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Tear ‘Em Down

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Good on New Orleans.

New Orleans removed the first of four designated Confederate monuments Monday as workers toiled in the dark of night to bring down the Liberty Monument, which honors a white supremacist group that attempted to overthrow the city’s Reconstruction-era biracial government, NBC News reports. The workers arrived at the site at around 1:25 a.m. in the hopes of avoiding protests from the monuments’ supporters, who have even made death threats toward those working to take down the city’s most glaring Confederate symbols.

“The monuments are an aberration,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “They’re actually a denial of our history and they were done in a time when people who still controlled the Confederacy were in charge of this city and it only represents a four-year period in our 1,000-year march to where we are today.”

The city also plans to remove statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. Landrieu called the Liberty Monument “the most offensive of the four.”

I know people will say, and not just neo-Confederates, that these are history and shouldn’t be torn down. But let’s be clear. New Orleans is a black city and was a black city in the 1890s. These monuments, among them some of the most imposing Confederate monuments erected, were placed there an overt symbol of post-Reconstruction white power. They were intended to intimidate African-Americans into submission. They are an insult to every African-American in New Orleans. We need to remember history, but we are not obligated to leave the public monuments of our racist ancestors there because of some vague appreciation of the past. These things are living, breathing symbols of white supremacy and they need to go. That this is happening in 2017 is all the more important.

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  • Snarki, child of Loki

    I’m sure there are nearby sewage-treatment facilities that need decorations.

    • BigHank53

      It wouldn’t be that hard to repurpose them as functional level meters.

      “Ideal level in sludge tank #2 is right up to his nostrils. If you can see his chin, put in another 4,000 gallons. If all you can see is his hat, open overflow #1. If you can’t see his hat, open both overflow valves.”

      You can even plausibly claim you’re keeping them out of reach of protestors who might deface them.

      • rhino

        You, I like you.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        Best idea I have read on the Internet all month.

      • Caepan

        I like the cut of your jib.

      • so-in-so

        +20,000 gallons.

      • Darkrose

        I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      • tsam

        WHY AREN’T YOU THE FUCKING MAYOR?

  • LeeEsq

    I agree tear them down. There is no good reason to have them in the first place and the metal and stone can be used for something more useful like decorative fences or bank and hotel lobbies. Celebrating racist traitors is perverse.

    • efgoldman

      There is no good reason to have them in the first place

      Not in the late 20th and 21st centuries, absolutely not. The people that put them up thought there was good reason. They were wrong, but they had reasons.

      As I’ve pointed out before, my kids live in now very blue Arlington VA – on [Robert E] Lee Highway. The hotels where we stay when we visit are on Jefferson Davis Highway. If they still live there in ten years, granddaughter will go to Washington-Lee High School. The interstate near them is named for Mary Custis (Mrs Rob’t E Lee). As liberal as the area has become, there is no move to change the names.

      Pah.

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        Perhaps you could suggest to your kids to write a letter to the mayor or governor or whoever might have authority for the particular named thing?

        I would but I live in DC and as far as I can tell, all the Civil War monuments here commemorate the Union.

      • so-in-so

        Would not Washington – Lee likely refer to “light horse” Harry rather than Robert E.?

        • Manny Kant

          No.

        • LeeEsq

          My name Is Richard Henry Lee, Virgina is my home.

        • liberalrob

          https://www.wlu.edu/about

          Founded in 1749, Washington and Lee University is named for two men who played pivotal roles in the University’s history: George Washington, whose generous endowment of $20,000 in 1796 helped the fledgling school (then known as Liberty Hall Academy) survive, and Robert E. Lee, who provided innovative educational leadership during his transformational tenure as president of Washington College from 1865 to 1870.

      • swaninabox

        It’s actually a thing with the Alexandria Democratic party. Turns out some of the names are instate legislation, and Jeff Davis is at least Arlington+ Alex.

        They just got a law recinded in 2015 or 2016 on the state level that required new streets in the city if Alexandria to be named after confederate generals. Passed post 1955 of course.

        So many streets to generals that Taney and Van Dorn made the cut.

      • LeeEsq

        I have to admit renaming institutions and buildings is the place I draw a line at times. After the biggest baddies rename all you want but medium or low level baddies keep the name.

  • Karen24

    Ask anyone who argues that “this is history” what they think of forcing towns in, say, the Czech Republic or Poland to keep statues of Stalin?

