Purging the History of the South

Calmer heads know unity will not be achieved nor racism ended with the taking down of the so-called Confederate flag from South Carolina’s State House grounds.  While the debate currently is about one symbol seen as offensive by many, there is much more at stake than the elimination of a single flag. 

Much more.

What is occurring even as this piece is being written is a modern version of the frenzied iconoclasm of the past.  Today’s leftists are much like the zealots who attacked cathedrals during the Reformation, knocking the heads off statues, destroying relics, breaking stained glass windows and even stripping paint from church walls.  The iconoclasts believed they were purifying the church from idolatry and heresy by so doing. 

In like manner, the religion of the Left is seeking the destruction of symbols, statues and paintings representing what they believe to be an unmitigated racist world view diametrically opposed to the doctrines of the pure church of liberalism.

Consequently, what may be at stake is the distinct possibility of a panicky purge of the history of the American South.  A purge is to be achieved by eliminating anything that calls forth memory of the Confederacy. 

An exaggeration?  Not at all.

The wheels of progressive revisionism, once they start rolling, could grind exceedingly small.  Every vestige of what the Left sees as the completely degraded past of the South might have to go.  Nothing, no matter how seemingly insignificant or innocuous, would escape revision because for the Leftist inhabitants of the Northeast and elsewhere, the South has been and is still suspected of being irredeemably racist.  It’s always and forever the world of Harper Lee.

Already calls for eliminating the Confederate flag from Maryland license plates and the renaming of Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore have surfaced.  It was a matter of mere hours before the calls for eliminating road signs and schools named after Confederate generals begin.  Then there were those statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, George Pickett, Stonewall Jackson and others to be dealt with. 

According to the New York Times:

In Charleston, the board that governs the Citadel, the state’s 173-year-old military academy, voted, 9 to 3, to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from the campus chapel, saying that a Citadel graduate and the relatives of six employees were killed in the attack on the church.

In Tennessee, political leaders from both parties said a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and an early Ku Klux Klan leader, should be moved out of the State House. In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, ordered that the Confederate flag no longer appear on license plates, and political leaders in Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee vowed to do the same.

As the hysteria over emblems and symbols of the Confederacy accelerates, questions that would have seemed ridiculous only a few weeks or even days ago can legitimately be asked. Just how much is this hysteria over the Confederacy’s symbols going to encompass?

For example, will the legend of Scarlett and Rhett be expunged from the screen?  What about Civil War memorabilia sold on E-Bay?  E-Bay has already banned the sale of anything with the Confederate flag emblazoned on it.  What will be their policy concerning Civil War memorabilia?  Will the sale of Confederate uniforms, portraits of Confederate soldiers, oil paintings of battles Confederates won and weapons used by Confederates be banned from sale while memorabilia of the victorious and unsullied North remains saleable? 

What about the re-enactments of Civil War battles so beloved in the South (and the North)?  Should they be forbidden?  Then there’s the matter of American history books?  Should the South’s entire history be reconsidered?

Of course, another question is how to deal with the people who stubbornly remain attached to the history of their culture, even though many attempt to include the good, the bad and the ugly of Southern history.  Perhaps Southern historians and professors could be “encouraged” to write and teach the history of the South differently, focusing strictly on the guilt of Southern slavery and the righteousness of the North.  Perhaps Sherman’s march through Georgia is more worthy of study than the brilliant victories of Robert E. Lee?  Should the military genius and sheer personal decency of Robert E. Lee not be mentioned while Ulysses S. Grant’s character is held up as the paramount standard for a Civil War general?  Should the portraits of confederate generals be taken down from their places in military academies and only portraits of Northern generals remain? 

What about Southern ancestors?  Should heritages dating back to the Confederacy be a matter of shame rather than of pride?  Will the fact one of your ancestors owned slaves make you suspect as a potential if not an actual racist? 

We have seen excesses of panicky and irrational historical revisionism and iconoclasm from time immemorial.   

