What about Stone Mountain?
If you've ever seen the Stone Mountain carving by Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson in Georgia, you will never forget it. I saw it as a boy, had no idea what it meant or a lot of knowledge about the trio it celebrated, but it came to my mind like few websites I've ever seen. It is the largest bas relief in the world. The scale can only be registered if you see it in person. Nothing is comparable in this country, except maybe Mount Rushmore.
My friend and chief Rich Lowry writes that conservatives should not care about the fate of Confederation monuments because it was an evil thing led by traitors to their nation. I have been a Yankee for generations who has never felt an emotional investment in the South cause. But on what principle should Confederate monuments be removed from their public places while the most remarkable and gigantic representation of all remains? If we agree with the argument that any public work that the Confederation celebrates is a celebration of slavery and that works that celebrate the slavery should (at best) be removed from public places and locked in museums, with the appropriate instruction, them in their right context, shouldn't we agree with Stacey Abrams who argued in 2017 that Lee, Jackson and Davis' pictures should be blown up from Stone Mountain's face? That may make us a bit Taliban-like, but at least we would be Talibanning for anti-racism.
Not all of the slopes are slippery, but the one we are on is a surface of ice covered with an oil slick and shaken by seismic activity. Giving room to mobs to destroy them rarely soothes them; instead it makes you hungry. Once you've signaled that the mob is morally justified, you may be ignored if you whistle and say, "That's enough, folks." Shortly after Rich published his column, demonstrators tore down a statue of George Washington and burned an American flag in Oregon.
Rich believes that Confederate statues should not be removed by angry mobs, but lawfully and through appropriate procedures. That is, the death penalty should be achieved through medical injection rather than bloody guillotine. The end result is not much different. As soon as the season is open to monuments, every man made of marble or granite has reason to tremble. Statues of Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, and Pennsylvania abolitionist Matthias Baldwin were all attacked.
Rich and others make the difference that Americans whose fame is based solely on treachery and who represent the morally wrong side in the most morally destructive war in our history should be denied statues and other public honors. Since we agree with our friends on the left, and even the rebellious mobs, that Lee and the other Confederates have betrayed their country, we should agree that these statues must fall, albeit cautiously instead of rebelliously.
But the crime that the Confederates are responsible for in the eyes of the crowd is not a betrayal; "Rebel", "transgressive" and "iconoclasm" are the highest compliments on the left. If you tear down statues of George Washington while burning the American flag, don't think of loyalty to the United States. No, the Confederate crime that is unspeakable today was racism, not betrayal. This is the same crime that Washington, Jefferson, Churchill, Gandhi, Columbus and many other historical figures can be (fairly) accused of. Three quarters of Mount Rushmore are stained with his sculptor - the same artist who was originally commissioned to sculpt Stone Mountain.
But racism is so intertwined with our history that there is simply no escape. If we have to confirm our opposition to racism and slavery by removing all the numbers associated with these evils, we cannot stop until the Washington and Jefferson monuments are torn down, or at least renamed. We cannot stop until most of the early presidents are removed from the currency, their statues are preserved, and all the places named after them have been renamed. How does it make sense to remove a statue of Columbus in Columbus, Ohio? Which of these awards is more visible and therefore more offensive - a single piece of stone or the name of the capital of Ohio? All places named after Columbus, from the capital Ohio to the District of Columbia to the Ivy League University in Upper Manhattan, would also have to be renamed.
There would be such a cacophony of sandblasting, removal, and rewriting from coast to coast that we would all soon be overwhelmed by the scope of the project. At this point, there would be a collective feeling that all of this was foolish. We would all pause and realize that no matter how satisfying it may be to pretend that we have the power to explain the first year, none of these revisionist acts will do anything about the underlying fact, that is a lot of it gives racism in American history.
You may see the Steinberg carved either terribly great or terribly terrific, but the size of it tells us something about ourselves and our past. How can it be that these men were recently considered heroes? Relief was not completed until the civil rights revolution was in full swing. Just to add a shocking insult to the whole dirty saga: it opened in 1965 to mark the 100th anniversary of the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
After all, the Stone Mountain Memorial is just a speech, albeit a speech in the service of moral outrage. The answer to misguided language should be more language, corrective language. As Rich says, these monuments deserve "re-evaluation," and they are. It is in full swing. The Stone Mountain Memorial and other Confederate monuments are an opportunity today to teach our children racism. If we remove them, future generations will hardly understand how powerful and enduring racist iconography was, how much the leaders of the South were connected to the lost cause a century later. We should be brave enough to face our collective past instead of sweeping it under the carpet.
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