Tampa to Move Its Confederate Soldiers Monument

Hillsborough County’s Commissioners voted to move the Confederate Soldiers Monument from in front of the Courthouse Annex to a private cemetery in Brandon, a nearby county town. This reverses the decision they voted for just a month ago. That vote was 4-3 to keep the monument. This one was 4-2 to move it, with one of the previous keep it voters not present and another switching sides.

Ordinarily, the Commissioners set aside an hour for public comments. Each speaker gets 3 minutes. Today, more than 100 citizens wished to speak on this issue. The first 30 or so were given 2 minutes each and the rest 1 minute. Alas. It still took nearly 3 hours for everyone to have their say.

It turns out that in the month since the last meeting, the Commissioners had been seeking a suitable new location, and, it turns out, that one fellow, who likes the monument but agrees that it doesn’t belong on public property, offered to raise the funds. Evidently, he began a GoFundMe campaign with a significant contribution.

In the previous meeting, I’d judge that supporters and opponents were split fairly evenly, but slightly more for removing the monument. Today, however, those 120 speakers, of whom I heard about 2/3rds, were 9 to 1 in favor of moving the monument.

It also turns out that Tampa’s mayor and its city council spoke out against the monument, and the owners of two of the professional teams, the Rays and the Bucs, spoke out against it.

Here’s my prepared testimony. I gave the commission copies of my prepared remarks, although I had to leave out plenty in my one minute. It was hard to decide which of my golden words to omit.

The divisive and racist monument honoring only those Florida Civil War soldiers who fought for the Confederacy should be given back to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It should be removed from public property.

Hillsborough County should create a new memorial to all the soldiers from Florida who fought in the Civil War. This includes the 2000 white men, loyal to the United States, who fought in the First and Second Florida Calvary regiments, and the more than 5000 black men, former slaves who escaped from their owners and served in United States Colored Troops regiments. The purpose of the people who created this monument, and of the County officials of 100 years ago, and of today’s monument supporters, was and is to erase these loyal soldiers from history.

These days, the monument’s supporters say that to remove the monument would be to erase history and dishonor their ancestors who were only fighting to defend their homes.

Consider actual history, as written by many modern historians.

Florida’s Confederate soldiers were not defending their homes. The United States Army did not attack homes in Florida. The state was a strategic backwater, and while the Union forces took control of Jacksonville, and maintained control of Key West, Pensacola, and a few other places along the coast, they avoided seizing ground from the insurgents.

Most Florida Confederate regiments fought as part of the Army of Tennessee and the Army of Northern Virginia. They were not defending their homes in Florida. Indeed, they took part in invasions of Kentucky, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

While Union armies did not attack Florida homes, the Confederate army under command of General P. G. T. Beauregard burned Pensacola in 1862. That is, the Confederates burned Florida homes. The Union did not. (Commissioner White, New Orleans had a monument to Gen. Beauregard, the man who ordered the destruction of Pensacola, until recently.)

Confederate soldiers were angered to face black soldiers in Union regiments. Confederate armies did not treat captured black soldiers as prisoners of war to be exchanged, but sold them into slavery. Often, Confederate soldiers shot black soldiers attempting to surrender or lying wounded on the battlefield. After the largest battle fought in Florida, the 1864 Battle of Olustee, Confederate soldiers killed wounded black Union soldiers who remained on the battle field. Erasing this from history, I doubt that modern day re-enactors re-enact this war crime.

As this bloody war has been over for 150 years, Hillsborough County can include Confederate soldiers in a monument to all of Florida’s Civil War soldiers, but it is historically and morally wrong, divisive and racist to only honor white Confederate soldiers.

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Trump and His True Believers

Bernard,

I’ve sent you the below quotes from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer before. I read them again today in light of having experienced 6 months of Trump in power. If Hoffer is right — and FWIW I for one think he is, given his experiences with Nazism and similar movements — then Trump is a classic instance of a mass-movement leader. But I think Trump fails in one key aspect and therein lies reason for hope. Read on.