Whether it was Thutmose III’s desecration of Hatshepsut’s statues and the attempt to eliminate any memory of the woman pharaoh; or the attempt during France’s Reign of Terror to eliminate the aristocracy and the Church, including a plan to blow up Notre Dame; or Stalin’s attempt to remove all traces of the Romanoff dynasty, including the complete destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church; or Mao Tse Tung’s Red Guards, who attempted to eliminate Western, including Christian, influence from Chinese culture, as well as ancient Chinese culture itself -- the motives have always the same: destroy any offensive symbols of historical events that indicating beliefs differing from the reigning cultural powers.  Only one viewpoint is to be permitted.  Only “pure” symbols reflecting the viewpoint of ideologues is to be taught.  Into the bonfire of vanities with fripperies that reflect heretical views.

In sum, the mentality of the ancient Edomites toward Jerusalem currently appears to be among those of the Left:  “Tear it down.  Tear it down to the foundations.”  No stone must be left untouched until the entire memory of a hated past is completely eliminated. 

Then we can build the South again according to the doctrines of the Left.  What a great world it will be once those gun toting, bitter clingers to Christianity, the Republican Party and the Tea Party infesting the South are completely defeated and their idols are no more.

The reasoning behind a potential purge of Southern history by an iconoclastic Left appears to be the hope that by eliminating the symbols of racism, the actual sin of racism will be expurgated.  Racism can be eliminated by taking away the forms that give it substance.  It is a matter of eliminating statues and flags, not a matter of changing hearts.  Getting rid of an offensive flag or statue is a much easier thing to do than to rend one’s heart before almighty God.

Supposedly, by ridding the South of its icons, including the “Confederate flag,” the South will be cleansed of its past sins.  Those sins will linger on because harmful thoughts are evoked by the flag, thoughts that do not fade.  Therefore, the symbols and statues must go, for they evoke hateful memories and incite racist behavior. The Old South must be razed again and a new South rise from the ashes. 

What is the solution to this complicated mess? 

First, conservatives must cry out loudly, Halt! Stop the iconoclastic frenzy. 

Next, let’s insist on telling history, including the history of the Civil War as it really happened in all its facets.  Tell the good, the bad and the ugly history of the South, the North, the East and the West.  Tell the truth. Tell it all -- the whole miserable, glorious, mixed up, fascinating and complex mess.    

Keep the flags.  Keep the statues.  Keep the portraits. 

Teach about them.

Son, this is a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  He was brilliant and courageous in battle, but he was brutal.  This park named after Robert E. Lee?  Daughter, he was brave and a gentleman who was worshipped by his men, but it is said he was cruel to his slaves.  Grandchild, here is the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, it is now acknowledged by most historians, was such a complex genius, scarcely anyone can fully understand the man or sum him up. This portrait of Jefferson Davis, whose statue Mitch McConnell now wants removed from the capitol of Kentucky? Davis, my dear girl, argued against secession, but believed each state had a right to secede from the Union.  A lot of people thought like Davis, and a lot of people didn’t.  So they fought.

A lot of honorable (and some very dishonorable) people on both sides of the Civil War, Confederates and Union soldiers, fought to the death over what they thought was right or wrong.  Each side had a story to tell, a story from which great lessons can be learned.

My child, all history is an admixture of glory and honor; cruelty and cowardice; righteousness and injustice; the beautiful and the horrible.

We’ll tell it all.  We’ll not even pretend that some of us are so righteous and pure we have the authority to decree the only stories that may be told are ours.  We will try not to be so self-righteous we think we’re the only honorable people in times of battle or peace.  We won’t attempt to take the mote out of our brother’s eye when we have a beam in our own.

We will not destroy, fail to acknowledge or refuse to learn other people’s histories. 

Because if we do, we will never learn from it or them. 

Fay Voshell is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and many other online publications.  She holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her a prize for excellence in systematic theology. She at one time taught American history. She may be reached at fvoshell@yahoo.com

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com