“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every hook has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the 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.”
—George Orwell, 1984
The history police from Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” are at it again. Robert F. Lee’s picture, among 30 planned for an historical display along Richmond’s waterfront, was briefly removed because of protests by City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin. He claims the Confederate general is an offensive figure to African-Americans, who view him as a symbol of slavery. James F. Rogers, president of the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation, was one of the cowed officials who made the decision to take down the portrait of Lee.
This and other attacks on the display of Confederate symbols show that the spirit of intolerance in Big Brother’s J 984 lives on today in campaigns to purify American history and obliterate any symbols of its past that do not pass the test of political correctness. The history police goosestepping through our culture are quite willing to throw out the baby along with the bath water.
What is the baby? For African-Americans, it is the fantastic accomplishments of blacks during the days of slavery in the South. Those accomplishments during that difficult time should engender nothing but pride in American blacks today. Yet that satisfaction is systematically and deliberately denied to black Americans by their so-called leaders. Why? Because those leaders have more to gain by fomenting racial discord than by harmonizing the many common bonds between black and white Virginians.
Confederate icons are not the first to be attacked. This purification campaign has heaped abuse on the discoverer of America. Custer’s name has been removed from the Little Bighorn battlefield. Maryland changed its state motto from “manly deeds, womanly words,” to “strong deeds, gentle words.”
But the special target of black racists is the Confederate nation and any symbol or remembrance of it. Thus we see campaigns all over the South to remove the Confederate battle flag from public view. Cadets at the Virginia Military Institute are not allowed to continue their long tradition of wearing the Confederate emblem on their class rings. When George Allen was a Virginia gubernatorial candidate, he was criticized for having a Confederate flag in his home. The NAACP conceded that it might be okay for him to keep it there, but heaven help him if he took it outside! And of course the efforts of media darling Carol Moseley-Braun—the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate (and later defeated)—successfully denied the United Daughters of the Confederacy a copyright that had been renewed since 1898. Senator Moseley-Braun claimed that the flag was “a painful reminder” of slavery.
In a vivid testimonial to America’s declining educational standards, critics like City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin take the erroneous and self-serving view that the Confederates fought for slavery and the North fought against it. That would have been news to both Bluecoats and Greybacks. Most Southerners fought because their homeland was invaded by those who refused to let them depart the Union in peace, just as both North and South had departed from Great Britain under George III.
Whatever attitude Confederates had about slaves and blacks was widely shared by all Americans. Abraham Lincoln declared that “the Negro would never be the social equal of the white race.” Lincoln said in both of his inaugural addresses that he had no intention of tampering with the institution of slavery: “I have no purpose directly and believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Father Abraham’s views are out-of-fashion with his admirers today, and apologetics for Lincoln’s embarrassing statements are a minor academic industry. In a famous letter to publisher Horace Greeley, Lincoln said:
my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.
How much longer will the new racists allow Lincoln’s face on the five-dollar bill to act as a “painful reminder” to blacks that Lincoln considered the Union to be more important than their freedom?
Not long, perhaps. The New Orleans School Board voted to remove George Washington’s name from an elementary school because he was a slaveholder and thus a bad example for children. If Washington’s name is so abhorrent that it can’t be used for a public school, why should it identify the capital city of our nation? Why should we have an internationally famous monument to him, or to Jefferson, or for that matter to Abraham Lincoln?
By the way, in ease you think this historical suppression leads to racial harmony and the common good, note this: In many of the public schools of New Orleans, students now pledge allegiance to the red, black, and green black liberation flag rather than the Stars and Stripes. Instead of the Star-Spangled Banner, they sing a black liberation anthem.
Black radicals pick on General Lee, but they turn a blind eye to their own history. How does Mr. El-Amin reconcile the debasement of Lee and Washington with the fact that African tribal leaders enslaved and sold many millions of blacks to the slave traders?
According to political correctness, white leaders who owned slaves are moral lepers, but black historical figures who did so are to be honored. Why should we all not be offended by displays of African dress and the celebration of African holidays? Might they not be a “painful reminder” of the horrible enslavement of blacks by blacks?
If the history police want a flag to condemn because of its association with racism, they need look no further than one of the flags flying over the Capitol. After all, it was under Old Glory that slavery flourished—much longer than under the Stars and Bars. It was under Old Glory that we pushed the Indians off their lands.
We have no flag that has not been associated with prejudice and unpopular causes. All of them can be “painful reminders” to someone. Using those criteria, we will have no flag to fly and no images to display.
Blacks are being denied their legitimate heritage by their leaders’ attempt to define their history exclusively in terms of slavery. Their 350-year association with the land and their major contributions to Southern culture are suppressed by this preoccupation with slavery—thus denying both black and white Southerners the common ground they share.
Those of us who honor our Confederate ancestors today do so not because of their—and their Northern opponents’ — 19th-century view of race relations. We honor them because of their devotion—against all odds—to the cause of independence, their zeal in defending their homes, their uncommon valor, and because they were arguably some of the finest American soldiers ever to take the field.
Their critics are modern-day members of Orwell’s “Party” who, not liking parts of our history, want to suppress it. They confuse remembrance of the best elements of a society with justification of its worst. In their quest for political power, the Sa’ad El-Amins of the world have forgotten Lincoln’s advice—”with malice toward none, with charity for all, let us bind up this nation’s wounds.” If they think attacks against General Lee will lead to harmonious race relations, they are indeed “whistling Dixie.”