orleans. The Washington Post has an interesting, fairly reported article on an old Confederate group’s effort to stop this postmodern move from the radical left. Like the Confederacy itself, it’s probably a lost cause, but it’s heartening to see some fight-back, because the Confederacy deserves to be known and understood objectively, meaning neither romanticized nor demonized. Wiping out the evidence of its existence deracinates New Orleans from its history and makes it just another generic U.S. city with nothing to speak for it other than crime and the other failures of Democratic one-party rule.
Using the rubric of racism alone (even though the origins of the Civil War itself are far more complicated), it’s pretty obvious that what the left wants is to create a Uniworld of soulless urban habitats with no history to speak of other than what the left deems history – victimology, identity politics for favored special interest groups, as well as the glorification of totalitarians. Its intolerance is often noted on college campuses, in the media, and in Hollywood, but it’s also there in its efforts to erase and distort history.
The left justifies its effort to dismantle New Orleans’s unique history is motivated by the cold-hearted killer of last year, Dylann Roof, who waved a Confederate flag in a photo and then massacred Charleston, South Carolina black churchgoers in cold blood. Roof’s rootless evil is not Confederate; it’s more in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, a masterpiece of American literature about a soulless, merciless killer in the Deep South who massacres a traveling family he’s kidnapped after one member tries to connect with him.
Roof was in that tradition, not the Confederate one he claimed. Roof, in fact, misappropriated and distorted history, and the left is seeking to advance its agenda by accepting his narrative. The leaders depicted on those Confederate monuments would have been horrified by what was done in their name by a rootless, soulless human wasteland like Roof.
What they themselves stood for – not the Confederate idea, not the false romanticism of the postwar South, not the postwar Jim Crow activity that followed, but the leaders themselves – and what they do to contribute to the American experience of today is in how they acted in the wake of the vast Civil War, which ended in 1865. Anyone who looks into the history learns that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant on unconditional terms, because he did not want his beloved South to descend into guerrilla warfare, a horrific prospect – the sort of thing we have seen in Colombia for most of the 20th century. He surrendered to spare the South that potential devastation, despite the very cruel punishments that followed from the North in the war’s aftermath. The Confederate leaders also demonstrated their worthiness of memory by actually working with their Yankee counterparts in peacetime pursuits.
One of the most interesting, barely known chapters of American history is in the story of how leading Confederate war dog Gen. James Longstreet went into business with leading Yankee ferocity Gen. William T. Sherman in the aftermath of the Civil War. The place where they went into business was…New Orleans.
This is not to say all history should be preserved. The Nazi past is best erased completely to inoculate Germans against ever being tempted by national socialism’s false promises again. Nazis need to be pariahs. It’s their punishment. They can be studied in history books, not felt on the street. The move to raze Hitler’s childhood home to prevent it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine is the best idea.
But the Confederacy was not an unalloyed evil. It was a product of its time. It had good and bad aspects, even some stupid ones (imagining it could win a war with the sort of rail system and economic structure it had, for one). All of those things should be understood. And the fact that some of the action is unique to New Orleans – is, in fact, its history – deserves to be preserved.
My own personal feelings about this add two additional thoughts: I am the descendent of abolitionist northerners from Michigan who welcomed runaway slaves into their communities, and the relics of that stance remain active in those places. Some of my relatives live in a town called Free Soil, Michigan, which should give a hint of the sentiment. The history there is preserved, as it rightly should be, in those many towns. It should also be preserved as it was seen in the South.
My other thought is this: if the left succeeds in destroying Confederate monuments, who do you think is going to be next? It’s California’s mission heritage. California’s fascinating history began with the work of selfless Franciscan friars who sought to save the souls of Indians as their religious mission by setting up missions whose cities now bear their lives. But they also sought to save Indians’ lives. Spanish troops were slaughtering native Americans across two continents on the grounds that they found them “useless.” It happened in Argentina; it happened a lot of places. The Franciscans of California, by teaching the Indians skills, destroyed the Spanish justification for massacring the Indians. It’s significant to me that real descendants of California’s Indian tribes understand this and know this history in all its good and bad aspects objectively, while left-wing activists – who seek to erase this California history as well as its beautiful architectural legacy – completely ignore it.
The attack on New Orleans’s historic monuments is an omen of worse to come. History itself tells us this, just as surely as it tells us the story of the Confederates. It is hoped that the fight-back will grow.