Saturday, August 12, 2017

Statues Don't Get Up and Move

One person is dead and 34 were injured in the wake of a protest that saw Americans parading under a flag bearing the Nazi swastika turn violent, as fights broke out and a domestic terrorist drove a car into the crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia today.

Let that sink in for a moment. Someone was killed today. A lot of your fellow citizens were injured, half of them in a street fight with other citizens and the other half in an act of domestic terrorism. Not Islamic terrorism, which we hear so much about, but white nationalist terrorism. But perhaps the most stunning image of today’s news was not the physical violence or the car assault, but rather young American men proudly marching under the Nazi banner. We fought a war against the Nazis. Thousands of Americans gave their lives fighting for American values and against the un-American, fascist, and hate-mongering philosophy of the Nazis. While, unlike the Nazi regime, America allows free expression of even the most heinous beliefs, anyone who feels the need to carry a Nazi flag through the streets of America should pick themselves up and leave our country. If you’re rallying behind a Nazi flag then this is not your country and those of us whose families have fought and died for America and everything it stands for want you to go.

The violence took place in a city park. I’ll tell you its name later. Ostensibly, the protest was over the removal of a statue. That’s right, someone is dead tonight because of a piece of stone in a park. But it’s not really about the statue, not directly. The removal of the statue is what we can call the inciting incident. This is what attracted the people we’ll refer to as outside agitators. Agitators seize on an inciting incident and use it to promote their own agenda. In this case, we didn’t just have local citizens concerned about a park statue: we had groups, each with its own agenda, on both the far left and the far right. They came to clash; some even dressed in paramilitary outfits with shields and weapons and could easily have been mistaken at first glance for police. Others showed up with torches evoking memories of the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses in the previous century. But make no mistake, these agitators were not there because of the statue; they came looking for a fight and they found it.

So we have an inciting incident, local citizens concerned about the removal of the park statue, and groups of outside agitators intent on exploiting the situation and the media presence to further their own agendas. Oh, and one deranged individual who decided to mow down protesters and bystanders with a car. The groups ranged from an anti-fascist organization and Black Lives Matter on the political far left; and the Alt-Right, the KKK, and the neo-Nazis on the political far right. But let’s talk about that statue.

We need to examine both sides behind the inciting incident. Since this matter involves such polarizing groups, many of you probably believe there is only one side. But if that’s what you truly believe, then you’re part of the problem not part of the solution. Yes, the Alt-Right, the KKK, and the neo-Nazis are among the most odious humans scum ever to crawl from the primordial ooze. But that makes it even more curious that anyone, especially so many young people, would literally and figuratively march beneath their banner. The question we must ask is why, and while in some cases, such as those of the outside agitators, it could be summed up as simple hate-mongering, for others it is a matter of societal alienation and disenfranchisement. Far left liberals may be creating their own far right monsters.

The statue commemorates Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee was a great man and a great general who chose the wrong side of the Civil War. I say chose, because both the North and the South wanted him to lead their troops; he was that well respected by both sides. The antebellum South had both a proud history and a shameful one. Beginning with Reconstruction, Southerners were browbeaten over their shameful past and attacked whenever they sought to assert any part of their antebellum culture. Yes, slavery was a large part of that culture, but it’s simplistic to paint the North as good and the South as evil, or to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Southerners must acknowledge the shameful parts of their history but Northerners must also acknowledge Southerners are entitled to their own heritage. Likewise, history is a matter of record and not something that should be changed in an Orwellian manner to suit the political climate of the day.

The statue used to sit in Lee Park, named for Gen. Robert E. Lee. Now it sits in Emancipation Park, named for the freeing of American slaves. No, the statue didn’t get up and move; it’s a statue, they don’t do that. The park was renamed. Gen. Lee’s name was taken off the park (which was then renamed for the cause he fought against) and the city voted to remove his statue. Basically, this was an attempt to rewrite history. It was an affront to Southerners whose families fought and died under Gen. Lee’s command. But more importantly, it was an attempt to erase history. History is important. Monuments and place names are important because they remind us of history. Even bad history. Especially bad history. Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We should not erase historical monuments that represent unpleasant periods of the past, but rather we should preserve them as a valuable lesson for all who come after us.

We should encourage people to visit Robert E. Lee’s statue and read his biography. It should serve as a teachable moment to learn about the man’s conflicted life during a period of our nation’s conflicted history. It should not be discarded, just as history should not be whitewashed.

Far left liberals need to stop creating opportunities for far right agitators to seize upon. There should never have been an inciting incident in this case. By renaming Lee Park and removing the statue, the message being sent to Southerners was not that slavery was wrong but rather a total repudiation of their entire heritage, both the good and the bad parts. . They feel they are being marginalized in their own country or in their words “replaced.”The reaction of many is naturally to become defensive  -- the young particularly, because they are seeking their own sense of identity, and are therefore easily brainwashed into becoming fodder for the far right groups.

We must see that there are two sides and rather than discounting one side’s views or grievances entirely, or allowing ourselves to become indoctrinated by the extreme left or the extreme right, we should approach inciting incidents with an open mind and a willingness to learn the history behind them and to use that as a teachable experience. Understanding each other, where we are each coming from, and why we believe as we do is the first step toward conflict resolution. Failing to do this invariably leads to the violence we’ve witnessed today.

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