Opinion by C J Oakes
The recent tragedy in Charlottesville has raised the issue of Confederate monuments in public spaces again. This has been an issue for decades, but after a petition to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee circulated in Charlottesville, VA and local officials decided to act upon it, the city became the nerve center for all things racist. The obvious racism aside, the atrocities committed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis aside, the murder of Heather Heyers aside, the question of whether it is just and right to remove Confederate monuments is valid.
Setting Aside Passions…What Would Any Sane Civilization Do?
During a time such as this it is difficult to set aside passions. People died. Other people fought. The President made a big mess of things. The White Supremacists are delighted. And now, in a strange twist, media hungry folks like Al Sharpton are doing exactly what President Trump said they would — calling for the elimination of the Jefferson Memorial because he owned slaves.
What Sharpton and many others looking at the issue are missing is not what is being made the issue of the week, but what should have been the issue since the end of the Civil War.
Regardless of the reasons for the Civil War (which many like to debate), one thing is indisputable: The Confederate States of America lost. In any other civilization in history, the victors would remove any monuments and ban the flying of the enemy flag. This is not only natural, but makes sense. To permit anyone to fly the flag of the former enemy and continue to honor former enemies with monuments is to invite future dissent and possible revolution.
The new United States of America did not keep statures of King George in the Colonies after winning the Revolutionary War. The Soviets did not keep statues of the Czars and the new Russian Federation removed statues of Stalin and Lenin from its cities, even renaming cities the Soviets altered in 1914. No nation in history has kept reminders of the enemy in public spaces. Nor should America.
Honoring the U.S. Flag
In addition, anyone who flies a flag other than the United States flag who claims to be an American citizen is committing treason. Don’t believe me? Consider what the U.S. Flag Code says on the matter,
“No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, the flag of the United States at any place within the United States.”
Flying Confederate Flags, Nazi Flags, or any other instead of (“in place of”) the United States flag is a violation of the Flag Code. Anyone who claims to be a U.S. citizen belies that claim if they do otherwise. It is disrespectful, illegal, and a disgrace.
Of course, it is a form of free speech, free expression, so we must tolerate it. But that does not mean we should not call it out when we see it. Instead, everyone is bent on the racist aspect of the Charlottesville event. But the fact is, racism is not illegal, flying the enemy flag is.
Now, for the Al Sharpton’s of the World
Mr. Sharpton, you know that Thomas Jefferson did more for this nation than nearly any other of the Founding Fathers. You know too that he lived in a different time. Slavery was abhorrent. Yes. Yet, to equate Jefferson to Robert E. Lee is a failure to understand history. Strange. I thought you were an educated man. Shame on me.
The key difference is that Jefferson was a victorious traitor who deserves honor in American society. Lee was a defeated traitor. Think on that, hmm? I bet there are no statues to Jefferson in England.
Still, perhaps the best argument I have heard yet comes from Robert E Lee V. He agreed that the monuments should be removed from public spaces — but believes they should be taken to museums.
I couldn’t agree more.
The simple fact is that we put up monuments to those we want to honor and whose example we want to emulate daily. The enemy does not fit into this category, but because Robert E. Lee is an integral part of our history and his statue is part of that history, we should remember the man and his role in the event. The proper place for this is a museum — not a street corner.
Incidentally, in a supreme twist of irony, General Robert E. Lee himself opposed the building of such monuments, stating that doing so would “keep open the sores of war.” He further suggested it would be best “to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”