On the subject of tearing down statues...
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Like most Americans I have been sitting at home watching crowds tearing down statues, among other things, and wondering what the hell is going on. I have no particular warm feelings for Robert E. Lee even though my family has deep roots in the South, going back at least to 1830 if not before. But there he is...or was...astride his horse Traveler, covered in paint as he falls to the ground to the cheers of many and the groans of some.
Some people in the South revere Lee, offering misty assessments of his alleged greatness. These same people will visit the cemetery at Arlington and solemnly stand in witness to the bravery of the men and women buried there, on the very ground where Lee held slaves.
I recently read a wise sentiment about the tearing down of statues. I can't recall exactly where but the point was that we should honor some people despite their faults and not honor others because of their faults. Washington and Jefferson in the first group, Lee and Jefferson Davis in the second.
Yes, Washington and Jefferson were slave owners and each during his lifetime acknowledged that slavery was evil, not that they did much to follow through on those opinions. What they did was leave us this country, as imperfect as it is. Washington declined to be king and willingly handed over the reins of government to John Adams, who then passed it on to Jefferson, all without a shot fired. It was unheard of at the time. So was the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. It is hard to overstate what the Founders have given the world. They were flawed, yes, but they left us the right to gather in the streets in protest to express ourselves.
Lee and Jefferson Davis are another matter. Each fought for evil. There is no reason to honor such men. The irony here is that Lee himself didn't want statues of him or any other Confederate in public places.
“I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
Let go, he is saying. It's over. We have to come to terms with our past and move on. The danger right now is that the crowds, who are turning into mobs, might try to impose some kind of perfection standards - their standard - and damage who we are in an attempt to eliminate who we were.