The recent and current practice of overturning, decapitating, and defacing statues of famous men and women, requiring their removal, is a dangerous symptom of nihilistic tendencies, and without putting on the airs of the psychiatrist, implies the presence of collective suicidal impulses.
Statues of famous figures of the past in every field not only honor the individuals celebrated and promote pride among the living for the distinction of their forebears, but convey a reassuring hint of immortality. People die but their reputations don’t, and in many cases, they flourish, are reinterpreted, and the attainments and aptitudes that prompted people to put up statues to such individuals in the first place, are debated and often magnified.
Albert Camus, in his famous book “The Plague,” which was a metaphor for the Nazi occupation of France, wrote, “Only the mute effigies of great figures of the past remind the present of what man had been.”
Such Paris statues as those of Georges Clemenceau, Napoleon, and George Washington must have given some heart to Parisians in the dark days of the occupation.
When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson entered politics in 1997, he answered the questions of some of his fellow journalists, “They don’t build statues to journalists, do they?” He couldn’t imagine that statues could be taken down more easily than they could be put up.
Even Hitler, when he removed Marshal Foch’s famous railway carriage in Compiegne, where the armistice ending World War I was signed, and blew up the statues around it celebrating the defeat of Germany, ordered that the statue honoring Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied armies, be left undisturbed.
The French, he said, are entitled to revere their heroes. Hitler’s one act of kindness to France was to order that the coffin of Napoleon’s son, the so-called King of Rome, be moved from Vienna and reinterred at Napoleon’s tomb in the Invalides. Even he had some respect for the memorials and remains of the honored dead.
It is, in the abstract, especially barbarous for people to destroy and vent their contempt upon statues of symbolic or unknown soldiers of past wars.
When Gen. Grant, immediately following Gen. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, halted a 100-gun salute of victory, he said that there can be no celebration of the defeat of “a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
The South fought for a society which they revered and romanticized (as in “Gone With the Wind”); unfortunately, slavery was at the heart of it, and as Britain and France and other advanced countries had already recognized, the whole concept of people owning other people as property is so repugnant that today, it’s practically unimaginable.
But as President Reagan said in his famous address at the German cemetery at Bitburg on May 6, 1985, young men drafted into the service of their country for which they gave their lives were also victims of Nazi oppression; and the sons of the South who died defending slavery were also, in some measure, its victims.
Their courage, though misplaced, shouldn’t be dishonored. The generals who commanded them have less excuse, but Lee, a former commandant of West Point, strongly recommended against secession.
It was then only 71 years since the former American colonies united “to form a more perfect Union” and it wasn’t uncommon for gentlemen from the older states such as Virginia and Pennsylvania and Massachusetts still to put the interests of their states ahead of those of the country.
Lee agonized over the decision and the consequences of the decision. Morally as well as strategically, he was mistaken, but he was a great general and a conscientious man, and an immensely important figure in U.S. history. He and Stonewall Jackson and others weren’t regarded by Lincoln as traitors; Lee wasn’t treated as a traitor, and doesn’t deserve to be reviled as one now.
There’s no conceivable argument for attacking the statues of Grant, Christopher Columbus, Frederick Douglass, or Abraham Lincoln. The statue of Lincoln with an African American kneeling before him captures the moment when Lincoln went to take possession of the Confederate capital, from which Grant had chased Confederate leaders a few days before.
Lincoln’s security was provided by an African American battalion, and as he walked two miles into Richmond, Virginia, many newly emancipated slaves knelt to thank him and, in each case, he helped raise them to their feet and said they must no longer kneel to anyone except God.
It’s not only ignorance and malice that possessed radical members and sympathizers of Black Lives Matter (BLM) to seek to remove and destroy that statue of Lincoln in Washington.
What we are now dealing with isn’t any semblance of Martin Luther King Jr. and his collaborators and followers demanding the civil and human rights that had been withheld from the emancipated slaves for a century of segregation. We have anti-white racism, just as malignant, just as insolent, just as violent, as the evils of Jim Crow and the Klan, no less so when the perpetrators are themselves white.
There are now frequent anecdotal reports of what is now called “negative discrimination,” meaning, in the South, African Americans in stores, restaurants, and elsewhere declining to serve whites on racial grounds.
As Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told the Republican convention last week, in one lifetime, his family had gone from baling cotton as black tenant farmers to his membership in the U.S. Congress; the negative side of that is that some of the descendants of those African Americans who had to sit at the back of the bus and couldn’t get service in diners and cafeterias now withhold that service from descendants of those who denied it to their ancestors.
There is some vindictive logic in this, but it quickly comes up against the demographic reality that African Americans comprise only 12 percent of the entire U.S. population.
King learned from Gandhi that among a people steeped in Judeo-Christian tradition, gross mistreatment of ethnic minorities could only be conscientiously endured if the minorities resorted to force to take what they were owed.
In India, though the British could technically have clung to their possession and generated a terrible bloodbath among the population, they recognized that they had no ultimate right to govern there, and withdrew, powerless against mass nonviolent noncooperation.
In the United States, former segregationist President Lyndon Johnson saw that segregation was the evil legacy of the greater evil of slavery. He was sincere when he told the Congress in 1965, “It is not just blacks but all of us who are the victims of racial prejudice and bigotry … and we shall overcome.”
Figuring It Out
The country has now recognized that BLM isn’t principally an organization that mourns the fate of victims of mistreatment such as George Floyd; it’s more notably an anti-white racist and urban guerrilla movement that is going to have to be dealt with as a threat to the elemental rights of all citizens of every pigmentation and to public security.
Destroying statues is symbolic; burning down and trashing cities is a premeditated assault on American civilization, not hot-headed and aggrieved impetuosity. The Democrats, to judge from Joe Biden’s address in Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, seem to be having a poll-driven grace of hasty conversion, but if they don’t put some real and explicit distance between themselves and BLM, they will pay a heavy price at the polls for sitting at the back of the wrong bus.
Their two chief allies in this campaign, black radicals and the COVID hysteria that they and their media lackeys have generated, are becoming serious handicaps.
Every week, BLM is more clearly seen as the infestation of looters and arsonists and rioters that it chiefly is, and as COVID fatalities decline, the masked, self-distanced, virtual-school cowardice and silliness of the Democrats becomes more obvious. In racial as in public health matters, the country, including all ethnic components of the country, are figuring it out more quickly than the Biden-Sanders Democrats.
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He’s the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently, “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other,” which is about to be republished in updated form.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.