    • cleek

      i always thought it was strange that several of the streets in my little upstate-NY hometown are named after British generals from the Revolutionary war.

      • CP

        That is odd.

        And here I thought the Loyalist narrative had been well and truly scrubbed out of the public consciousness.

        • cleek

          there are tons of streets in NC named after British Gen. Cornwallis.

          http://www.chathamjournal.com/weekly/opinion/one_on_one/dgmartin-places-named-after-enemy-generals-70510.shtml

          as the bottom of that article says:

          A more cynical answer would be that we just do not pay much attention to the names of roads, either in the naming of them or in associating the road names with their origins.

          one of the main streets in my NY home town is Burgoyne Ave, after the British general, who camped in town on his way to get his ass kicked at Saratoga. but ‘Burgoyne’ is a pretty good name. why not use it?!

          • Manny Kant

            He’s a pretty decent dude in that Shaw play, too.

        • liberalrob

          Clinton?

          General Sir Henry Clinton, KB (16 April 1730 – 23 December 1795) was a British army officer and politician, best known for his service as a general during the American War of Independence. First arriving in Boston in May 1775, from 1778 to 1782 he was the British Commander-in-Chief in North America.

      • I was reading Surrender, New York, and checked just now to see whether Burgoyne County was the author’s invention.

        Apparently it is, but frequently googled.

    • Harkov311

      Or, for an example from earlier in the 20 century, towns in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Croatia that had statues of Franz Joseph and Marshal Radetzky, symbols of Habsburg control.

      • Manny Kant

        There are tons of statues of Habsburgs in Prague. I’d suspect even more in Budapest.

        Radetzky, it should be noted, was Czech. His military victories were won in Italy.

      • LeeEsq

        Many people in those countries look back very fondly at the Habsburg family though. Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi are beloved figures. Its a different type of misremembered history than glorifying the Confederates.

    • efgoldman

      Ask anyone who argues that “this is history” what they think of forcing towns in, say, the Czech Republic or Poland to keep statues of Stalin?

      This is an excellent, simple and understandable point.
      Not that it will convince the revanchist traitor wannabes, but pretty much nothing will.

    • q-tip

      Heck, we don’t need to dive back into that Bolshevik malarkey – I thought we all agreed that toppling statues of Saddam Hussein was the bee’s knees!

  • SatanicPanic

    I doubt the people who object to these statues being torn down would be making the same argument over Iraqis tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein.

  • Murc

    I concur.

    I might have different thoughts if these were much older than they are; if they were two thousand year old statues honoring equally terrible people I would be like “no, we can’t demolish them, are you fucking nuts?”

    That is not the case. Context matters.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing them preserved in some fashion, moved to a museum where they can be properly displayed and contextualized, but these things are fucking MASSIVE. I’m nor sure where you could put’em.

    • efgoldman

      if they were two thousand year old statues honoring equally terrible people I would be like “no, we can’t demolish them, are you fucking nuts?”

      Right. If some archeologist finds preserved period statues of Nero or Caligula, of course every effort would be made to conserve them and display them properly, as artifacts, not tributes.

      • so-in-so

        Even this is a realitively recent viewpoint. There are few large bronze Roman statues left because people in later periods melted most of them, and quarried marble from the ruins of old Roman buildings.

        • N__B

          The Vatican, as it currently stands, is largely built of material from imperial buildings. My suggestion that this be known as a popelimpsest went nowhere.

          • wjts

            Be of good cheer: I’ll probably steal that line for a Crime Pope joke.

      • pianomover

        So secretly bury them somewhere and let someone find them 500 or so years from now

    • ForkyMcSpoon

      The thing is that these statues are history. Just not the history their defenders think they are. They’re historical artifacts of the end of Reconstruction, Jim Crow and white supremacy. History museums could certainly use some of the more modestly-sized statues in exhibits about the time period.

      But there are more than enough of them to provide for historical education. Presumably we would prefer to preserve the more interesting specimens. The rest of them, especially duplicates, can be destroyed as far as I’m concerned.

    • farin

      I’ll accept historical relevance as a reason to keep monuments to tyrants as soon as all the people who follow those tyrants are dead. Confederates who want to save their statues have a perfectly straightforward approach.

