As the smoke clears from a dizzying and demoralizing week, I’m starting to think that those of us who aren’t white supremacists—good day, Virginia Postrel, from today’s Instapundit at 1:07 PM*—but still want proper respect shown to those parts of the Confederate legacy that deserve respect, might be on some pretty good ground for the fight ahead.
(* Apologies in advance—I can’t insert hyperlinks to my sources. The WordPress “Insert/edit link” tool isn’t working in my browser, and apparently I’m making mistakes when I try to add the links with HTML. So, please forgive me).
This past week, I was watching clips of the movie Gettysburg. (I figured I’d better do it quick, before the SPLC bullied YouTube into taking them all down.) One clip showed General George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, arriving at Gettysburg on the night of the first day. Unable to see the terrain in the darkness, Meade asks if the Union position is on good ground to defend. “Very good ground,” replied General Winfield Scott Hancock, one of his corps commanders.
We may not be on Cemetery Ridge. But, I think we’re on better ground now than we were earlier this week. Here’s why I think that:
First, we’ve conceded stances and positions that, while they could be justified, could not be effectively defended in today’s society and public climate. Namely, the flying of the Stars and Bars at government centers of power and authority. (E.g., state capitols).
Second, and most important, the left is overreaching. The mayor of Memphis wants to exhume the body of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Others want statues of him removed from public view. National Review’s Ian Tuttle, in his article titled “Disappearing the Confederacy,” throws a monkey wrench into that plan.
Nathan Bedford Forrest, Grand Imperial Wizard of the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, could be a vicious man. But his biographer, Jack Hurst, notes that not only had Forrest formally disbanded the Klan by 1870, but he “went on to disavow repeatedly its race hatred, to protest and decry racial discrimination, and, during his last two years of life, to publicly call for social as well as political advancement for blacks.”
If memory serves, Malcom X was once virulently anti-white. In the movie about him, I recall Denzel Washington pouring milk into his coffee, and then joking that his coffee was the only thing he ever wanted to see integrated.
Well then, if Nathan Beford Forrest cannot be allowed to transform, then why should Malcom X? Both legacies should be treated equally, right?
From where we stand, in the public debate today, we should ask that question. How will the other side answer? How can they justify banning Forrest from public view while leaving Malcom X’s legacy unchallenged. Having lowered our Stars and Bars, we are now in a position to ask that question, and demand an answer. And, if the answer we get is “Because shut up!”, we can sit back and let the hollowness of that answer linger in the air.
Here’s where I get to Sally Jenkins. The Washington Post and ESPN columnist penned a thoughtful column in today’s WaPo about Confederate symbols. Here’s part of it; you should read the whole thing. (I’d link to it, if I could):
For too long, popular conceptions of the Civil War overwhelmed the truth that it was a war for white supremacy. But overcompensation is not helpful either, and commentators are right to complain of excess when monuments to the long dead are spray-painted and Washington National Cathedral considers breaking its own windows simply because they contain flag imagery that was meant to be conciliatory. The cure, if there is one, is to look with clearer eyes at Civil War history, not to wipe history out. How to find the right line between whitewash and backlash, so the flags are properly furled?
What to take down, and what to leave up? Flags in public spaces that seem to give racism ongoing state sanction? Lower them, yes. But windows in churches that commemorate the terrible national mural that was the war, statues in parks where battles were fought, artwork or busts in the Capitol, which is itself a museum of history? Leave them there for everyone to contemplate and learn about.
Excellent. Profoundly written, IMO. But, Ms. Jenkins also said this today:
We’re still grappling with this strange contrast between cleaner remembrance and hard reality. This color-correction is a painful and sometimes confusing exercise. Last week I compared the Confederate battle flag to a swastika. This was not meant to call Southerners Nazis or advance a hateful sentiment but simply to be truthful about the fact that the Confederacy was a regime dedicated to racial purity.
