Tear Down America’s Shame

Adam John Ellison argues that we cannot cling to Confederate symbols and statues in modern America while being true to history and being genuine about ending oppression.

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In 1861, the President of the United States rallied the armies of his great Republic to crush the upstart rebellion started by the Confederate States of America. In 2017, the President of the United States showered the CSA in glory and, in taking the side of racists and Nazis, sulked as tributes to bigotry and oppression were destroyed en masse.

There are few things in this world more pathetic and less American than Confederates: a ragtag group of racists, losers, traitors, and slaveholders, confined to history by good grace and the righteous might of the American North. In 1865, Robert E Lee signed the official surrender of the armies of the Confederate States of America and brought that dark chapter of American history to a close. General Lee insisted (alongside his fellow generals Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet) that no statutes should be raised in the honour of themselves or the “country” for which they fought. In 1866 Lee wrote that such statutes would “keep open the wounds of war” and have the effect of “continuing, if not worsening, the difficulties under which the southern people labour.”

Lee knew then, as all sensible people do now, that raising statues to a cruel and vanquished rebellion would honour no one, instead dividing and serving as a constant reminder of chaos and bloodshed.

It is odd, then, that Trump and his fellow reactionaries leap so readily to the defence of these statues. Arguing that Lee and his ilk were “fine men” and that America’s history is being eroded by the tearing down of their statues. These statutes do not just exist across the South, but Union states whose sons and daughters fought the CSA tooth and claw are now littered with similar tributes.

I’m sure it would interest these Trumpish persons to hear that these statues were mostly raised not during the 1860s but during the 1910s, 20s and 50s. Their erection was a response to the progress of the Civil Rights Movement. Not content that equality would reign, the KKK, Dixiecrats, and “State’s Rights” movements constructed eternal reminders of their “heroes”. Men who, however indirectly, fought for the enslavement of black Americans and the continuation of white supremacy. That, not southern heritage or anything else, is what these statues honour.

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The CSA was created for a single reason: the eternal preservation of slavery, perhaps the most awful practice mankind has ever engaged in. They were unambiguously evil, they were traitors to the United States, they fought and killed their own countrymen in pursuit of a reactionary goal. I do not think General Lee was an evil man, I do not think all Confederates were. The institution he represents, however, and those who continue to idolise it, are a different matter entirely.

This issue is not merely a historical one but it is also political, a battle fought between two distinct sides. One bears the “shameful” and horrifying stigma of including Antifascists (both Antifa and others), Civil Rights Activists, Veterans, Democrats, racial minorities, and any other Americans with a bare shred of decency. Opposed to these troublemakers are Neo-Nazis, Neo-Confederates, White Nationalists, Reactionaries, the KKK and their pathetic imitators from degenerate corners of the internet. Make no mistake, there are certainly two sides to this fight. These people and their cause have found allies in literal, unabashed and unashamed Nazis – men who chant “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” as they rally around their statues. There is no ambiguity – these are evil men with an evil cause.

And these statues cause active damage even today. Every single day, black Americans are forced to walk past statues devoted to men who would subject them to servitude and rob them of their humanity. They walk through parks dedicated to these men and study in schools named after them. Can you imagine German Jews studying in Goering College or strolling through Himmler Square? Could we fathom Singaporeans or Koreans viewing statues of Hirohito or walking their dogs in Tojo Gardens? That thought is the reality for many of America’s forty million black citizens and it is simply unacceptable.

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The matter, truthfully, should no longer be an issue. The CSA was defeated: at Gettysburg, at Antietam and Corinth, at Champion Hill and Fort Hudson, their armies were routed by better men fighting for a better cause. Losers don’t get medals, they don’t get trophies and they certainly don’t get statues. These are not historical items, they are not representative of glory or heritage. These Confederate Statues are America’s shame, that they were ever raised is a tragedy and that they persist is intolerable. The time has not just come, the time has long passed: tear down these monuments to oppression, tear down these tributes to traitors, tear down America’s shame.