In the wake of the tragic events of the week, it’s easy to forget that true patriotism is defined by love, something America could use a good stiff dose of. Love of the country, love of its people, love of its magnificent lands. The nihilistic savagery of the nameless thug who murdered the martyr Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last Saturday is the malignant opposite of patriotism. In fact, it is a plague. It’s a cancer on the corpus of the country. And we are going to go through this, in every generation, until we find a way to excise it.
The duty of the good hearted and decent citizenry must hold fast to and keep faith with the time-honored values of decency and tolerance that have kept us alive from the beginning. From without and within, from the highest office of the land on down, we are under attack. We have only one another on which to rely. In addition to Charlottesville, we have seen the vandalism of Boston’s Holocaust Memorial and even the Lincoln Memorial. Hysteria will run rampant if we let it. The far right neo- Nazis, their financers and inciters the Russians and their underlings among the Republican Party are all eagerly waiting for us to slip up and give them an excuse to repress us by way of naked force. This cannot be allowed. Citizens, we must rally.
The trouble in Charlottesville has been brewing for some time, over the attempt being made to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee in the center of its town. The statue has stood where it is since 1924, and tradition dies hard. However, in recent years, particular focus has been placed on pressuring the South to get rid of its old Civil War based relics, arguing that they celebrate the tradition of slavery and segregation that even today creates a very deep divide among the residents of that area. And in early April of this year, the Charlottesville city council voted 3-2 to finally sell it.
Charlottesville is far from alone in having trouble with politicized statues. America has a lot of statues.
A few years ago, one W. Fitzhugh Brundage, a history professor at the University of North Carolina, embarked on a research project. Its goal was to determine how many statues and memorials his state had. There was not a comprehensive national database, and this one was to serve as a model for the rest of the country. He figured there would be a few hundred, covering all American wars. Instead, his team found nearly 200 for the Civil War alone, mostly Confederate.
This places us in a very strained situation. The Charlottesville chaos indicates clearly that Confederate monuments are still something that many feel very strongly about, on both sides, and there are a ton of them. They’re everywhere. They are part of people’s daily lives. Everyone living in America today has seen many of them. What to do?
Some of the ideas proposed as solutions have traditionally been seen as cures far worse than the disease, but the savage events of late have started to change that. An irresistible mass tear-down movement seems to have begun. Over the course of the last several days alone, statues have been removed from public view in cities everywhere across the South. In the infamous Birmingham, Alabama, a one-time segregationist stronghold, law forbids the removal of the monument, so the mayor has had it covered in plastic and plywood.
These kinds of measures have never been seen as worth the cost, in terms both of money and of civil unrest, but the events of the last few days have changed the game forever. Still, we must be careful. We don’t want to start a new Civil War by way of cleaning up the mess of the old one. The principles of nonviolence practiced by Martin Luther King, who had more cause than nearly anyone to hate the sight of Confederate statues, must act as our guide in this matter.
Moving forward, it will be necessary to exert the utmost caution and restraint as we steadfastly go about the task of remedying the ills of America’s often regrettable past. It is important to remember that our history is what is is, for better or worse, and that to suppress its memory entirely would be to risk repeating it. This is a big job, and it’s going to get rough. We will have to watch each other’s backs on every level, and to help keep each other in line. Emotions are running high right now beyond anything the nation has seen in more than fifty years. There is a way forward, but make no mistake. That path is a tightrope over an extremely vast abyss, and it will take all our efforts to keep from falling down into it.