  • aturner339

    The notion that monuments are just part of the historical record treats the Civil War as if it is some long dead conflict. Some ancient marker to the unknown Hoplite. This ignores that this conflict was, as Louis C.K. put it “two old ladies back to back-ago” and is still being fought in the hearts and minds of Americans. These aren’t merely historical markers they are weapons.

    • Murc

      This ignores that this conflict was, as Louis C.K. put it “two old ladies back to back-ago”

      History can have a very long tail.

      The last person born in the 19th century* just died last month.

      *(Technically there are people born in 1900 still alive. Culturally speaking, however, nobody adheres to the convention that centuries run from -01 to -00. People did not celebrate the new millennium when we ticked from 2000 to 2001; we did it when we ticked from 1999 to 2000.)

      • Brownian

        People did not celebrate the new millennium when we ticked from 2000 to 2001; we did it when we ticked from 1999 to 2000.

        Well, of course we didn’t: those of us who knew the new century and millennium started at midnight, January 1, 2001 would never stoop to something so vulgar as a New Year’s Eve celebration.

        Being technically correct is a party in itself.

        • Murc

          It is the best kind of correct!

          • Malaclypse

            So say we all!

      • Hogan

        I wasn’t celebrating the millennium; I was celebrating the turning over of the odometer. Yay!

      • sonamib

        *(Technically there are people born in 1900 still alive. Culturally speaking, however, nobody adheres to the convention that centuries run from -01 to -00. People did not celebrate the new millennium when we ticked from 2000 to 2001; we did it when we ticked from 1999 to 2000.)

        To be fair, that’s just because our stupid ancestors didn’t know that zero was an actual number, so the Year Zero and the Zeroth Century don’t actually exist.

        Consider for a moment that the year +1 directly succeeded the year -1. This means that Augustus, who reigned from January 27 BC to August 14 AD, had a 40 years + 7 months reign, and not a 41 years + 7 months reign as one might think. Wikipedia calls it right!

        Let’s boo our ignorant ancestors. Because of them, we have to refer to the years starting 18– as the 19th century, which is silly.

        • bender

          People got the date of the previous turn of the century right–I saw a sign on a TV documentary that was celebrating it on January 1, 1901.

          At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion a few years ago, I attended a lecture about Judaism and early Christianity, and the professor made a joke that was new to me but probably very old in his line of work. “The First Century is my favorite century. Why? Because it’s two hundred years long.”

        • Lurker

          This is, however, a convention only in some languages like English and French. Swedish uses the convention 1800-talet (literally: 1800-numbers) more than the style 19. århundrade (lit. 19th century), and in Finnish, the latter style is mostly used only as an archaism.

          • Hogan

            See also Quattrecento.

          • sonamib

            The Swedish/Finnish convention is obviously superior. I still remember how painful it was to learn the unintuitive French/English convention. “Ok, ok, so the teacher said 18th century… subtract 1, that’s 17… multiply by 100… oh I see what he’s talking about”

    • rea

      The Liberty Place monument isn’t even a monument to Confederates–it commemorates an 1870’s attempt by white supremacists to seize control of the state by force–in effect, a monument to white killers of black cops (they shot Longstreet, too!).

      • so-in-so

        Maybe someone should offer to replace it with a monument to Longstreet and the militia he commanded trying to protect the lawful government?

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Tear ’em down and then put up some small marker noting their former presence and celebrating the date on which they were removed. Their existence should be a part of history in both senses of the word.

    • so-in-so

      A public urinal, maybe?

    • N__B

      Actually I think this is important. If they are simply removed, then we’re whitewashing the fact that people wanted these horrible statues erected. Take them down and memorialize the racism that they represented.

  • veleda_k

    Indeed. We can remember history without honoring terrible people.I would argue that venerating human rights violators is misremembering history.

    (I mean, yes, you can argue that there is no objective remembrance of history. That all of history is seen through different lenses. But the Confederate lens is a terrible one, so fuck them.)

  • keta

    “I think it’s a terrible thing,” said one supporter of the monuments, Robert Bonner, a 63-year-old Civil War re-enactor. “When you start removing the history of the city, you start losing money. You start losing where you came from and where you’ve been.”

    Bonner says his family celebrates all their shared history. “Both my parents died of cancer,” says Bonner, “so we have a little statue of a black, smelly blob on our mantlepiece. It gets a little high in the summertime, but the stench reminds us of our shared past.”

