H2H: Rush: Should Confederate Statues Remain Standing?

By Nicholas Rush


One might find Confederates, the group I am viewing to be oppressed, as unworthy of defense. However, that notion belies the very issue at hand — who deserves to be defended, and perhaps, even more pressing, which ideas deserve to be heard. The Confederacy ended over 150 years ago, but the statues and memorials for the fallen sons of the south remain. Those who support keeping Confederate statues are surely in the minority, and their symbolic sentiments — ancestral and cultural — are represented as inherently racist. 

All cultural beliefs are nuanced and different, depending largely on geography. Even the culturally based minority in the South who honor their Confederate forefathers deserve to receive the same nuanced analysis that other cultures do. The South has many ardent Confederate supporters who are deemed inherently racist. Being intolerable towards them and their culture is antithetical to the principles of openness and diversity that drives the powerful paradigm of moral relativism. 

We have witnessed the insatiable removal of all historical statues retrospectively deemed inappropriate. The will to retro-fit the past with current political furnishings is not bound to the pages of 1984, but a tangible reality now. As of August 2018, 30 cities removed statues and monuments across the United States.

One rationalization of the removals is “If you fly a Confederate flag, you are racist.” Or, more generally, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate and white nationalism. This is simply untrue, as the Civil War was waged over a myriad of reasons. While slavery was a focal point, it was also about states rights and legislative majorities emerging as new states joined the Union. 

The Southern states wished to preserve their sovereignty “so they could abolish federal laws they didn’t support, especially laws interfering with the South’s right to keep slaves and take them wherever they wished.”

The Morrill Tariff Act of 1861 was a major economic turning point in relations between north and south. As Charles Dickens put it, blaming the war on the Morrill tariff: “So the case stands, and under all the passion of the parties and the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this, as of many other evils … The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.”

US Senator Robert Rhett stated “They [South] are in a minority in Congress. Their representation in Congress, is useless to protect them against unjust taxation; and they are taxed by the people of the North for their benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years, the taxes laid by the Congress of the United States have been laid with a view of subserving the interests of the North.”

The Confederacy was a nation at one point, so it’s no surprise there are still folks who honor these cultural symbols from the past. 

The crux of this is denying the individual right to uniqueness. The values and behaviors of one culture may not be shared by every individual within it. America has created a monoculture in terms of social issues, where you are a racist or something is wrong with you if you have any respect or reverence for the Confederacy.

This thwarts individual uniqueness. Even if some people who fly the Confederate flag are racist, not all of them are. The U.S. places a high value on individual rights and personal freedom. It is groupthink that demands the removal of anything historically threatening to the ruling ideology. This is the opposite of those purported American values. 

The removal of Confederate monuments is reminiscent of the moment in George Orwell’s “1984” when Winston, the main character, finds out that history can be controlled by the ruling party. “We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?” Winston, confused at just how a ‘Party’ can control memories, asked “But how can you stop people remembering things? It is involuntarily. It is outside of oneself. How can you control memory? You have not controlled mine!” O’Brien, Winston’s interlocutor, replies by saying “reality is not external, and only exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.” 

O’Brien is saying that memory, and for that matter history, can be manipulated by the domineering ideology. Historical figures must live up to the current rubric that their ideology constructs. History, in this case, is no more than a continuous fiction, reworked and revisited until fully canonized. Ideology becomes more important than historicity. Belief becomes more important than truth. Ad-hoc isolation judgment trumps historical context. Symbols become existential, becoming dearth in favor of utter uniformity. 

This attempt to retro-fit history is a fool’s errand. If applied to its logical conclusion, in an infinite regress of removals, it would leave us with no reality at all. History was not perfect and is wrought with seemingly endless corruption and immorality. Disassembling it anachronistically and altering all its records would surely lead to the disassembling of reality itself.

If we are to believe, like O’Brien, that reality exists only in the mind, picking through every bit of disgraceful history would surely lead to reality with no real distinctions. It would be a mono-history, a unified historical narrative, bleached of all perceived sin, contingent on the approval of the ruling party, of course.

This is what “1984” warned about. As we destroy monuments, we create reality, a reality without any real reality. “1984” even mentions the removal of statues and the changing of street names and building names. “Every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the party is always right.” 

Just ask the City Commissioners of Hollywood, Florida. They changed the name of multiple streets in 2017, stating the removed names should only be “in history books.” It would seem that it would require public outrage with masses of folks rallying around this cause for City Commissioners to take this battle.

Except that’s not what happened. Politically funded groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, Black Lives Matter and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, all teamed up to throw their political muscle at the Hollywood City Commissioners to change the street names. 

In fact, for all the ridiculous hype these issues received in the media, the actual verve behind the statue-removal movement was pretty pathetic. At the “protest” in 2017 demanding the removal of the statues, only about 150 people showed up, a drop in the bucket in a county like Broward County, which is home to nearly 2 million people. 

The media presented a distorted reality. It was disproportionate to the number of people who took to the streets in favor of this cause. The media, who could be considered Big Brother, overhyped the situations to rabble rouse. It distorted the true reality of the situation, which is that 150 people and a few political groups are not the majority.  In fact, according to an NPR poll, 62 percent of Americans were in favor of keeping these monuments erected. A Reuters poll found 54 percent were in favor of keeping the monuments. Most of the polling data collected by the Huffington Post showed majorities in favor of keeping the monuments. 

So why were city commissioners hastily voting to destroy historical symbols when public support was so scarce? When only 150 people showed up at one of the most prominent “protests” and polling data showed that this “abolition of history” is unpopular? 

It’s because the corporate-owned media made this storm in a teacup look like an earthquake and a hurricane. They are part of the ruling party, the corporate elite with their hands in government and media alike. It’s them who want to abolish the past to keep ideological hegemony of the present. Why? Well, it’s just the nature of Big Brother. 

If the ruling party — even if uber-benevolent — creates a reality contingent on altering history, history will only become a reflection of the ruling party. This distorted dystopian reality is here, and it’s driven by the insidious concept of injecting ideology into history. 

Every culture adheres to a very selective curriculum. A proverb states “by nature all men are alike, but by education, they are very different.” If we can look at cultures outside the U.S. with this relativistic and tolerant lens, why can’t we do this with our brothers and sisters from the South? Instead, it’s more mono-ideology and the endless present in which the party is always right.


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This article was originally published in print on Aug. 26. In the online version, two paragraphs were added to better reflect the intentions of the author.