Bad Arguments Against Removing Confederate Statues

Bad Arguments Against Removing Confederate Statues August 24, 2017

Arthur Herman, a historian and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, takes to the pages of the National Review to offer up some really weak arguments against removing statues of Confederate leaders and generals. Let’s take them one at a time.


First of all, these are not “Confederate monuments.” They are monuments to the dead, soldiers who fought and often died for the Confederate cause.

Really? Seriously? They’re not “Confederate monuments,” they’re just monuments to those who led and died for the Confederate cause? And you were a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in history making arguments that bad?

These monuments were dedicated to memorialize the courage and sacrifice that these Southern men and, in some cases, women (one of the sculptures in Baltimore pulled down earlier this week was dedicated “to the Confederate women of Maryland”) brought to a cause that they believed at the time deserved the same “last full measure of devotion” that their Northern counterparts brought to theirs. Of course, some of those who paid for and erected these statues also believed that cause had been right, not wrong. (I’ll say more about that in a minute.) But in the final analysis, they are monuments to timeless virtues, not to individuals…

But again, this argument runs up against the monuments themselves. They’re not to leaders of the Ku Klux Klan or the architects of segregation or to George Wallace or Lester Maddox. They are monuments to Southern heroes whom the segregationists could cling to as unexceptionable symbols of Southern courage and heroism. The subtext was: When the South rises again, it will produce heroes like these again. Instead it got Theodore Bilbo and George Wallace and Robert Byrd; but that was not Lee or Jackson’s fault, any more than an American flag displayed at a KKK rally is a reason to ban the Stars and Stripes. In that sense, one could say that these statues and monuments were vice’s tribute to virtue, and Jim Crow’s tribute to dead heroes, because even Jim Crow knew they represented human qualities — duty, honor, valor, sacrifice — that transcend race, color, and political ideology.

Great, so when do we start putting up statues of German, Italian and Japanese leaders from World War II? I mean, if it’s about “timeless virtues” like duty, valor and courage, and is justified because the people fighting “believed at the time” that their cause deserved their devotion, is that not true of our enemies in that war as well? Surely the German, Italian and Japanese leaders and a great many of the soldiers as well “believed at the time” that they were on the side of the just and the righteous, and they undoubtedly displayed the same valor and courage in battle as the Confederates did. Or does it actually matter that they cause the Confederates fought for — slavery, and it is folly to pretend otherwise — was an undeniable evil, just as the fascist hatred that our enemies fought for in World War 2 was an undeniable evil, matter for something here?

And in fact, some of those statues are to leaders of the KKK. There are many statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was both a Confederate general and one of the first leaders of the KKK. The KKK was founded by six former Confederate officers, including Gen. George Gordon. So would Herman be okay with removing the statues of those gentlemen? If so, his argument about honoring timeless virtues must be set aside. And if not, then his argument that the statues aren’t really of racists but of heroic leaders must be set aside. And let us bear in mind that the entire cause of the civil war was inherently a white supremacist cause.

Nor are they monuments to “traitors.” Abraham Lincoln set that issue aside as soon as the war ended, by making it clear that there would be no trials or punishments for the rebels who had fought for the Confederacy and that the national agenda would be reconciliation, not retribution, in order that Americans might come together again as one nation, indivisible.

A technical but irrelevant argument. The fact that Lincoln decided not to prosecute them as traitors doesn’t mean they were not, in fact, traitors. They were. And they were traitors in order to preserve the right to own their fellow human beings and to commit the most horrific of abuses upon them, something Herman ignores completely. I don’t know how that could not be relevant, but he doesn’t seem to think it is. These are just bad arguments.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!