    Bonner’s daughter, Debra-Anne, says she was raped last year when she was sixteen years old, and so hanging on her bedroom wall is a framed poster of the alley where the crime happened. “It’s past experiences that shape us into the people we are today,” says Debra-Anne. “That was, like, a big moment in my life that I need to remember, every day.”

    • efgoldman

      “When you start removing the history of the city, you start losing money…. “

      So, in one of the best tourist cities in the country, people go and pay money to see these statues? Really?

      • ForkyMcSpoon

        As a visitor to cities in the American South, I've never seen a statue of Robert E. Lee before; it's an attraction unique to New Orleans.

        • afdiplomat

          You might want to visit (or revisit) Richmond, Virginia. Monument Avenue there is well known for its Confederate statues: Lee, Jackson, Davis, Stuart, and Matthew Fontaine Maury. The Lee monument is the largest — so much so that it functions as a focal point for the city.

          • ForkyMcSpoon

            This indicates sarcasm.

            I have visited Richmond a few times since it is on the way between where I live now and where my parents live, but I haven’t been to Monument Avenue because 1. I haven’t done any touristy stuff in Richmond aside from visiting their Holocaust Museum and 2. monuments venerating Confederates would not be at the top of my list of things to visit anyway.

    • liberalrob

      The Bonner family must be party central at Thanksgiving. Just your typical American family.

      Ye Gods.

  • Morse Code for J

    The workers removing the statues have to work at night, wearing balaclavas and Kevlar vests. I guess that’s in case it’s not about heritage for some people.

    • liberalrob

      Depends on the heritage.

      But none of the “it’s mah heritage!” chickenshits has the stones to actually try taking potshots at the workers. It takes someone insane, like a Roof or a McVeigh, to actually kill people.

  • XerMom

    I really enjoyed going to see all the old communist statues of Budapest in a single field that had become a kind of museum. Sticking them all somewhere where you can present them in a historical context could be quite useful. If we don’t preserve the history of post Civil War racism, we may end up with future generations that don’t believe it happened.

    • Bruce Vail

      I really like the idea of a statuary park to assemble and preserve these old monuments. I’ve suggested the same for the statues to be removed from the public parks here in Baltimore, but there isn’t much support.

      • Rob in CT

        Park/Museum does seem like the right call to me, yeah.

      • wjts

        I’m not particularly keen on the idea of melting them down for scrap/smashing them up for fishtank gravel, but I’m not entirely sure on what should be done with them. They are significant historical and artistic artifacts, and I’m generally of the opinion that those should be preserved. Moving them to a dedicated statuary park, even one with plaques explaining the historical context, doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement. I guess shove them in a museum storeroom somewhere for a century or two and then put them in the Hall of American Monumental Statuary next to the gallery of Renaissance paintings depicting similarly loathsome political and ecclesiastical figures?

        • N__B

          A statuary park located near the mid-Atlantic ridge?

          • Do ridges like that do subduction? Because that’s what’s called for.

            • liberalrob

              The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is not a subduction zone; just the opposite. The plates are moving apart there.

              The Mariana Trench is one such subduction zone. Tourism there would be difficult, however.

        • ForkyMcSpoon

          There is a surplus of these shitty things littering the South. Preserving some of them is entirely reasonable.

          But after you’ve preserved your 20th statue commemorating Confederate soldiers, it probably seems a bit less important to preserve the 21st through 100th ones. (And there seem to be at least 100 of such publicly-owned statues. There are, of course, plenty more privately-owned memorials to various Confederate assholes, further lowering the stakes.)

          The SPLC list indicates at least 9 publicly owned statues of Robert E. Lee (there are probably more depictions of him, because some of them would be part of monuments without “Robert E. Lee” in the name of the monument).

          I suppose if there are enough museums that would display them properly and give appropriate context, maybe they can mostly be preserved. But most museums would have no need for more than one or two such statues.

    • aturner339

      Heck the current generation doesn’t “believe it happened” in that a plurality of Americans still cannot name slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War. I don’t think the monuments help in that regard. Context is great but I suspect that directly piercing the wall of denial might take striking moves like.. removing the monuments.

      • David Allan Poe

        Yep. I think it’s also safe to say that the history of post-Civil War racism is alive and well and will be for the foreseeable future.

        I don’t really get the idea that putting some statues of dudes pointing into the air on horseback in a museum is going to teach future generations about the evils of slavery and Jim Crow. Melt Ol’ Marse Robert down.