To paraphrase Lucky Ned Pepper from True Grit, too thin, Sally Jenkins, too thin. Let’s see what kinds of sentiment Sally Jenkins was trying to advance in her column of “last week.” To be specific, that was her column titled “Unraveling the threads of hate, sown into a Confederate icon.” Here’s parts of that column,
…we have been teaching fiction instead of American history. We have romanticized the roots of hate with crinoline and celluloid.
If you went to Germany and saw a war memorial with a Nazi flag flying over it, what would you think of those people? You might think they were unrepentant. You might think they were in a lingering state of denial about their national atrocities. The Confederate battle flag is an American swastika, the relic of traitors and totalitarians, symbol of a brutal regime, not a republic. The Confederacy was treason in defense of a still deeper crime against humanity: slavery. If weaklings find racial hatred to be a romantic expression of American strength and purity, make no mistake that it begins by unwinding a red thread from that flag.
We will have truthfully reckoned with our racial history when high school and college students quit going to Heritage Balls wearing butternut military tunics and sashes and understand that Jeff Davis and Bobby Lee should have spent the rest of their natural lives in work camps, breaking rocks with shovels, instead of on their verandas — and the fact that they didn’t was a profound miscarriage.
We are all unutterably weary of bloody internal estrangements. Can we not agree to run up the same flag? And to lower those crossed and starred banners, the bloody shirts with their inverse reds and blues? Personally, I would like to burn them and bury the ashes in an unmarked grave, keeping just a few for the museums.
What was that Ms. Jenkins said, about how she didn’t mean to “advance a hateful sentiment?” Robert E. Lee “should have spent the rest of [his] natural life in work camps, breaking rocks in shovels?” Confederate flags should be burned and their ashed buried in unmarked graves?
Did the same person write both columns?
It’s pretty obvious that Ms. Jenkins spoke from her heart in her first column. I suspect that, seeing how people are starting to recoil in horror and disbelief from the mass hysteria that’s erupted over all things Confederate, today’s column is her attempt to crawl back off the branch she so boldly crawled out on. Before too many people get the chance to compare her first column to Charles Krauthammer’s from Friday (in National Review), and recognize her for the twit she is. Krauthammer’s is elegant, hers is petty and spiteful, and any sentient being reading both will recognize that in a flash. We, from the high ground we hold now, can urge people to compare Jenkins #1 to Krauthammer, and then make up their own minds. Or, we can compare Jenkins of June 20th to Jenkins of June 26th and ask how the same person could write both columns. Sally Jenkins is the darling of the Acela crowd. But, the Acela crowd hates the South already, and very, very few people ride the Acela.
Third, we are prepared for battle. Most of us are white Southern males. We’ve been defending ourselves, because of our race or sex or heritage, for decades. The opponents of Confederate heritage, on the other hand, hail mostly from the PC, I-need-a-safe-room crowd. When we ask them, calmly, why Nathan Bedford Forrest’s statue needs to come down but Malcom X Boulevard must not be renamed, what will they say? Will they admit that they are so emotionally brittle that they cannot abide seeing the statue, or knowing that Civil War National Battlefields sell small Confederate flags? Will they be able to convincingly explain why Forrest’s legacy does not deserve redemption but Malcom X’s does? Did the Buffalo Soldiers commit any atrocities against Native Americans? If so, then why honor them?
Imagine being a CNN or NPR reporter covering this issue. You do NOT want to have to ask those questions to flag opponents. You do NOT want to embarrass those people. For, you know that many of them will make fools of themselves when they try to answer. And, when that happens, you’ll have to endure the irritated stares of your liberal colleagues at the office, or a frosty stare from the cashier at Whole Foods.
From the positions we occupy now in this debate, we have standing to ask these questions. And, when they don’t get answered fully and honestly, we can wonder why, aloud and often. We can also wonder, aloud and often, why there’s a Woodrow Wilson bridge in D.C. and a Pancho Villa statue in Tucson. Fair is fair, right?
So for these reasons, I think we might actually be on Cemetery Ridge.