Confederate Statues Debate: Stone Mountain and other Monuments

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Protest signs at the Confederate Monument at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Ga., June 16, 2020. (Dustin Chambers/Reuters)

Kyle has written a fantastically well-done (of course) piece in response to my column arguing against Confederate statues. I’d make a couple of points in reply.

Kyle implies that I think if we ditch a Confederate statues, we’ll be in a better position to defend other, worthier statues. I say no such thing, nor do I believe it. My argument is about the merits of the statues, not about how to deal with the mob.

(It it were up to me, every statue in the land would be protected from vandalism, and anyone spray-painting or toppling a statue would be charged with a crime.)

Kyle, however, does offer a theory of how to deal with the mob — i.e., defend every statue of every Confederate figure and George Washington will be safe. If this were true, I might be on board, but Republicans and conservative are resolutely trying to defend Confederate statues, and George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant are still being toppled.

The upshot is that we are going to have to fight like hell to keep Thomas Jefferson and George Washington regardless of what happens to the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart statues. I fervently wish there were some way around this, but there isn’t.

As for the merits, Kyle thinks we should keep up Confederate statues as way to educate people about racism. But I really don’t think we need to worry about the nation’s youth learning about racism; in fact, it’s the one thing we can be confident that schools will actually teach our kids, Confederate statues or no.

One of my points is that Confederate statues are an affront to ordinary, patriotic black citizens of this country, who aren’t woke, who aren’t tearing things down, and who deserve due consideration as our fellow Americans.

On Kyle’s theory, a statue of, say, Jefferson Davis is actually an opportunity for a black father and his son walking by to have a teaching moment:

“Who’s that, Dad?”

“I’m glad you ask, son. He’s a hack politician who betrayed our country, ineptly led a rump republic devoted to enslaving black people, was briefly jailed for his treason, then wrote a completely dishonest, but influential account of the war.”

“Uh, then why is there a statue of him?”

If our public statuary really should be considered an opportunity to have discussions about grievous failures of personal and political judgment, we should rue the fact that there aren’t dozens of statues of Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr around the country—to better facilitate conversations about treachery.

As for Stone Mountain, Kyle asks “by what principle” it should stay if we remove other Confederate statues? But this isn’t a matter of strict principle—as I wrote in my column, we should make distinctions, and surely there is one between re-locating a Jefferson Davis statue to a museum, as the University of Texas did a few years ago, and dynamiting a mountain.

Finally, if Kyle is right that the only way to defend favorable public depictions of the finest statesmen that the word has ever known is also to defend favorable public depictions of men who used their talents to try to destroy their handiwork — to kill their fellow Americans in prodigious numbers to defend a system built on a hideous injustice — well, then, maybe all really is lost.

 





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