    • Jon_H11

      I think this is a reasonable response and concern. The “Lost Cause” propaganda happened, it needs to remember just as slavery itself needs to be remembered (or many other terrible things which make up history). Of course it can’t be celebrated, and that’s what these monuments do within the context of just a random southern (and sometimes not technically southern) city. I can see them as something that needs to be preserved, but within a museum or specific parks in areas where there is some historical sense to their placement.

    • osceola

      The University of Texas removed its very prominent Jefferson Davis statue to a history museum/archive on campus. That’s appropriate.

    • Jean-Michel

      There’s one in Taiwan near Chiang Kai-shek’s mausoleum with a bunch of statues of the old generalissimo, plus a few of his son and of Sun Yat-sen. There’s still plenty of them elsewhere (one of which was decapitated a few days ago), but up until the late ’90s-early 2000s there was one in practically every school in the country.

    • Brett

      I’d make it specifically a museum. Put all the monuments in a field, put up plaques explaining when and where they were installed and why, then call it the Museum of Post-Confederate Monuments.

  • EliHawk

    I say we should leave up the tributes to the people whose sheer incompetence helped preserve the Union: No problem with Fort Bragg or Fort Hood, for example.

  • I eagerly await the commentary from Beauregard Sessions on how a city that found itself temporarily as an island a few years ago can just take it upon itself to tear down important relics of American history.

  • ralphdibny

    This is the New Orleans that those monuments celebrate:

    http://www.nola.com/vintage/2017/04/p-r-e-j-u-d-i-c-e_and_s-c-a-n-.html

  • rhino

    I have to say I have mixed feelings about these things being officially destroyed. On the one hand, I am glad to see the local government doing the right thing.

    On the other hand, I’m kind of sorry nobody just rolled a d-9 cat into the square and did it themselves years ago.

    • N__B

      It’s not necessary to use a skull-cracker to remove a statue, but it is both sufficient and satisfying.

  • Nick never Nick

    I absolutely do not mean this as a trollish comment — but a vast number of important and admired American politicians were slaveholders or Indian fighters; in today’s parlance, white supremacists and expansionists. Is it their general representation in monuments that you object to, or is the specific history of these monuments in Reconstruction that makes them worthy of being torn down? Or is the ratio of importance/racism too far out of whack?

    Personally, I think the answer is that every case has to be considered alone, that individual details are too important, but I’m curious how other people feel. No argument in this instance that this is the correct decision.

    You know, you could make a strong argument that Mount Rushmore is the ideological equivalent of these statues — a symbol of white power, erected in the dead centre of a violently oppressed community.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      You know, you could make a strong argument that Mount Rushmore is the ideological equivalent of these statues — a symbol of white power, erected in the dead centre of a violently oppressed community.

      Absolutely 100% agree. Mt. Rushmore is a monstrosity, built on stolen land, making a mockery out of a beautiful and sacred place.

      • so-in-so

        One at least expects monuments to the winners. The CSA was not only immoral and horrible, but lost – and STILL has monuments to it’s leaders!

    • aturner339

      I think that’s a fair an important point and agree that the criteria must be whether the individual or movement in question contributed something of value. The Confederacy has… nothing in this regard. There simply isn’t a non white supremacist version of why it is venerated.

      • Nick never Nick

        It’s funny, you know — in America, you’re not really taught to think of the Confederacy as traitorous. And yet, if someone in the USSR had pointed out that they didn’t have any monuments to the generals who led the White Army in the post-WWI civil war, you’d think that was just completely normal.

        • wjts

          On the other hand, there’s a statue of Cromwell in front of the Houses of Parliament and a statue of Charles I half a mile down the road in Trafalgar Square.

          • Nick never Nick

            I think if you were talking about a statue of Cromwell in Ireland, you’d have a point . . . somehow, though, Cromwell and Charles I in England just seem like two sides of a Constitutional debate that deserves to be represented by public memorials. It’s not as if England has thoroughly repudiated either the monarchy or the Parliament, after all.

            Plus, they’ve got so much history that picking and choosing the bits you’re disgusted by is probably considered weird.

            • wjts

              Someone (Nick Hornby?) once described being taught in school that the Civil War was fought between the Roundheads who were right, but boring, and the Cavaliers who were wrong, but romantic.

