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This remorseless drive to blast the greatest names from America’s past off public buildings, and to tear down their statues and monuments, is an egalitarian extremism rooted in envy and hate…

patrick j. buchananOn Sept. 1, 1864, Union forces under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, victorious at Jonesborough, burned Atlanta and began the March to the Sea where Sherman’s troops looted and pillaged farms and towns all along the 300-mile road to Savannah. Captured in the Confederate defeat at Jonesborough was William Martin Buchanan of Okolona, Mississippi, who was transferred by rail to the Union POW stockade at Camp Douglas, Illinois. By the standards of modernity, my great-grandfather, fighting to prevent the torching of Georgia’s capital, was engaged in a criminal and immoral cause. And “Uncle Billy” Sherman was a liberator.

Under President Grant, Sherman took command of the Union army and ordered Gen. Philip Sheridan, who had burned the Shenandoah Valley to starve Virginia into submission, to corral the Plains Indians on reservations. It is in dispute as to whether Sheridan said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” There is no dispute as to the contempt Sheridan had for the Indians, killing their buffalo to deprive them of food.

Today, great statues stand in the nation’s capital, along with a Sherman and a Sheridan circle, to honor these most ruthless of generals in that bloodiest of wars that cost 620,000 American lives. Yet, across the South and even in border states like Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, one may find statues of Confederate soldiers in town squares to honor the valor and sacrifices of the Southern men and boys who fought and fell in the Lost Cause.

When the Spanish-American War broke out, President McKinley, who as a teenage soldier had fought against “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah and been at Antietam, bloodiest single-day battle of the Civil War, removed his hat and stood for the singing of “Dixie,” as Southern volunteers and former Confederate soldiers paraded through Atlanta to fight for their united country. My grandfather was in that army.

For a century, Americans lived comfortably with the honoring, North and South, of the men who fought on both sides. But today’s America is not the magnanimous country we grew up in. Since the sixties, there has arisen an ideology that holds that the Confederacy was the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany and those who fought under its battle flag should be regarded as traitors or worse.

Thus, in New Orleans, statues of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and General Robert E. Lee were just pulled down. And a drive is underway to take down the statue of Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans and president of the United States, which stands in Jackson Square. Why? Old Hickory was a slave owner and Indian fighter who used his presidential power to transfer the Indians of Georgia out to the Oklahoma Territory in a tragedy known as the Trail of Tears. But if Jackson, and James K. Polk, who added the Southwest and California to the United States after the Mexican-American War, were slave owners, so, too, were four of our first five presidents.

The list includes the father of our country, George Washington, the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, and the author of our Constitution, James Madison. Not only are the likenesses of Washington and Jefferson carved on Mount Rushmore, the two Virginians are honored with two of the most magnificent monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C.

Behind this remorseless drive to blast the greatest names from America’s past off public buildings, and to tear down their statues and monuments, is an egalitarian extremism rooted in envy and hate. Among its core convictions is that spreading Christianity was a cover story for rapacious Europeans who, after discovering America, came in masses to dispossess and exterminate native peoples. “The white race,” wrote Susan Sontag, “is the cancer of human history.”

Today, the men we were taught to revere as the great captains, explorers, missionaries and nation-builders are seen by many as part of a racist, imperialist, genocidal enterprise, wicked men who betrayed and eradicated the peace-loving natives who had welcomed them. What they blindly refuse to see is that while its sins are scarlet, as are those of all civilizations, it is the achievements of the West that are unrivaled. The West ended slavery. Christianity and the West gave birth to the idea of inalienable human rights. As scholar Charles Murray has written, ninety-seven percent of the world’s most significant figures and ninety-seven percent of the world’s greatest achievements in the arts, architecture, literature, astronomy, biology, earth sciences, physics, medicine, mathematics, and technology came from the West.

What is disheartening is not that there are haters of our civilization out there, but that there seem to be fewer defenders. Of these icon-smashers it may be said: Like ISIS and Boko Haram, they can tear down statues, but these people could never build a country. What happens, one wonders, when these Philistines discover that the seated figure in the statue, right in front of D.C.’s Union Station, is the High Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Christopher Columbus?

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from Mr. Buchanan. The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

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6 replies to this post
  1. This is very easy to understand. They hate us, Just like the Pharisees hated Jesus Christ. Its the same mean theology.

  2. It’s the age of righteousness, everybody gets to pontificate, if they wish, but there is a strain in the electorate that oozes arrogance, carefully cultivated in the media and higher education[?], it ignores the mainstays of our culture and political history. These are the people who hold our traditions and Constitution in arrogant contempt. We all pay the price, and it will get worse.

  3. You deplore the fact that the statues of great men are removed from the public sphere because of their slave ownership: “Old Hickory was a slave owner and Indian fighter … Jackson, and James K. Polk, who added the Southwest and California to the United States after the Mexican-American War, were slave owners, so, too, were four of our first five presidents.” However, you almost mention that “The achievements of the West that are unrivaled. The West ended slavery,” as a proof of the greatness of Western civilization.

    These statements are contradictory. These fathers of America that are facing the scrutiny of modern day supported slavery. According to your words at the end of this article, slavery contradicted the aims of Western Civilization. In fact, the Civil War itself was a struggle over states’ rights to determine whether or not they could maintain legal slavery (see further studies of how the Kansas-Nebraska act and the Missouri Compromise of 1820 were catalysts for the Civil War. I don’t know how to link articles in Discus, but its a fast google search). Even if all the Confederate soldiers were not slave owners, the Civil War was fought over the right to continue slavery.

    I can’t speak to the diverse motivations of people who are trying to tear down the statues of Confederate generals, etc, but I would hazard a guess that they believe that slavery was wrong and we should not publicly honor men who risked their lives to defend the legal degradation of others. After all, the way we remember the past speaks hugely of our cultural values.

    You can still honor the bravery of your great-grandad, without agreeing to all the aims of the Confederacy. I agree with you on that. However, a mass public history project (such as a statue) isn’t able to go into the nuances of historical figure. They mostly stand in for ideology. In this case, we will never be able to get around the fact that the Confederacy fought to maintain legal slavery. And it sounds like you agree with the people tearing down the statues that slavery is bad and not something to celebrate.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article.

    All the best,
    MC

  4. Thank you for your impassioned and thoughtful post. Although I appreciate your reverence for past greatness, and I don’t want to be flippant about the vicissitudes of history, these men did defend and participate in a horrendous genocide, and those who are descended from slaves have every reason to seek the removal of such valourizing monuments. I am sympathetic to your worry that this will lead to the destruction of massive numbers of other memorials as well — I’m not sure what to do about that — but as a believer in the lordship of Jesus, I am compelled to hold lightly the honor I give any human being, even George Washington. Subordinate to my identity in Christ is my American heritage, which is a mixed bag, and I have many fellow citizens whose ancestors never lived comfortably with public reverence for these men, since they carry the living memory of slavery and segregation in their families. These Americans love their country, too, but are willing to name heinous wrongs that are often glossed over by people like you and me, and so they hold to great ideals present in our country even while critiquing men who developed it. Connecting to both my citizenship and my Christian faith, I am more persuaded that taking down the monuments is the right thing to do. In fact, I’m convinced that if white Christians took the lead on this, for the sake of Christ and the unity of his church, many of the racial divisions present in the Body would begin to heal, and the good news that the finished work of Christ on the cross would shine more brightly in our land because we would worship as a more reconciled people.

  5. “these men did defend and participate in a horrendous genocide” To what genocide do you refer? I would like you to explain that, Nate.

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