Monuments are a great American story

What a pathetic bit of mob lunacy we have this summer in the attacks on Southern Civil War monuments.  In my hometown, they are even defacing a statue of a civilian gentleman on a show horse, meant to celebrate equestrian sports.  All white guys on horses must go, apparently, no matter what.

Now, I have no personal brief for the Confederacy – my people were the awesome Midwestern Germans who elected Lincoln and marched with Grant to victory.  Yet, knowing American history, I find doubly disgusting the oft repeated and utterly false argument that the hundreds of Southern monuments erected in the decades after the war are somehow the work of the Ku Klux Klan – to intimidate uppity negroes.  A few, like Liberty Place Monument in New Orleans, have an obvious racist motive, but only a few.

Almost all the monuments were instead put up by the genteel United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).  Little old lady Electras worked for decades in sewing circles to raise money to fund memorials to their daddies – pure works of familial love and loyalty, nothing more.  Even the kooks at Southern Poverty Law Center can't identify a race-hatred incident involving the UDC.  The worst thing usually said about the UDC is that a lot of their publications are heavily sugarcoated.

The Southern monuments they left us brought needed catharsis to many who lost and suffered through the Civil War – just as Maya Lin's Memorial is supposed to have given Vietnam veterans closure.  By emphasizing the heroism and sacrifice of the rebels, but not defending the indefensible, they played a great role in reconciling the South to the nation.  Lincoln's idea of "charity for all, malice toward none" was surely well realized in the basic soldierly honors these memorials afforded.

A lot of the monument-wreckers even concede that they are the work of the UDC ladies and that they helped in the work of national reconciliation.  Yet they still must go because, well, these are Confederates – yuck!  Even the monuments on the battlefields.  Presumably, future visitors to Gettysburg will just be left to wonder whom Gen. Meade was fighting.  Martians, Orcs, Darth Vader? 

Civil wars are the worst of all wars.  Ask anybody from China, Russia, or Biafra.  Four hundred years later, Germany in many ways still hadn't gotten beyond the Thirty Years' War.  Yet we Americans recovered from ours in a relatively short time, a chastened but better people for it.

White Southerners, as Lincoln pointed out in his epic Peoria Speech, were no more responsible than the rest of the country for the existence of slavery.  But they certainly suffered the most in the Civil War and then were made to do what no other people in the world at that time would have allowed: accept millions of people from another race into their society on an equal basis.  The wonder is not that the Jim Crow period was so ugly, but that it wasn't much worse.  One way or another, awkwardly as ever, our country got put back together, the way the Founders hoped.

Just 80 years after the conflict, the very grandchildren of Stonewall Jackson's legions were there in the worst of the fighting at Omaha Beach, winning the most crucial contest of World War II – "the champions who helped free a continent," as Reagan would say.  America simply could not have won WWII, or done much of anything in the 20th century, if the divisions of the 19th century had not been allowed to heal.  Conceding that small portion of honor to the rebel soldiers' courage, if not their cause, went a long way in making that happen.

Mitch Landrieu, in his Taliban-style takedown of the Lee statute in New Orleans, said he couldn't think of any positive lesson the monument might hold for a black fifth-grade schoolgirl.  Mitch being a crazed narcissist, I am sure he couldn't.  He lives in the moment.  It's all about him, and history is bunk.

Yet there is a great lesson for any American who would look for it.  And that is that there is such a thing as a worthy opponent.  We can recognize the courage and nobility of a person like Robert E. Lee and the terrible choice he had to make – between his oath to the United States and love for his friends and neighbors – even if we find that decision disappointing.  The real Lee had more than his share of faults; Grant was justifiably exasperated that he wouldn't fight the tide of Reconstruction violence, like brave Longstreet and Mahone.  Yet Lee's inspiring qualities to previous generations are undeniable.  Even Ken Burns's 1990 Civil War series was a near hagiography of the man.

Of course, the whole concept of a "worthy opponent" is anathema for the modern social justice warrior.  The idea that civilization is a noble but messy process, made by humans doing great things while making mistakes, is too hard to understand.  One can only hope this season of madness runs its course in short order.  And if, by chance, some lunatic erects an Al Sharpton Monument, we conservatives, in the spirit of Lincoln and reconciliation, will be happy to leave it be. 

