I have recently experienced 4 encounters about the removal of Confederate war monuments in the South. Two were personal while the other two were not.
Of the two that were personal, both individuals objected to the removal of these monuments. Both saw the removal as attacks on our history. One person failed to see that monuments do more than bear witness to history, they serve to honor specific people or events. The one who failed to see this was a northerner. The other person felt the pain more personally because that person was Southerner. That person felt that their South was more than just a land of slavery and racism. That people had changed since then. And that person wanted to hang on to some vestiges of pride in their region.
The other two encounters were not personal. One was a speech given my New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on why a monument honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee was being torn down. In short, Landrieu justified the taking down of the statue because Lee and the Confederates were on the wrong side of history due to their defense of slavery and white supremacy. One of the most moving points Landrieu made was to ask how can we explain a statue that honors people who defended white supremacy and slavery to a young Black child (click here for a transcript of his speech)?
The last encounter is the one we will review here. It is an article written by Patrick Buchanan (click here for his bio) and it opposes the tearing down of these monuments. In an article entitled, Why Do They Want To Tear Down Our History (click here for the article), Buchanan appeals to both History and Western contributions to history against the tearing down of the Confederate monuments. Like the people I encountered over this subject, Buchanan sees the tearing down of these monuments as an effort to erase a part of our history. Again, he fails to see that monuments serve other purposes than being historical bookmarks; monuments are built to honor, and thus call us to revere, people and/or events. At this point, Buchanan has his answer especially if he were to listen to or read what Mayor Landrieu said about the monuments. So what else needs to be said?
We need to pay attention to Buchanan's appeal to consistency as well as his assertion that Western Civilization's contributions far outweigh its faults as to why we should not tear down the monuments.
Using consistency as a defense, Buchanan notes how Generals Sherman and Sheridan, two brutal Northern Civil War generals who burned civilian areas to the ground while at war, are honored by having circles in our nation's capital named after them. With Sheridan, we should also note his hatred of Native Americans and how he fought against them. Buchanan also correctly points to our inconsistency in mentioning our monuments and memorials in D.C. to Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, all of whom owned slaves.
In previous times, according to Buchanan, we have honored those from both the North and South who fought in the Civil War. Then he goes beyond that point in saying that in previous times, we honored the West for its accomplishments. Those accomplishments include the ending of slavery and the idea of inalienable rights. He continues by citing Charles Murray in saying that well over 90% of history's most notable people and accomplishments come from the West. But now we are taught to associate the West with racism and imperialism. We are becoming victims of iconoclasts who, like ISIS and Boko Haram, can tear down but could never build a anything great according to Buchanan.
At this point, we need to see the scope of Buchanan's argument against the tearing down of Civil War monuments. For he started with talking about attacks on Southern heritage and then proceeds to generalize to attacks on Western Civilization. So that it isn't just the history of the South that is being erased with the tearing down of the monuments, it is the history of much of the world that is current being threatened considering how well over 90% of the most notable people and accomplishments come from the West. For if we tear down every tribute to the West, we don't have much of a world left.
But some points should be made here. First, the West didn't end slavery. Slavery still exists. In addition, just as Jim Crow soon followed the Civil War, so too prison labor soon followed slavery and both Jim Crow and prison labor have been steeped in racism. And we still have a significant degree of racism here in America. We could also mention Western Imperialism that both preceded America becoming a superpower and after the fact. We should note that the current refugee crisis of those fleeing the Mediterranean area into Europe started with America's 2003 invasion of Iraq.
We should also note something about Charles Murray's claim that well over 90% high percent of the most notable people and accomplishments have come from the West. Such is the view of a Westerner. We might ask whether those percentages would stay in tact if we asked scholars from the Middle East, Latin America, or Asia from where the most notable people and accomplishments come.
Certainly, the West has accomplished much. But many of those accomplishments were paid for through the abuse of indigenous people by either their exploitation or their ethnic cleansing from their own land? Those living in the West are inclined to have a more favorable view of the West because of how they want to see themselves. Thus, they tend to highlight the West's accomplishments while possibly minimizing its sins and atrocities.
Here, we might ask Buchanan if his view of the West versus how non-Westerners see the same would parallel the views of the Capitol by those who lived in the Capitol versus those who lived in the districts from the Hunger Games movies. For the point here is that when viewing our own nation and/or civilization, we tend not to take into account how outsiders see us. And with our penchant for self-flattery, especially in this current age of narcissism, it is unlikely that we will do so in the near future.
Like the West, the old South accomplished much. But who paid the most for those accomplishments? This is the question that challenges Buchanan's idealism. And though Buchanan wants to appear to be objective by noting some of the West's failures, it doesn't stop him from idealizing the old South and Western Civilization. Thus, what Buchanan is really defending when he opposes the tearing down of Confederate Civil War monuments and then generalizes that to his defense of the West against criticisms of racism and imperialism, are not the monuments or the civilization themselves, but the pedestals on which he has put them. In essence, he is defending one of his religions.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5