And Richmond’s Historical Airbrushing Is Complete

Mayor Levar M. Stoney (D) of Richmond, Virginia is all puffed up with pride because he has overseen the complete removal of statues in the city depicting major Civil War figures who sided with the Confederacy. “Over two years ago, Richmond was home to more confederate statues than any city in the United States,” Stoney said in a statement on Twitter. “Collectively, we have closed that chapter. We now continue the work of being a more inclusive and welcoming place where ALL belong.” His victory lap was occasioned by the toppling of the last Confederate statue remaining in the city of 230,000, which memorialized Ambrose P. Hill, Robert E. Lee’s most trusted lieutenant general, and which had stood on a pedestal at a busy intersection in Richmond since 1892. Hill’s remains were in the pedestal of the statue, now ticketed for the local Black History Museum, where it can be assured of obscurity. Hill’s remains? Supposedly they will be deposited in a grave somewhere, but who knows? They may get flushed down a toilet.

My question is what will the airbrushers plan to do with the city? Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy; its existence is certainly a more prominent memorial to the Grays than any statue of a general most non-Civil War buffs couldn’t distinguish from Benny Hill or Pork Chop Hill. Richmond’s crucial role in the Civil War is its primary claim to fame. Level it, I say. That’s the only way to “close the chapter.” A city that was mission central for the South’s efforts to enslave blacks—-there was really more to it than that, but I’m mouthing the official, historically ignorant line here—can’t possibly be a welcoming place: who does the woke mayor think he’s fooling? At very least, Richmond has to change its name, doesn’t it? Maybe to something like Floydtown or Diversityopolis?

We should now be able to see clearly, though it should have been clear years ago, that the Wadical Woke’s determination to wipe historical references to Civil War figures who were not sufficiently up on their 21st century values from the map, the landscape and the minds of our increasingly ignorant citizens was a harbinger of the enthusiasm for censorship and ideological indoctrination the Democratic Party and the mainstream news media now openly embrace. Ethics Alarms has discussed extensively why the statue-toppling was and is both unethical and stupid; I’m not going to rehash it here. I’m not. Oh, the hell I’m not: here’s a section from a post on the topic a year ago:

You know where they did things like that? The USSR, where art was harnessed to be a propaganda organ of the state, and every museum, gallery, orchestra and dance company was dedicated first to pushing forward the State’s narrative before anything else, and anything that didn’t do that was pushed into the background or destroyed. The world is damn lucky that Russia was able to rebuild the Cathedral of Christ the Savior that was blown up (!) to make way for a “Palace of the Soviets” that never materialized due to WWII. The world is also lucky that the Soviets were nothing if not practical, and repurposed most other buildings (including churches and synagogues) rather than destroying them outright, and still didn’t quite dare to destroy things like the tomb of St. Alexander Peresviet (maybe useful as a nationalist hero) or the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov (though they hid them away for a time). Otherwise, the physical link to all that history would be lost.

Know where else they did things like that? Reformation England under the bigoted rule of Henry VIII and later Cromwell. You can still go to Canterbury Cathedral, but you can’t see the jeweled shrine of St. Thomas Becket. In fact I think the only one of those shrines that didn’t get trashed was the one of St. Edward the Confessor, which no one was brave (or hateful) enough to destroy, and still rests in Westminster Abbey. Know where they’re doing things like that now? Afghanistan under the Taliban, and up until recently the parts of Iraq that were controlled by ISIS.

…This isn’t about apologies, nor is it about correcting the historical record, and it’s not about righting long-standing wrongs (which it’s never too late to right, especially if you’re on the left). This is a modern-day attempt to erase the past and erase what came before, so that those who come after will never know things were any different, and will believe, without having to think, that the past was wrong. Then they will be that much easier to feed whatever the government narrative is, and have it fill the empty place in their brains. 

When President Trump made one of the statements that is still intentionally distorted by the Axis to denigrate him, saying that some of those who demonstrated in Charlottesville were doubtlessly “very fine people,” this is the issue he was talking about. I would demonstrate or protest in favor of preserving statues of Hill, Robert E. Lee and the rest, because I believe fervently and correctly that such evidence of past sentiments, passions, events and history-makers must not perish from the earth, if I didn’t also believe most protests were a waste of time that do more harm than good.

21 thoughts on “And Richmond’s Historical Airbrushing Is Complete

  1. How many people were killed by tobacco that was processed in or traded through Richmond? The town should be demolished, and the land should be salted.

  2. My elderly aunt and uncle just recently sold their beautiful, historic Richmond home to the University of Richmond, which had been trying to persuade them to sell for more than a decade. Their move back to my area has ended any need I have to visit Richmond as I regularly did pre-pandemic. Touring the statues was always interesting. Visiting Hollywood Cemetery was also a frequent pastime while there (it is located only a short walk from the home) but due to its abundance of former Confederates among its historic population, it will now likely be a prime target for the monument topplers and America haters (but I repeat myself). When I visited Richmond, the number of Civil War history-related tourists was usually obvious. I wonder why people with no direct ties to the city will visit (and spend money) now.
    As others have pointed out, anyone who genuinely feels “harmed” by the mere presence of statues of men who have been dead for more than a century has more serious issues with which to deal. I suspect deep-seated wokeness and its symptomatic perpetual butthurt are incurable and likely terminal.
    I will be unsurprised if once-beautiful Richmond descends into the chaos typical of lib-run cities across the nation.

  3. Here is another take on this: If we topple the offending statues, erase the offending historical facts, wipe away any vestige of the Civil War and the slave trade, and sterilize the nation’s past, doesn’t that, then, obliterate any reason for reparations?

    jvb

  4. The fact that the statue was in fact a grave marker and placed there by the family means that the elected officials may have broken the laws that deal with desecration of graves. Hill’s remains were under the pedestal and the family did not want them disturbed.