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. … The man just out of the army is an ideal potential convert, and we find him among the early adherents of all contemporary mass movements. He feels alone and lost in the free-for-all of civilian life.”

“… deprecation of the present, a facility for make-believe, a proneness to hate, a readiness to imitate, credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible, and many others which crowd the minds of the intensely frustrated are, as we shall see, unifying agents and prompters of recklessness.”

“The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

“Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”

“There is an illiterate air about the most literate true believer.”

“The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense.”

[Characteristics of the mass-movement leader] “Exceptional intelligence, noble character and originality seem neither indispensable nor perhaps desirable. The main requirements seem to be: audacity and a joy in defiance; an iron will; a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth; faith in his destiny and luck; a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness; a recognition that the innermost craving of a following is for communion and that there can never be too much of it…”

[The characteristic that I don’t see in Trump] “… a capacity for winning and holding the utmost loyalty of a group of able lieutenants. This last faculty is one of the most essential and elusive.”

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world. Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership. There can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.”

About the reason for hope, Trump’s advisers and lieutenants seem loyal but not capable. Think of the chaotic rollout of the first attempted ban on Muslims. It’s easy to undo and break things, difficult to design and build useful new things. What useful new thing has this group invented or created or accomplished in its first 6 months, or even begun in earnest on? Nothing I know of.

The talking heads on liberal television, for example Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, harp endlessly on the twisting of facts and gross unfairness of statements and opinions and so forth coming from Trump and his supporters. But I think the commentators miss the point and end up only reinforcing Trump by talking incessantly about the man. You’ve said it several times: shut up, go heads down, flood the polls in 2018, and throw out the bums. Unfortunately we can’t throw out Gorsuch. He will poison our lives from here on.

Wayne

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Quantum Entanglement and Worm Holes: Beyond the Frontier of Knowledge

Wayne,

A chemist friend of mine who enjoys dabbling in frontier physics sent me this note:

Subject: Are you and your sweetie simply “entangled?

Suskind is at it again!  Banging entangled particles together and creating new FTL wormy apples.  I somehow think old Albert might get spooked and ask God to roll the dice again.

http://www.physics-astronomy.com/2016/08/this-new-deceptively-simple-equation.html?m=1#.WWcaJJkpDqA

The news account at the link describes an attempt to find a connection between general relativity, Einstein’s great theory of gravitation and space-time, and quantum mechanics, our wonderful, precise, accurate, and mysterious theory of the microscopic world. The attempt is by physicist Leonard Susskind, a well-known, serious thinker, not afraid to speculate beyond the frontier of knowledge.

I’d say that all physicists believe that there must be an unknown quantum theory of gravitation, a quantum mechanical version of general relativity. In this theory, we suppose that space and time will be quantized. There will be smallest intervals of time and separations in space. These are really, really small. I mean, really, really, really small. There are other remarkable phenomena possible too.

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Should Hillsborough County Remove Its Confederate Soldiers Monument? Yes!

Wayne,

This morning, Wednesday, June 21, 2017, the Hillsborough County Commission considered a motion by one of its commissioners, Les Miller, to remove the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the plaza before the County Courthouse Annex, caddy corner from the County Center Office building, and around the corner from the County Courthouse.

More than forty citizens, including me, came to offer the commission advice on the matter.

Here’s what I had to say at that time:

Testimony offered to the County Commissioners on June 21, 2017.

I am Bernard Leikind. I live at 3215 Taragrove Drive in north Carrollwood. I teach physics at the Univ. of Tampa, and I’m an amateur student of Florida history. Hello to Commissioner Crist, my commissioner, and to Commissioners Miller and White, and to the other Commissioners.

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A Museum Closes Without the Confederate Flag

Wayne,

Here’s an article, confusing I thought, about a battlefield museum a little southeast of Atlanta at the site of the final battles of General Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. Parts of the battlefield are a county park, and there is a museum and museum shop. Evidently, one of the County’s commissioners requested that they “not offend anyone” and get rid of the Confederate flags:

Atlanta Journal Constitution A Henry County commissioner requested a few months ago that a local Civil War museum remove its Conf…

Hmmmm. The spokesperson for the County said that the County had not made such a request.

