Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam has begun the process of removing Virginia’s statue of Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol, where each state has a statue of two state heroes. Ethics Alarms has been uncompromising in opposing the progressive movement to remove the statues of figures past generations admired and believed worthy of memorials and honors because of their achievements. The phenomenon is the essence of the deplorable “cancel culture,” where any transgression or past conduct viewed as repugnant in the light of “presentism” or political correctness is treated as justification to airbrush their lives out of our culture and history. Slaveholding has been the ultimate trigger for such airbrushing, even when the individuals being erased made crucial contributions to our nation. That criteria endangers our Founders like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, without whom our nation would not exist.
Lee, of course, is the fulcrum of this battle. The Confederate icon has long been admired for his character, loyalty and courage, as well as his brilliance as a military strategist. As the Confederacy has increasingly been regarded as fighting for slavery by modern historians (though it’s more complicated than that), Lee’s own sin of owning slaves is increasingly see as being compounded by his role in fighting to preserve the process, and committing treason to do it.
Lee’s statues remind new generations of a remarkable, if flawed, man and great leader, who frequently exhibited admirable qualities in the midst of great conflict and stress. We are a stronger, smarter society by learning from Robert E. Lee rather than forgetting him.
Nonetheless, I believe it is not unreasonable for Virginia’s governor to exercise discretion over who Virginia officially represents to the nation as its two greatest heroes. I’m a Virginian who regards Lee as an important historical figure who deserves to be remembered, but despite individual heroic moments, he’s no hero to me. His statute was initially selected when Virginia was still nostalgic about “the land of cotton where old times were not forgotten.” I suspect that the vast majority of Virginians don’t consider him a hero any more, and that’s unlikely to change. Therefore, it is reasonable to find a better and less controversial figure for the special honor in the Capitol.
George Washington holds down the state’s top slot in Capitol statuary, and if Northam, a progressive panderer par excellance, tries to remove his statue I’ll personally march on Richmond. (Yes, Lee is a slippery slope, but he doesn’t have to be.) Virginia has many good candidates to replace Lee. Jefferson is the obvious choice, but I assume that Northam won’t allow one slave-holder to replace another. This also disqualifies a favorite of mine (for some reason), Chief Justice John Marshall, another Founder who pronounced slavery evil but continued to practice it. President Woodrow Wilson was a Virginian and didn’t own slaves, but only because it was illegal when by the time he was alive: Wilson was a virulent racist.
Fortunately Virginia has a rich selection on non-politicians to choose from: Arthur Ashe, Ella Fizgerald, explorers Richard Byrd and Meriwether Lewis, Booker T. Washington (my choice), and Walter Reed among them.
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