Confederate Monuments in New Orleans

Wayne,

 

The New Orleans city government has begun to remove four Confederate monuments.
Some people are unhappy about this. The city officials and the firms hired to remove them have been receiving threats. As a result, the police have been providing guards, and the work is being done at night and unannouced.

 

I think that this is all to the good, and that it’s about time.

 

Bernard

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Bernard,

 

The city probably could have achieved the best possible outcome by not just taking down the statues, instead moving them all to some public spot and erecting explanatory signs there. That’s sort of what the

city is doing, but the way it’s gone about it is guaranteed to bring out the Confederate battle flags, AK-47s, Glocks, Dukes and so on and so forth. Seems like a huge ruckus for not much gain. And yes, if slave owners were the real problem then the statue of George Washington should come down, or be moved, too.

 

Wayne

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Wayne,

 

You might read just who the four monuments honored. One of them commemorated one of the post-war openly terrorist groups that worked to establish white supremacy.

 

Workers dismantled an obelisk, which was erected in 1891 to honor members of the Crescent City White League who in 1874 fought in the Reconstruction-era Battle of Liberty Place against the racially integrated New Orleans police and state militia, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement.

The monument, which was sometimes used as a rallying point by David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, has stirred debate for decades. Local leaders unsuccessfully tried to remove it in 1981 and 1993.

Other monuments expected to be removed include a bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in a traffic circle, named Lee Circle, in the city’s central business district since 1884; an equestrian statue of P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate general; and a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

 

Here’s the Robert E. Lee statue, from the monument’s Wikipedia page:

 


 

Here’s General Beauregard:

 

General P.G.T. Beauregard Equestrian Statue in New Orleans by sculptor Alexander Doyle, from Wikipedia article about Beauregard.

 

And Jefferson Davis, with some recent graffiti, from the Wikipedia article about the great man:

 

 

I’d say that it is obvious that the monument to the Crescent City White League ought to be both removed and pulverized. Unless, that is, people think that it might be exhibited in a history museum as part of a consideration of Reconstruction Era white racism and terrorism.

 

Robert E. Lee has little to do with either New Orleans or Louisiana. Evidently, he passed through the city, or was briefly stationed there, as part of his pre-Civil War service in the United States Army. New Orleans was under Confederate control for less than one year. The Wikipedia article has accounts of racists in KKK robes demonstrating in favor of the monument 30 or 40 years ago, and being attacks by brick throwing Black Panthers. I’d say that the racists don’t have any problem recognizing the meaning of this statue. Nor do black people.

 

Jefferson Davis lived in Louisiana for a year as a child. He managed to die in Louisiana. His plantations, farmed by slaves before the Civil War, were in Mississippi, and it was there that he spent most of his time after President Andrew Johnson pardoned him. As with Robert E. Lee, he had little to do with Louisiana. A slave-owner himself, who strongly believed in white supremacy, he supported secession and led the Confederacy as its only president. One of his accomplishments after the war was a two-volume work justifying the Confederacy, arguing that its cause was just, that secession was constitutional, and that blacks were rightly slaves. This made him popular with the many Lost Cause theorists of the day. The Wikipedia article has accounts of recognition of and support for this monument by white racists. Removing this statue from a place of honor in New Orleans will do nothing to erase him from history, where he will be remembered as a slave-owning traitor to the United States. Are there monuments to Benedict Arnold?

 

G. T. Beauregard was born and grew up on a sugar cane plantation in southern Louisiana. He twice married Louisiana women, daughters of sugar cane planters. The Wikipedia account doesn’t see fit to mention that those plantations were operated by slaves. Beauregard was the first man appointed a general in the Confederate Army. He was in command of Confederate forces at Ft. Sumter, where having received his instructions from Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government, he ordered militiamen to open fire on the fort. After the War, and apparently reluctantly, having signed an oath of allegiance to the United States, he lived in New Orleans pursuing various careers in business and in state government, running the Louisiana lottery. He was prominent man about town, well-known and respected by many Louisiana white people for his service to the Confederacy and the cause of slavery. At least he has a significant connection to New Orleans, but I don’t see that a majority black city is required to honor him in a prominent public space. Naturally, in any New Orleans history museum, and especially in displays about antebellum life, about Louisiana’s contribution to the Civil War (that include descriptions of the many Louisianans, white and black who fought for the Union), and about life during Reconstruction and after, he’d certainly belong.

 

As to those who object that history is being erased, they and their predecessors are the ones who have erased history. Union forces captured New Orleans early in the war in a famous naval operation led by David G. Farragut, and it remained in Union hands for the rest of the war. Free black men and escaped black slaves from Louisiana served throughout the war in Union forces as did many Louisiana white men. None of these soldiers are honored by today’s neo-Confederates.