              • Nick never Nick

                If you want to read the stupidest opinion on the US Civil War that is possible to write in this or any other world, try The Guns of the South, an alternate history in which Afrikaaners go back in time and sell machine guns to the Confederacy; the Confederacy wins the war, but then voluntarily gives up slavery to demonstrate that their adherence to it was only out of principal, and had nothing to do with racism.

                • wjts

                  I’ve read a bunch of Harry Turtledove, but not that one. Doesn’t sound like I missed anything.

                • Patick Spens

                  I honestly wonder if the whole Featherstone = Hitler thing was one long apology for ever writing Guns of the South.

                • so-in-so

                  My recollection of the book is that Lee pushes for the end of slavery, having been convinced by the bravery of black Union troops in battle that they couldn’t be so inferior. He faces considerable resistance, including an attempted assasination by the Afrikanners, which kills his wife and rallies even his opponents against the time travelers. It was my first Turtledove book, and was an interesting read regardless of how much one buys the premis. Unlike his later works, it has the advantage of relative brevity and is not part of an intermideble series.

              • According to Sellar & Yeatman’s _1066 And All That_, you had the Roundheads (Right But Repulsive) and the Cavaliers (Wrong But Wromantic).

                (1066 And All That contains all the memorable bits of English history, and is well worth the reading.)

          • JohnT

            Equally, Churchill shares Parliament Square with Gandhi nowadays, which would have made him pretty cross. Conveniently forgotten nowadays is that Churchill was a pro-British Empire fanatic- and Gandhi played a pivotal role in taking India – the jewel and linchpin of the Empire – to independence.

          • CL Minou

            When I was in London, I noted that Cromwell statue as well as the nearby statue of Richard I. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a sly statement by Parliament: Richard I, who may have been the only king of England to not spend any of his reign actually in England symbolizing the ideal state of a British monarch as far as Parliament was concerned, and Cromwell as a reminder of what happens when the monarchy forgets the first example :-)

    • Rob in CT

      The specific history of the monuments in the context of the end/failure of Reconstruction, followed by “Redemption”/Jim Crow. The Lost Cause mythology.

      Also, the thing with a lot of those other important/admired Americans is that they did other things worth of note besides the bad shit.

      The only reason to have a statue of Robert E. Lee is because you want to honor his work on behalf of the Confederacy.

      • ThresherK

        Part of me wants to use Arlington Nat’l Cemetery, but I haven’t figured out how.

        Reminding folks visiting it that it’s now Federal land, as a deserved, punitive step against its last private owner, is an idea that can’t be overstressed.

      • JohnT

        That’s not 100% right. Although Lee has been heavily reassessed as a strategist (what with losing, and everything), I thought that he’s still seen as one of the best military tacticians in history (which is a very competitive field), and Jackson was his most effective partner. A couple of statues to them in their hometowns would kind of make sense – Napoleon and the various British and French empire building generals get them too, so it’s hardly without precedent to honour those who generalled cleverly for a bad cause.

        Obviously this has nothing to do with the hundreds of statues that have been planted everywhere else as part of the ludicrous but very effective campaign to turn deserved Confederate defeat into the victory of Jim Crow. They can go. Maybe to the nice park suggested by XerMom.

        • Jon_H11

          Lee in particular is not an easy figure. There’s weirdly a lot of truth to the “Marble Man” myth Douglas Southhall Freeman wrote.

          Sam Rayburn had framed pictures of FDR and Lee both on his desk! There were quite a few southerners who tried to excise the hostile racism and oppression of slavery while maintaining some continuity of southern culture by turning him into a tragic figure… and it wasn’t completely an insincere farce. The cult of Lee was a big part of the double-speak which gave cover and facilitated white supremacy and Jim Crow to take hold after reconstruction, but it was also effective because it had a lot of truth in it. Sherman was a great military leader, but also helped (reluctantly, at least in retrospect in his memoirs) eliminate the Seminoles from Florida. Military figures can be very complicated.

          It’s silly to have statues of Lee in random cities- they serve no purpose other than racial intimidation, but I don’t think we should gather torches and head for the Arlington house.

          • David Allan Poe

            The argument that Lee is a tragic military figure, bound to follow orders he was not comfortable with and did not necessarily endorse, is rather complicated by the fact that he quite willingly resigned his original commission to, with full knowledge of what he was fighting for, accept a commission in an army that was expressly formed for the purpose of fighting the one he gave his “sacred oaths” to.

