First, let’s make it clear: Confederate statues have been used as an excuse for destruction. If it were just about the Confederate statues, there would be no monuments destroyed or vandalized in California, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin or Oregon. These Union States have no confederate statues.
Instead, in San Francisco a statue of Ulysses S. Grant (A Republican!) was destroyed. In Massachusetts, a monument to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment was vandalized (perhaps someone don’t like their blue uniforms?); In Oregon, an Elk Statue was burned. What did the Elk do?
Second, lest many Americans should overlook, most civil wars were bloody affairs long after the battlefields fell silent. In China, Vietnam, Russia, Spain or Greece, many more were jailed or executed in waves of purges when the victors exacted revenge or dispensed victor’s justice. And the vanquished were thoroughly vilified in histories. Upwards of millions were driven into exile. Sometimes, in return, the defeated would head to the hills and woods to continue decades of guerrilla war and dole out whatever revenge when they could.
The American Civil War was a notable, and very rare, exception. Through the honorable actions of leaders on both sides – notably at Appomattox – our country was spared the worst. Perhaps, solely for their role in averting a worse ending, southern leaders deserve some acknowledgement?
Moreover, America had built a tradition (until quite recently) of respecting instead of denigrating our opponents. We would, for example, say nice things about our opponents after an election campaign, however contrived. We would sometimes go out of our way to acknowledge the bravery and honor of our enemies, like Japanese soldiers, or the Viet Cong. As a person who had studied history outside of the United States, this is definitely not the norm. You should see how Japanese soldiers are currently portrayed in China – or Germans in Russia.
Worse, I see a worrying trend now in the United States of painting the other side as either incurably stupid or purely evil. I am afraid if we were to have another civil war, the aftermath will be far more bloody than 1865.
Third: Who has the authority to judge which statue, which monument, should be removed? By what process should these decisions be made? By what process should they be removed? Mr. Boling may have his own standards, but who is to say someone else may not come along with a different standard down the road? Some in the left want to claim the unilateral authority to determine what is and what is not moral. And upon making judgements about which statues to destroy, they have granted themselves the right to execute on their own judgement.
I, for one, do not like the statue of Lenin in Seattle. But I do not claim the authority to decree it morally unfit for Seattle – nor would I take it upon myself to remove that statue with a posse of like-minded friends.
I am amendable to removing some statues from public spaces, perhaps from a place of honor to a local museum or private collection. But that decision must be made in accordance with our democratic ideals. The local citizenry should decide – through an open and democratic process – whether or not a piece of public art is consistent with their views. And if someone (perhaps a descendent, perhaps the local historical society) were willing to take ownership of the monument, such an opportunity should be readily given.
We live in a nation of self governing citizens. We must aspire to live with certain ideals: Respect for the democratic process, respect for those whose politics we disagree with, and respect for our judicial system – without which the weak would definitely suffer at the hands of the strong. We are not perfect, but if someone destroys the pillars on which our mutual compact was founded, it could be far worse.
Menlo Park, California
FROM THE EDITOR …
This is another excellent and thoughtful take on this divisive topic. I especially agree with you on the need for thoughtfulness and mutual respect as we assess our shared history.
Sadly, both are in incredibly short supply in our nation these days.
At any rate, thank you for taking the time to read the letter we published – and for submitting one of your own in response.
Thoughtful exchanges such as these are indispensable in creating a new marketplace of ideas in America – one we can all be proud of.
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