  5. To be fair, removing a status from a public space is different from demolishing a city. A city is functional and practical. A statue is decorative, commemorative. The question is, who and what are we willing to commemorate in public spaces? What does it mean for a person to have a statue in a public space?

    Just to see where the boundaries regarding statues are, how do you regard the toppling of Saddam Hussein statues in Iraq? Do those not count because the person who commissioned them was honoring himself, or because his honored deeds consisted of being a dictator? Does there exist a sort of person whose public statues should be removed? Do military officers deserve their statues preserved no matter who they fought for?

    • Luckily, there is no American analogy to a nation having honors to genocidal, psychopathic dictators. I think that’s an easy and clear exception to the rule, no? A nation can decide to dishonor an unequivocal villain, because that act itself is an important statement. But Civil War generals were not dictators or villains, with a couple of exceptions, and even their adversaries on the Union side didn’t regard them as such.

      As for Richmond, the point is that if being welcoming and inclusive by removing all references or vestiges of the Confederacy, Richmond cannot reasonably accomplish that with the far greater historical baggage the city itself carries. I am in Richmond a lot, and I’m thinking about its role in the war constantly. And it wasn’t because of AP Hill’s statue.

      • Fighting to protect slavery would arguably be the role of a villain in most stories, regardless of the virtues they displayed in how they fought. On the other hand, there are limits to how much we can hold soldiers responsible for the policies of the countries they’re called to fight for. I suspect those limits are subjective and based on the culture in the settings in which the soldiers lived.

        As a separate point, I still say there is a meaningful difference between a city, which is a practical resource that has been taken from the enemy and made one’s own, and a memorial statue. Maintaining a memorial statue must either somehow benefit the dead by showing them respect, or benefit the living by reminding them of the dead. If neither of those things is desirable, there’s no reason to keep the statue. You (usually) can’t just change the statue’s meaning by making use of it. Conversely, living in a city without razing it to the ground doesn’t imply that you honor the people who built it. Does that make sense?

        • 1. Most of the Civil War generals, including Lee, regarded the War as a matter of political integrity and loyalty: they felt the states had the right to seceded (they did, in fact) and that the North was illicitly interfering with their sovereignty. Yes, States’ Rights. And the generals regarded the states as their ‘country.” Many supported slavery, but that wasn’t the main issue for them. The South may well have left the Union over tariffs earlier if Jackson hadn’t stopped that movement.

          2. I don’t dispute your distinction, but nevertheless, making a big deal over minor memorials to the Confederacy while the locale as a whole is a much greater one is hypocritical. I’m not suggesting that they should or could raze it to the ground (like they do schools where there’s a tragic mass shooting). I’m just saying that the statue toppling really doesn’t accomplish the ends its advocates claim in a city like Richmond. It would be like trying to erase references to the Revolution in Boston.

          • Regarding point 2, I don’t think it’s hypocritical. Removing a statue isn’t an attempt to erase evidence of historical events. The intent is to make it clear that we don’t want to honor the person whose statue it is. Continuing to live in the same city with the same buildings doesn’t defeat the purpose of that at all. Does that make sense?

      • Luckily, there is no American analogy to a nation having honors to genocidal, psychopathic dictators…

        What, are there none to Sherman? To Jackson? Or (dare I say it) to Lincoln? And Brigham Young might qualify but for the lack of opportunity. Remember, we are not going for a precise match here but rather for an analogy; all of those have serious claims to meeting many of the criteria.

        • Definitely unfair to Sherman, who correctly believed that the sooner you ended a war, the less human tragedy resulted. Unlike Grant, who used soldiers as disposable cannon fodder, Sherman usually had the fewest casualties per engagement of any Union general. Jackson is a better case, though his vendetta against the Native Americans wasn’t genocide. But there are no two terms and out dictators, are there? Lincoln…I don’t see how you can make that argument—US Presidents have dictatorial powers during wartime, and he was only President during wartime, plus a few days in April. But in general, you’re right.

          • First time poster year-long lurker here. I’ve learned much about ethics from reading your blog and notice that I am developing a habit of considering the ethics of situations and responsibilities. So thank you!

            A quibble with the comment on Grant: biographies of general Grant I’ve read did not portray him as such. For the heavy engagements Grant commanded, he may have used soldiers disposably as part of his overall strategy in a cold-minded and calculating way, but his goal was not cold-hearted. He had same idea about the war as his friend Sherman, that finishing the war sooner was better.

            • Fair point, Grant (I’m a Grant admirer, by the way: my son is named Grant). Lincoln shared Grant’s philosophy and was similarly pragmatic about the use of soldiers, as they both had to be. Grant’s obviously sympathized with Sherman’s view, because he rescued Sherman from a reputation of being a coward, as he would not engage in combat if he didn’t see a clear objective. Still, I can’t imagine Sherman handling Cold Harbor as Grant did.

        • “Brigham Young might qualify but for the lack of opportunity.”

          What is the basis for that assumption? Certainly, he was a theocrat who mixed fire and brimstone-style preaching into some sermons. Yet in the two instances in which he had the opportunity to be a genocidal psychopath (or something analogous to one?), he didn’t. In the Utah War, despite having the ability to raise a militia army outnumbering the unmounted U.S. Army troops, he merely chose a strategy of delaying the approaching army by messing with their supply train. And in the other instance, temporally related, his final message to the instigators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre was to leave the wagon train alone. Other than that awful massacre, one of if not the biggest in U.S. history, Young’s “Deseret” had markedly less crime, violence, and vigilantism than the surrounding old West, and remained so for decades.

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