            In other words, it’s complete bullshit.

            • Jon_H11

              He was indifferent to the plight of black Americans (as was pretty much every white Unionist outside of Boston) and chose to abandon his country for his state.

              If military virtue is anything (and it may not be anything) its a willingness to sacrifice to defend your home. In his case what he finally considered his home was on the morally wrong side. He isn’t a cartoon character of a simple racist traitor (look to Jeff Davis for that), no matter how much easier it is to consider him that.

              • David Allan Poe

                I guess in this view George Thomas is the traitor lacking military virtue because he didn’t defend his home?

                Nebulous notions of “military virtue” aside, Lee swore an oath to the United States Constitution and the United States Army, then broke that oath to join up with an entity that set itself quite explicitly against it and in favor of the notion of owning and maintaining absolute control over a group of people based on the color of their skin. The idea that he did anything else, and the idea of Robert E. Lee as some doomed, noble figure pondering his tragic situation under a magnolia tree in a thunderstorm, is so central to Confederate propaganda that there’s no redeeming it. I can let it slide that However-Many-Great-Grandpappies-Ago Poe might have believed it around his campfire in the Confederate Army, illiterate dirt farmer that he was, but these days? Naah.

                • liberalrob

                  Thomas chose to regard his home as the United States of America, not the Confederate Commonwealth of Virginia declared by a bunch of would-be rebels. Pursuant to the orders he was given, he defended his chosen home admirably in other states and played a critical role in quashing the rebellion.

                  All the talk about swearing and breaking oaths leaves me cold. Oaths are words people say. (Trump swore an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I guess “to the best of my ability” sets the bar pretty low on that.) “He broke his oath” is one of the least offensive charges one could make against any of the people who left the U.S. military to join the Confederate one. Far more important is what they broke that oath to do. Emphasize that.

        • Rob in CT

          Oh, he was absolutely a talented General. A statue in Virginia makes a modicum of sense. In New Orleans, though? Bah.

          • David Allan Poe

            They should have put up a statue of Benjamin Butler.

            • Rob in CT

              Imagine, if you will, a man grinning at his computer screen.

            • Mike G

              I’m a descendant of his. That he was so hated by the Confederate trash is a mark of pride.

        • ForkyMcSpoon

          Military historians presumably discuss the quality of various Nazi generals. And they certainly had some great successes early in the war. Robert E. Lee may be respected for his strategic talents and deserves a place in such discussions. He might even deserve a place in a military school as part of artwork depicting notable military strategists from US or world history without regard for their other personal qualities or what side they fought on.

          Nonetheless, nobody would suggest that the strategic talents of Nazi generals justify erecting statues of them in Germany. Because they were Nazis.

          In conclusion, fuck Robert E. Lee.

          • tsam

            nobody would suggest that the strategic talents of Nazi generals justify erecting statues of them in Germany.

            right–and this being New Orleans, it’d be more like erecting statues in Paris or Warsaw.

  • Ahuitzotl

    I’ll be a little sorry to see Ole Bory pulled down – by some accounts, he did more to further a Union victory than any Union general :)

    • rea

      And he was, at least, from New Orleans

  • JohnT

    I’m generally quite conservative about monuments, one of the ‘some people’ probably alluded to above. Not all statues to bad people should be removed (there’d be hardly any left!), and there’s a case to be made that Lee and Jackson, for example, were sufficiently essential figures in Virginian history and self-image that tearing all their statues in Virginia down is going too far in rewriting history

    That said, I agree completely with Loomis: these New Orleans monument are in a very different category – they were put there by people who were doing so first and foremost to stamp on the black majority in the city. The (Jim Crow era) inscription on the ‘Liberty’ monument is instructive

    “[Democrats] McEnery and Penny having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored).
    United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”

    • bender

      That inscription is very instructive and a photograph of it, or the thing itself if it hasn’t gone to the landfill, belongs in the not-yet-built Museum of the Reconstruction Era.

    • ForkyMcSpoon

      Except honoring Lee and Jackson in Virginia serves the same purpose, regardless of the fact that they were Virginians.

      Jackson’s primary contribution to history is fighting on the side of treason in defense of slavery. He died during the conflict. There is no reason to honor or venerate him other than to glorify the cause of the Confederacy.