 

New Orleans is a majority black city. I don’t see why the city government should honor any or only the ancestors of some modern white people who fought to keep black people enslaved. I don’t think the city government should take seriously that it, representing the people of New Orleans, ought to honor the claimed courage and service of those white people without regard for the cause for which they fought. If these white people wish to honor their ancestors, they are free to do so privately on their front lawns, or their pickup trucks (but not on license plates). Here in Tampa, the Sons of Confederate Veterans owns a small plot close to the heavily trafficked intersection of I-4 and I-75. They erected a tall flagpole and fly an immense flag, usually the Stars and Bars but sometimes the so-called Battle Flag. If they want to do this, it’s their own business.

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Bernard,

 

You seem to think that some groups of humans have innate moral superiority over other groups. They do not. Had the blacks made slaves of the whites and the whites eventually gained their freedom, the blacks might well have honored their own people who battled to keep the whites down. It’s just human nature. I think the African way in these matters is the only true way:

acknowledge that our people are no better and no worse than those other people, forgive those who have trespassed against us, and achieve truth and reconciliation among all peoples. So I say, remove the monuments from their special places but don’t destroy them and don’t hide them. Put them in a place of memory accessible to all.

 

Wayne,

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Wayne,

 

Are you arguing that the post-Civil War white terrorists who struggled for white supremacy by, among other things, murdering blacks and those whites who opposed them are morally equivalent to their victims?

 

Here we have two groups of humans. I believe that the latter are morally superior to the former. I guess you do too.

 

Black slaves, once they were free, held no animosity to their previous white owners for the most part. We also see that this tends to be the behavior of modern black Americans. Consider, for example, the actions of the parishioners of the black church where Dylan Roof murdered nine elderly black people. But forgiving Dylan Roof does not mean that he and his victims or the other parishioners are morally equivalent.

 

While the freed black slaves, as a rule, held no animosity to their previous owners, the owners feared them. We might suppose that those owners imagined how they would behave if the blacks had treated them as they had treated the blacks. If you’d like to see what I mean, look at the famous 1915 D W Griffith’s movie Birth of a Nation.

 

As for the monuments, although some people believe that they ought to be pulverized, most people, who want them taken from display on public property in places of honor would be just fine putting them in museums or some similar place. In those places, however, they would not stand to honor the white slavers and white defenders of slavery. They would be places to educate modern people about the past and about the bad ideas and evil actions some groups of humans have had and have visited upon their brothers and sisters. The people who put up those monuments and those who wish to keep them around today wish to whitewash history of past evils.

 

Slavery in the United States, as modern historians see it, is the “original sin” of the United States, built into the colonial economy and society and enshrined in the Constitution.

 

I’m reading The Winds of War, by Herman Wouk, a World War II historical novel. Naval Captain Victor Henry is US Naval Attaché in our embassy in Berlin in 1939 and 1940. At a diplomatic social event he converses with several prominent Germans. In a discussion brought about when Henry expresses his, and Americans’, discomfort about the German treatment of Jews, “Americans don’t like to see injustice,” he says, the German banker, wealthy host of the event, points out that Americans mistreat their Negroes. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the United States at least purported to be a beacon of human rights and freedom and lectured and scolded Communist nations and other tyrannies or authoritarians, they, too, defended themselves by pointing to American mistreatment of its black residents. (Of course, these days we have disgraced ourselves by torturing prisoners, among other actions.) Segregationists would point to the fact that Communists favored integration as an argument against the great Civil Rights laws of the 1960s.

 

The Winds of War, and its sequel, War and Remembrance, are more than 1500 pages, so I don’t necessarily recommend that you read them. While the two major families whose stories it tells are American, Wouk expresses the ideas of Germans of that time based upon thorough research. That is, while Wouk lets us know what he thinks about those views, and let’s his characters express their views too, he states the views of German people, starting with Hitler, as they might have expressed them themselves. In the 1980s, these two books were dramatized in a multi-part TV mini-series, with Kirk Douglas as Victor Henry. As part of his effort to express the German point of view, he invents a leading German general who has written an operational history of WW II. Supposedly Victor Henry has translated the introductions to each of this massive history’s sections into English, and these have been published. These chapters, interspersed throughout the book at appropriate places, as General van Roon’s description of the Battle of Britain precedes Roosevelt sending Victor Henry to Britain as his eyes and ears. (Turns out, Roosevelt had sent “Wild Bill’ Donovan to London for this same reason, in part because Roosevelt distrusted US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy’s, the future president’s father, reports and advice.) Henry is in London during the Blitz, visits one of the now famous British Chain Home radar stations, observes the British Fighter Command’s operations during a German attack, and even foolishly flies on a British bombing mission to Berlin as an observer.

 

Bernard

 

Bernard,

Replying to your questions:

 

>Are you arguing that the post-Civil War white terrorists who struggled for white supremacy by,

>among other things, murdering blacks and those whites who opposed them are morally equivalent

>to their victims?

