Returning from the Abbeville Institute’s conference on Confederate symbols, I began thinking of all the things I failed to say in my talk on the campaign of cultural genocide waged against the South.  I had addressed my argument to people who already respected the Southern tradition and quite properly resented the program of demonization and reeducation that was aimed at obliterating Southern historical memory.

But, I was thinking, what can one say to people who are not prepared to admit that the Antebellum South was the apogee of civilization in North America?  One effective argument is the reductio ad absurdum, and this was cleverly made by Kirkpatrick Sale, best known, perhaps, for his book condemning Columbus.  Brilliantly parodying his arguments, without giving away who authored them, he called for all of Columbus’s monuments to be torn down and all places bearing the hated name—from Columbus Circle in New York to Columbus, Ohio—to be changed.  He did wonder if the government of Colombia would listen to reason.

In the same vein, Barbara Marthal, a gifted African-American storyteller, called for the elimination of black-eyed peas from the American diet and declared that even the sight of a cotton field caused her anxiety.  In the course of her remarks, she recounted her first date with her husband-to-be.  She was shocked to find out he belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but, like any sensible woman, she wisely refrained from one-upping her date by confessing that she had formerly belonged to the Nation of Islam.  It is a queer world we are living in.

Before reading a tale in Gullah, Barbara Marthal made a compelling argument that black people were part of the Southern story, including the Confederacy and the War, and that any attempt to detach black Southerners from their roots was monstrous.  And this may be the key argument to be used in debate with people who have small use for Southerners from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to William Faulkner and George S. Patton.  History is filled with the records of man’s inhumanity to man, but, even in times of the darkest evil, there are men and women who have lived honorably or done great deeds.  If the politicians of Tennessee are going to disinter Bedford Forrest, and if Bill de Blasio can put the portrait of George Washington below one of Pierre Toussaint, the liberator of Haiti, where will it stop?  The name of Washington Square, located in Greenwich Village, is infamous!

And what about Cicero, Illinois?  Cicero owned slaves and “oppressed” his womenfolk.  Indeed, if Tennessee is going after General Forrest, can they overlook that slave-owning Indian-killer Andrew Jackson?  Or that model of the Parthenon in Nashville—a monument to Greek slave-owners who oppressed the Persians?

Anyone who knows anything about Haiti today would get down on his knees and pray for the restoration of French rule.  And anyone who knows anything about American history will want to maintain public respect for the slave-owning founders of the republic.   But, for the sake of argument, let us concede the absurd point and say that the evils of slavery outweigh every other consideration.  We are who we are, the heirs of these people, and we can no more safely rip them out of our hearts than we can rip those hearts out of our own bodies.  Like Tennyson’s Ulysses, we can say, “I am a part of all that I have met,” and much of our experience of what we have met is given to us in stories and monuments commemorating our past.

Some years ago, while in Belgrade, Srdja Trifkovic and I took a few people to meet the Crown Prince Alexander, pretender to the defunct throne of Serbia, in his palace.  Someone in our group was puzzled by the communist monuments that we saw still standing in the palace grounds.  Why not remove, he asked, these hated reminders of Tito’s despotism?

No, said Crown Prince Alexander, “You cannot change history.  These things happened, and we cannot pretend they did not.”  He said much the same thing several times that afternoon, as we came upon other memorials of that wicked period.  Most of us disagreed with him and regarded his remarks as evidence of either timidity or political correctness.  But he was wiser than the rest of us.

Sane Christian people do not burn records, disinter heroes, or wreck monuments.  Iconoclasm is an expression of hatred and the mark of a deranged revolutionary spirit.  The Jacobins not only destroyed and desecrated churches but vandalized the tombs of the French kings, and today, the Taliban and ISIS compete to see who can destroy the most Buddhist, pagan, and Christian monuments.  There are Christians, it is true, who have done such evil things: Under Henry VIII the shrine of Thomas à Becket was destroyed, and Switzerland has more than one gaunt hulk of a building that was once a medieval cathedral.  But among Christians iconoclastic fury is confined to periods of great strife and civil war.  It is Muslims, Jacobins, and communists who are bent on destroying memory and rewriting the past.  It should be clear to everyone, North and South, that it is not sensitivity to African-Americans that is at work in the war of cultural genocide being waged against the South.  It is a revolutionary rage against all things human.