Whitewashing History By Tearing Down Old Statues

Published 9:35 am Thursday, February 16, 2017

Years back, I took my Ohio-transplant neighbor on a tour of Downtown Mocksville and pointed with my Southern pride to the 317 names of Davie boys who died in the Civil War — an incredible blood sacrifice by such a small community.

“We have monuments up North, too,” he retorted.

Indeed, they do. In fact, the ones I’ve seen on the Yankee side are generally bigger and grander, some indication of who won that terrible war.

Those old monuments are fitting tributes to that important and ill-conceived conflict in America’s history, regardless of which side of the Mason-Dixon line they’re on.

That’s why the news was so shocking last week that the town board of Charlottesville, Va., has voted 3-2 to dismantle a statue of revered Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and scrub his name off the town park. The statue has been called culturally offensive and a symbol of racism. As expected, the decision has caused turmoil and heartburn.

How could self-respecting Virginians sully the name of one of their own? How could three town politicians vote to spend $300,000 to pull down a statue of one of history’s pivotal military leaders?

Whitewashing history is a new past time. From Columbus to Andrew Jackson to Thomas Jefferson and now Gen. Lee, shaming history’s heroes is the rage. By applying today’s cultural standards retroactively, we are tarnishing old heroes with modern sensitivities.

Even President Washington’s noble reputation isn’t safe from self-righteous do-gooders probing for character flaws. Shall we topple his monument?

Two hundred years from now, how will the future generations judge us? They may want to tear down our statues.

One reason we honor bravery and valor in war is because we want our armies and soldiers to fight gallantly in the next battle. In war, there is no substitute for winning. Rather than tearing down old statues, Charlottesville’s money would be better spent erecting new memorials to other important historical figures.

North Carolina’s legislature two years ago stepped in to put the brakes on similar efforts here. The Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act took away local governments’ power to remove Confederate memorials. There are about 100 protected statues. Unlike Charlottesville’s experience, an angry group can’t pack a town board meeting and intimidate the aldermen.

Some of us have never stopped fighting that war that preserved the Union. Some of us have never learned the lessons of that war.

Ironically, Californians are now talking of seceding, not wanting to be part of a nation led by President Trump. Californians overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton and now casually talk of forming their own nation. Vermonters have had their own secession talks. Some Texans have never quite been comfortable as a member of the Union, preferring their own nation.

The long lists of names on the Mocksville monument is staggering: World War I, 29 names; World War II, 53 names; Korea, two; Vietnam, nine, and Beirut, one.

District Court Judge Jimmy Myers’ dedication prayer still rings in my ears from when the monument was unveiled in 1987: “Dear Lord, no more names. No more names!”

– Dwight Sparks