>

No. I’m arguing that ANY sufficiently large population of humans, and I mean ANY, is equivalent to any other sufficiently large population in terms of range of values and behaviors. By large I’d say maybe 1000 or more. Every such population has in it some people who, given power and self-interest and weapons, would kill other people to keep hold of their power and interests, and especially would kill people from a group who are perceived or labeled as Others, such as Black versus White, or Christian versus Muslim. I think you suffer from the logical fallacy of mistaking the part for the whole. If the tables were turned, and armed black supremacists killed innocent whites, would you conclude that all blacks are morally inferior to all whites?

 

I also argue that any group of humans that has struggled for power or survival against other groups will honor its heroes, those who tried their best to protect or advance them. It’s natural to honor one’s benefactors (though Mark Twain said something like, “The chief difference between Man and Dog is that a dog doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it”). So it’s natural that white Southerners as a group would honor their heroes. We should understand that and not condemn Southerners as a group for it. They’re only humans. We should not forget what happened. We should always seek the common ground among us. So I say, let the Confederate monuments persist, but make them museum pieces, and don’t leave them where they are as if they represent the whole community.

 

>Here we have two groups of humans. I believe that the latter are morally superior to the former. I guess you do too.

>

Here we have two small, non-random SUBgroups of humans. Of course the ones who do the killings are usually morally inferior to those who get killed. But not always. If one of the German generals who conspired to kill Hitler in 1944 had succeeded in doing so, would that general then be morally inferior to Hitler? Of course not. Suppose a white supremacist killed a raging black man who had raped and killed 20 women both black and white – would that supremacist then be morally inferior to that black man? Most likely not. But if that same supremacist had previously tortured that same black man, broken him and malevolently driven him crazy, then the supremacist would be the moral inferior. Case by case it’s usually clear where the moral advantage lies.

 

My point is always the same: Every large enough group of humans, given equal starting points and equal opportunities, is, on average, as smart and moral and energetic and saintly and beastly and amoral and idle as every other group. I can’t prove this, I can only report my own personal experiences in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. Maybe Australians are as dumb as fence posts and evil to boot, but I really doubt it.

 

Wayne

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Wayne,

 

I see that we agree on some important points.

I have no problem with your idea that considering, say, Italians and Brazilians, and only considering the facts of being Italian and being Brazilian, we cannot make relative moral judgements about the two groups or any two people from within the groups. We have to take other facts into consideration to make a moral assessment, primarily the actions of the groups and their members. Thus, you are correct that those few German officers who participated in the plot to kill Hitler are morally superior to those who did not. It is still the case that once Hitler and the National Socialists took power, the officers of the Wehrmacht were the only force within Germany who could have successfully opposed them. After all the Nazis established a police state. Taken as a group, however, the Army’s officer class failed to resist the Nazis, a moral failing. We can conclude this while recognizing that for the military to obey constituted authority is a strong moral value, and the officers faced the choice of support for this value or support for the good of the German nation, which is also a strong moral value of modern military forces in a democracy.

Consider today’s dispute about Confederate monuments in Louisiana. Let us consider the group of Louisianans. Some white Louisianans consider themselves to be a distinct group from black Louisianans. They are a sub-group, more than a thousand of them too. Indeed these white Louisianans tend to think of black Louisianans, if they think of them at all, as not really legitimate Louisianans. It’s the question of the referent to pronouns such as “we” and “our.” In the mental picture of these white Louisianans, black people do not appear as members of their group. And the members of this sub-group think of themselves as Louisianans.

When they say “We just wish to honor our ancestors. It has nothing to do with race.” The group to which “we” and “our” refer is the group of white members of slave-owning Louisiana. The group does not include those white Louisianans from the 1860s who opposed secession, who fought for the Union, and it does not include black people, slave or free. Thus, their statement has everything to do with race, but not as they see it because their mental picture of their group, by default, is entirely white. They don’t perceive being white a being part of a race, rather as the default condition of humankind.

If their mental picture of their ancestors, thinking of themselves as Louisianans, not white Louisianans, included everyone who lived in Louisiana in 1860, they would not want to honor some of those ancestors who divisively fought to enslave others of those ancestors. Or some of those white Louisianans who staged a riot against an integrated police force.

As you say, humans tend to see themselves as members of groups, and to honor those who defend their group and dislike those who attack their group. Indeed, the morality of the Hebrew Bible tends to be of this sort: in-group and out-group morality. When the prophets urged their Jewish brethren to aid the orphan, the widow, the sick, the poor, and the outcast, they didn’t mean any of those Moabites down the road. I tell Linnea that, as an outsider looking at Jesus’ teaching, his expansion of the group for whom empathy is due to all of humanity is his most important tenet. Alas, we humans still have difficulty with this.

Bernard

 

 

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