All it took was one nut-job and a vehicle to spark a new political battle.
The tragic killing of Heather Heyer by a white nationalist at the Charlottesville protests on August 12th has ignited a movement on the Left to attack the very cause of the so-called “Unite the Right” rally: defending Confederate Statues from removal.
Some historical context is required to understand the current scene. In the century and a half following the American Civil War, hundreds of statues were put up to honor generals and statesmen who served the Confederacy. The Left’s aversion to the Democrats that fought a five-year war to defend the evil and unjust institution of slavery is commendable, however, a line must be drawn so as to stop the whitewashing of history.
With some Americans protesting for George Washington’s statue to be removed, people must recognize that a nation’s heroes are neither faultless nor monsters. Additionally, the specter of historical revisionism has come to Canada: recently an Ontario teacher’s union voted to pressure school boards to remove the name of John A. MacDonald from the names of schools.
To provide historical context: The Confederate States of America rebelled against the United States for the cause of protecting their “peculiar institution” of slavery after the Republican Party won the 1860 election on the mandate of preventing slavery from spreading to the territories formerly held by Mexico that were applying for statehood. There were other contributing factors, but the American Civil War was largely fought because the South refused to accept that all men were created equal and free. The Confederacy deserves neither admiration nor glorification; today’s conservatives and liberals can agree on that.
In the Jim Crow era, and later in the Civil Rights era, many Democrat-held state legislatures and municipalities chose to honor the rebellion’s cause by putting up statues of Confederate leaders while continuing to disenfranchise the African-American community. That being said, not all statues were put up for this purpose. There were honourable individuals fighting on the side of the Confederacy; for example, General Robert E. Lee was personally opposed to slavery but sided with his native state of Virginia over the Union. After he lost the war, he dedicated himself to reconciliation between the North and South, and there are some monuments to him because of these efforts. Lee’s cause ought not to be honoured, but what should a government do when in possession of various statues in public places of a man viewed as a local hero by many citizens?
First of all, the issue of statues should be a municipal matter. The federal and state governments should respect the principle of federalism and allow municipalities to make the correct decision on their own. Several Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws requiring state approval for the removal of monuments; This infringes on the power of municipalities and is just as wrong as a state government passing any other type of law mandating what municipal governments do with their statues.
Additionally, with many left-wing protesters defacing and destroying statues with the use of force, police should ensure that if a statue is to be removed or moved, it is by the decision of the municipal government rather than angry protesters. If a statute is deemed to be unworthy of public existence, as many Confederate statues are, then the decision to authorize its removal must be carried out by the appropriate organization: the municipal legislatures.
In an effort to find find a comprehensive method of dealing with these controversial statues, local governments should consider moving controversial statues to places of historical appropriateness, rather than simply trashing them. The best way to do this is to display these statues, but to mainly display them in battlefields, cemeteries, and museums rather than public squares. This way the men and women who served the South can still be remember as historical figures, but not necessarily honoured and paraded around in a public square for all to see. However, in many cases it may be appropriate for a local government to dispose of a Confederate statue depending on the purpose of the statue at its creation and the historical figure it honours.
With that said, a reasonable line should be drawn on what type of statues should be removed or moved. While the Confederacy was an illegitimate government fighting against the United States, making calls for the removal of Confederate statues reasonable, to remove monuments to Washington and Jefferson, as some radicals suggest, is ludicrous. While the former group attempted to tear apart the United States, the latter strove to build it up.
These events are all examples of the ever-increasing trend in left-wing politics in North America of historical presentism; that is, holding historical figures to the ethical standards of today. For example, in Canada today the legacy of treatment of indigenous peoples is abhorred. But that does not stop most Canadians from honouring their historical figures for the good things they did do. But, in an attempt to be “politically correct,” many left-wing activists are targeting both Canadian and American monuments of historical figures because they subscribed to the beliefs – to the often horrid beliefs – of their time.
They wish to not only remove monuments of Jefferson Davis, but of Sir John A. MacDonald. Just recently, an Ontario teacher’s union voted to lobby the government to remove the name of Canada’s first Prime Minister from public schools. This is where the line must be drawn against historical presentism; for the radical left seems intent on waging a campaign against the accumulated traditions, knowledge, and history of Western Civilization. While most liberals certainly do not condone the demands of organizations such as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the fact that many Canadians agree with their historical presentist goals is worrying.
Sir John A. MacDonald was a flawed man who, by today’s standards, committed some depraved actions against the indigenous population. But he was also the man who founded Canada as a Dominion. He did so much good in his life for which he has earned the eternal gratitude of Canada. With that said, of course, that gratitude should not allow Canadians to forget his inequities. When a national hero is threatened by the tide of political correctness, all people ought to stand up for their history.
Ultimately, history must be preserved and remembered if future generations are to avoid the mistakes of the past. Monuments are important, even if it is a monument to a flawed man or woman. But monuments should not be celebrating hateful ideologies like that practiced by the Confederate States of America. If any Rebel statues should stand, they should stand in respect to the sacrifice of soldiers, in respect to the reconciliation between the North and South, in respect to individuals, not defective and degenerate ideologies. But more importantly, when dealing with statues of heroes rather than villains, history must stand.