New Orleans is in the midst of completing a plan to remove four Confederate monuments from public spaces in the city. In April, city workers removed a monument to a Reconstruction-era insurrection, and last week, they dismantled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Statues of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P. G. T. Beauregard will be coming down soon.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu exploited the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina to push for historical censoring, a long-time goal of civil rights groups and progressives. Now the city says it is weighing a new location for the monuments so they could be “placed in their proper historical context from a dark period of American history.” The favored new location is rumored to be Hell.
There are protests, of course, and most objections are coming from the perfect advocates from perspective of the historical amnesia fans: Confederacy fans, “Lost Cause” adherents, white supremacists, and other deplorables. Seldom has George Orwell’s quote been more relevant:
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
I’ve written so much about the efforts from the left to purge America of any memory of or honor to historical figures who do not meet its 2o17 lock-step mandate for politically correct views and statements that I hesitate to repeat myself. You can review the record here.
Still, some things bear repeating. The last time I wrote about this issue was in February, when Yale capitulated to student thought-control advocates and eliminated the name of John C. Calhoun from a residential hall. For it isn’t just leaders of the Confederacy who are targets of this cultural self-cannibalism: it is all past leaders who were proven wrong in some respects by subsequent wisdom, experience and events, including American icons like Jefferson and Jackson. That last post listed the rationalizations employed by the statue-topplers and the spineless officials who capitulate to their purges , including
The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times”
The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now.”
The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.”
Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”
The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
The Futility Illusion: “If we don’t do it, somebody else will.”
The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
The Coercion Myth: “We have no choice!”
The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”
The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s not the first time”
The Abuser’s License: “It’s Complicated”
The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
When you can throw up twelve rationalizations, that’s more than enough to convince the average, ethically-deficient citizen, not to mention social justice warriors.
A friend, lawyer, and Democrat had chided me on Facebook for suggesting that the frenzy to make America a safe place for anyone troubled by the opinions and actions of American patriots of the past could reach as far as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and accused me of engaging in wild hyperbole. Soon thereafter, the Connecticut Democratic Party purged the names and images of Presidents Jackson and Jefferson from its annual dinner, in order to kowtow to progressive activists. In November of last year, hundreds of University of Virginia students and faculty members demanded that President Teresa Sullivan stop quoting Thomas Jefferson, because doing so “undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”…I believe it is fair to say that I was right to be alarmed, and my friend was wrong. (I’m still going to let the statue of him in my backyard stay there, though.)
The cultural ethics alarms are sounding, as the toxic combination of the ignorant, the cultural bullies and the cowardly brings the United States closer to an Orwellian society where the past is remade to suit the perceived needs of the present. Yale’s treatment of Calhoun redoubles my conviction that I expressed last year more than once. We have to honor what deserved and deserves to be honored. If we do not, history becomes political propaganda, useful only to support current political agendas. A nation that does not honor and respect its history has no history.
And a nation that has no history is lost.
The New York Times published separate interviews with a leading critic and a prominent supporter of the historical airbrushing in New Orleans. Continue reading