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, Ky.

What a pathetic bit of mob lunacy we have this summer in the attacks on Southern Civil War monuments.  In my hometown, they are even defacing a statue of a civilian gentleman on a show horse, meant to celebrate equestrian sports.  All white guys on horses must go, apparently, no matter what.

Now, I have no personal brief for the Confederacy – my people were the awesome Midwestern Germans who elected Lincoln and marched with Grant to victory.  Yet, knowing American history, I find doubly disgusting the oft repeated and utterly false argument that the hundreds of Southern monuments erected in the decades after the war are somehow the work of the Ku Klux Klan – to intimidate uppity negroes.  A few, like Liberty Place Monument in New Orleans, have an obvious racist motive, but only a few.

Almost all the monuments were instead put up by the genteel United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).  Little old lady Electras worked for decades in sewing circles to raise money to fund memorials to their daddies – pure works of familial love and loyalty, nothing more.  Even the kooks at Southern Poverty Law Center can't identify a race-hatred incident involving the UDC.  The worst thing usually said about the UDC is that a lot of their publications are heavily sugarcoated.

The Southern monuments they left us brought needed catharsis to many who lost and suffered through the Civil War – just as Maya Lin's Memorial is supposed to have given Vietnam veterans closure.  By emphasizing the heroism and sacrifice of the rebels, but not defending the indefensible, they played a great role in reconciling the South to the nation.  Lincoln's idea of "charity for all, malice toward none" was surely well realized in the basic soldierly honors these memorials afforded.

A lot of the monument-wreckers even concede that they are the work of the UDC ladies and that they helped in the work of national reconciliation.  Yet they still must go because, well, these are Confederates – yuck!  Even the monuments on the battlefields.  Presumably, future visitors to Gettysburg will just be left to wonder whom Gen. Meade was fighting.  Martians, Orcs, Darth Vader? 

Civil wars are the worst of all wars.  Ask anybody from China, Russia, or Biafra.  Four hundred years later, Germany in many ways still hadn't gotten beyond the Thirty Years' War.  Yet we Americans recovered from ours in a relatively short time, a chastened but better people for it.

White Southerners, as Lincoln pointed out in his epic Peoria Speech, were no more responsible than the rest of the country for the existence of slavery.  But they certainly suffered the most in the Civil War and then were made to do what no other people in the world at that time would have allowed: accept millions of people from another race into their society on an equal basis.  The wonder is not that the Jim Crow period was so ugly, but that it wasn't much worse.  One way or another, awkwardly as ever, our country got put back together, the way the Founders hoped.

Just 80 years after the conflict, the very grandchildren of Stonewall Jackson's legions were there in the worst of the fighting at Omaha Beach, winning the most crucial contest of World War II – "the champions who helped free a continent," as Reagan would say.  America simply could not have won WWII, or done much of anything in the 20th century, if the divisions of the 19th century had not been allowed to heal.  Conceding that small portion of honor to the rebel soldiers' courage, if not their cause, went a long way in making that happen.

Mitch Landrieu, in his Taliban-style takedown of the Lee statute in New Orleans, said he couldn't think of any positive lesson the monument might hold for a black fifth-grade schoolgirl.  Mitch being a crazed narcissist, I am sure he couldn't.  He lives in the moment.  It's all about him, and history is bunk.

Yet there is a great lesson for any American who would look for it.  And that is that there is such a thing as a worthy opponent.  We can recognize the courage and nobility of a person like Robert E. Lee and the terrible choice he had to make – between his oath to the United States and love for his friends and neighbors – even if we find that decision disappointing.  The real Lee had more than his share of faults; Grant was justifiably exasperated that he wouldn't fight the tide of Reconstruction violence, like brave Longstreet and Mahone.  Yet Lee's inspiring qualities to previous generations are undeniable.  Even Ken Burns's 1990 Civil War series was a near hagiography of the man.

Of course, the whole concept of a "worthy opponent" is anathema for the modern social justice warrior.  The idea that civilization is a noble but messy process, made by humans doing great things while making mistakes, is too hard to understand.  One can only hope this season of madness runs its course in short order.  And if, by chance, some lunatic erects an Al Sharpton Monument, we conservatives, in the spirit of Lincoln and reconciliation, will be happy to leave it be. 

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, Ky.