The perpetually offended are at the gate once again, trying to dismantle culture, education, and the very fabric of history. This time their target is the Robert E. Lee statue in the Lee Park of Charlottesville, Virginia, a statue over which supporters and opponents of its removal from the park clashed last Tuesday at a press conference called by Vice Mayor Wes Ballamy of Charlottesville.
President Rick Turner of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP chapter explained why the city should remove the statue:
On a change.org petition, high-schooler Zyahna Bryant terms the statue “very offensive,” explaining that “Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives.” This same change.org petition has a grand total of 681 signatures at the time of publication, a tiny number when compared with the over 8,000 likes amassed by a Facebook page in favor of preserving the statue.
The entire debate, however, is founded on the false premise that statues exclusively “celebrate,” “glorify,” or “romanticize” history. Do these words sound familiar to you? They should, as they are consistently used by vexatious agenda-pushers in pursuit of a didactic moral and cultural authority. These social justice warriors use language as a framing weapon. By saying statues “celebrate” history, they subtly cast defenders of history into defenders of the individuals contained within it.
But this is a straw man argument. In contemporary society, the primary purpose of statues is to preserve memory, and not merely the good parts of the past, but those of most importance. The censorious irritants attempting to strip Lee from history exclusively mold the general as some kind of big boogeyman representing slavery and black suppression. But don’t let these mendacious clowns fool you. In a response to an 1856 speech by President Franklin Pierce, Lee said, “there are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.” The general believed in emancipation, albeit a slow one.
But Lee’s attitude toward slavery is barely even relevant. Whatever your stance on Lee as a moral individual may be, there is no denying his significance in America’s history; if statues “glorify” anything, it is the preservation of what we must remember.
The tendencies of the finger-wagging führers of the progressive left toward revisionism are disconcerting on a larger scale. Censorship is a very slippery slope. Much of history is, to borrow from SJW vocabulary, “problematic.” Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia’s very founder, was a slave-owner and believed blacks to be more musically talented than whites and to have a memory equal to whites, but thought blacks were less rational, imaginative, beautiful, and unequal in love. These are certainly morally and rationally indefensible positions nowadays. But “nowadays” is the key word. Jefferson’s actions and beliefs were the norm in his own era.
If Charlottesville removes the Lee statue, future generations of UVA students may wake up to find that campus social justice activists have discarded Thomas Jefferson and adopted a new university founder. The petition to remove the Lee statue insists “it doesn’t represent what charlottesville [sic] is all about.” Well, neither does Jefferson! I vote adopting a new, more progressive university founder. Anyone before Emancipation is certainly out, but I also want he/she/xe/xir to be precisely 71.6% white, 12% Asian, and 6% black, just like the school’s demographics, so as to most equitably and inclusively represent what the university is all about.
Sarcasm aside, beware these grievance merchants. They are simultaneously ludicrous and lethal, pathetic and prophetic of a generation of mollycoddled snowflakes whose penchant for being triggered by the innocuous and the simply stupid leaves them all too trigger-happy when it comes to anything that violates their “safe space.”
The University of Virginia’s student newspaper recently published an op-ed supporting the removal of the Lee statue from Lee Park. In the piece, the editorial board advised moving the statue to a museum, which it claims will permit people “to recognize what happened without publicly honoring it.”
But moving the statue to a museum diminishes the statue’s visibility and is thus a subtle, insidious form of censorship and historical revisionism. Fewer people will visit the museum than walk or drive past the park. Fewer people will learn the vital history of Robert E. Lee, both “good” and “bad.”
When contemplating history, however, this age-old maxim is even more important: “he who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.” Sure, high-schooler Bryant claims the history is still in the textbooks. But how long before SJWs demand that this, too be expunged, like criminal justice students who protest learning rape law at Harvard and other colleges?
Rob Shimshock is a University of Virginia student and satirist. He has been called “cheeky and insubordinate” by Milo Yiannopoulos and “like a little cat…very delicate and cute” by a Canadian fan. Follow him on Twitter (@ShimshockAndAwe) for mischief, sarcasm, and truth.