      Lee is also primarily known for his contributions during the war. After that, he was the president of Washington & Lee University (which ought to change its name, IMO, perhaps reverting to one of its older names), and he advocated against giving blacks the right to vote and in favor of deporting them from Virginia. I fail to see why Virginians should honor him either, although he has a little bit more to recommend him than Jackson.

      That said, historical sites of relevance to Lee and Jackson may be worth preserving, particularly if their histories are properly contextualized and described.

  • Emily68

    When I was a little girl living in suburban New Orleans, I once asked my mother if that guy on top of the pedestal in Jefferson Davis Park was Abraham Lincoln. How was I to know there was more than one guy in a frock coat in those days?

  • bender

    My first thought was that the statue of Davis with its pedestal is a good example of late nineteenth century monument esthetics and that the equestrian statue of Lee is a pretty good bronze, so they should be preserved, not necessarily in their current locations.

    Then I thought about how I would feel if every time i walked downtown, I had to pass by big monuments and fountains with portrait statues of Hitler, Goering, Rommel and other Nazis.

    I think the city government of NOLA is going about this the right way, by demolishing the monuments that have little artistic merit or historical significance first. Nobody should be forced to look at these things frequently while just going about their daily lives. If it were up to me, I would want a selection of the remaining ones either moved as a collection to a preservation park in an out of the way location (not too out of the way, or they will be totally vandalized), or to a museum devoted to the Reconstruction era. The latter would be the proper historical context and we need a museum like that.

    Everything does not have to be preserved. Cities obliterate parts of their history all the time.

  • John Revolta

    Not having had my first cup of coffee yet, my first reaction was to get worried about the statue in Jackson Square. Then I remembered: oh yeah.

    I suppose an argument could be made for pulling down old Andy as well. But I love that statue. There’s usually a pigeon on top of his head and the way he’s holding his hat in the air makes it look like he just did a magic trick.

    • liberalrob

      Jackson’s historical link to New Orleans is winning a battle fought after the war for which it was fought was already over. So, not much to commemorate there. But it’s an order of magnitude different from having those Civil War monuments in a city with a large African-American population (even post-Katrina). I don’t think they’d appreciate a statue of Andrew Jackson in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. (Or maybe they would, as something for the pigeons to poop on…)

  • tsam

    Statues aren’t history. They aren’t built and erected to preserve or educate people on history. They’re there to honor and commemorate. These pieces of shit shouldn’t have been put up in the first place, and the sooner they disappear the better.

    • Matt McKeon

      I agree 100%. Moving statues(and its my understanding is that they are being moved, not destroyed), is not altering history. Neo Confederates, by the way, are utterly bummed out. One posted, and I’m not lying, its “eracism.”

      • tsam

        “eracism.”

        Wow. I’d try to respond, but I’d be laughing too hard.

        I mean–there’s a statue of Abraham Lincoln here in Spokane. It’s great, I like it, but the statue teaches us nothing about Abraham Lincoln. The message is that we respect and admire the person of whom we commissioned this bronze art piece likeness. That’s it. So unless it’s also a dartboard or a toilet, no confederate person should have a likeness in any public place.

  • altofront

    Personally I’m drawn to the idea of leaving a remnant of the monument in place–for example, a statue lopped off at the knees, Ozymandias-like, or a broken column–with an explanation of what was once there, and why. (But I’m not among those who are oppressed by these sculptures, so I readily concede that my opinion is irrelevant.)

  • afdiplomat

    It says something about the purpose behind these monuments that according to James Loewen’s “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong,” the most frequently commemorated Civil War figure is Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, of course, was a decidedly minor figure during the war — a cavalry general at a time when cavalry had been greatly devalued. But he had other qualities that apparently commended him: he had been a slave trader before the war; his troops massacred African-American soldiers at Fort Pillow during the conflict; and he was one of the founders of the first Klan after the war ended.

    The situation with Forrest emphasizes especially clearly the fundamental point of all of these monuments, statues, plaques, and geographic and building names: they all come with the message that those being commemorated were worthy people who “deserve well of the state.” No one, after all, proposes to erect statues of Billy the Kid or John Dillinger, and I doubt one would find anywhere in the country an Al Capone High School. And since the one thing most of the Confederate honorees accomplished was to lead a struggle to tear the country apart in order not only to keep treating four million human beings as cattle but also to establish the right to spread that system to new territories, it is long since time for a reckoning. We are not the helpless pawns of those who decided to honor these people decades ago; we have the same right of agency that they exercised.

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