While I don’t agree with removing flags from an historical museum, I also don’t agree with the last person cited.

Bernard L

Bernard,

You don’t agree with this? 

“You have a museum in this time period to honor both Union and Confederate veterans,” Chuck Johnson said. “No matter which side they fought on, they were all Americans.”

 I do agree with it. They tried to become Confederates but were forced back into being just Americans. They fought alongside other Americans in all later wars. They pay taxes like all other Americans. They take care of their families like all other humans. They’re not fundamentally different from other Americans.

 I think you have a problem. As long as you think of them only as traitors you will continue to have a problem. You seem unable to forgive.

Wayne

Wayne,

Well, we have to be careful with our words. Do we mean people who live in the Americas? Do we mean people who are citizens of the United States or legal residents? If the latter, then the white Confederate people of the 1860s would have denied that they were citizens of the United States. The Dred Scott decision settled the question about black people. They were not citizens and could not be citizens, even if they were free and living in northern states. It took the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to overturn this decision.

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More Counterfactual Civil War History

Bernard,

Last week I drove through rural Virginia between Richmond and Washington DC on two different back roads. Both roads were suffused, permeated with the Confederacy and the Civil War. Every few miles or less there was an historical marker or a battlefield or other public reminder. Lots of Confederate battle flag front license plates. Every town and city seems to have named its streets for Lee, Jackson, Hill, Longstreet, Pickett, Mosby, Davis and other prominent Confederates.

Driving north to MA I saw few or no corresponding street names or historical reminders of the Civil War in Pennsylvania and beyond, except in somber Gettysburg, which is only 5 miles from the Maryland border, and which is the only site I know of that had a significant Civil War engagement outside the Confederate states and Maryland (Antietam).

Had the Confederacy survived, we’d be like North and South Korea, or India and Pakistan, or West and East Germany. We’d have stopped labeling the secessionists as traitors; rather, they’d be the ones who identified with and stayed with the new country, which remained a country and not just a battlefield for a lost cause. Not to say the Confederate cause was noble, only to say that it had millions of adherents – and it still does.

If we wipe out public evidence of the Confederacy there’ll be not much left along those Virginia roads. Just like the Pennsylvania and New York and Massachusetts roads, no evidence of the great divide.

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Removing Confederate Monuments in New Orleans

Wayne,

New Orleans is removing four monuments erected during the Jim Crow era. Three are to Confederate leaders, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P. G. T. Beauregard, and fourth is to white rioters who objected to the integrated police force of Reconstruction era Louisiana. There has been significant opposition, and some supporters of the monuments have issued threats against city officials and the owners and workers of the firms that will do the work. The city plans to remove these monuments, unannounced, at night, with police protection for the workers who will be wearing bullet proof vests and helmets.

This is a good and thorough essay by a knowledgeable historian, Kevin M. Levin, about these monuments found in the thousands throughout the former Confederate states and in some border Union states. He relates the story of the Robert E. Lee monument, both Lee’s life and white Southerners’ images of him.

It is well worth reading this because, in my opinion, what today’s Southern whites say about these monuments, and their ancestors, and about the Civil War distorts or erases the story of the Civil War and about the monuments themselves.

Bernard

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Bernard,

Informed and knowledgeable, yes. But Lee remains in my eyes a truly superior human despite certain barbaric things he did, such as kill black Union prisoners near the end of the war. Humanity evolves (which is a truism of course). Many great philosophers and religious thinkers have stated that slavery is natural and inevitable – see for example http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/slavery/ethics/philosophers_1.shtml. Humanity has reached a new level of understanding on the matter. Yet, some humans are born unable to take care of themselves and can live only in a state resembling slavery, in which other people govern their every act but do not own them as property and thus cannot sell them. 

People are of their times and I believe should be judged according mostly to the norms of their times, less so to humanity’s new and improved norms.

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