As anybody who follows the news knows, the incident in Charlottesville VA last weekend started with the objection of white supremacists (and some others) to taking down a statute of Robert E. Lee. Some southerners argue that the confederate flag and statutes like the ones of Lee are emblematic of southern pride. And there may be some truth to that. But here is the problem:
If modern Germany were populated with statutes of Hitler, and Göbbels, and Himmler, and Göring; if Germans were still singing the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” in the streets; if individual households were still flying the NAZI flag from their stoops, millions of Americans, including southern Americans would be outraged.
“What did we fight this bloody war for if these idiots could still be allowed to have their statutes, and their songs, and their flags?”, incensed Americans all over the South would be asking themselves. And they would be right.
While it’s not a perfect analogy – no analogies are perfect – that is essentially what many Southerners are arguing for when they are arguing for their flags and their statutes and their monuments. Because while the war was geographically between the southern and northern states, it was conceptually about the right to own slaves.
And the right to own slaves is not morally a whole lot better than the right to gas Jews.
The South lost the war. That ended in 1865. That was 152 years ago. As some comedians have recently noted, there is some irony in Trump supporters waving confederate flags and shouting to the rest of us, ‘you lost, get over it.’
It would be a good thing if at least some of the advocates for Confederate symbols and monuments could be a little bit more introspective about what it is that they are actually advocating for. And why much of the rest of the country objects.