Battle of the Statues

As everyone save the most hermit-like will know, these United States are extremely divided just at the moment. At the conclusion of an administration whose most iconic moment was — for this writer, anyway — an executive order penalising public schools that did not allow boys-who-decided they were-girls to use girls’ bath- and locker rooms, there was as nasty a presidential election as there has been in my time. To a degree few of the victor’s opponents wanted to admit, the man with the orange hair was propelled into the White House to a large degree by what had gone before. Added to the economic woes of the lower and middle classes — and their dislike of what they perceived as cheap labour coming from beyond the Rio Grande — was the sheer rate of societal change imposed upon them by their masters in the White House, the Judiciary, and the media. Much of it was the constant trumpeting of sexual identity issues — in the Boy Scouts; in the military; and at last in the very nature of marriage itself. Those who preferred the customs and mores they had inherited were characterised by the major news outlets as “bigots” and “haters.” By bestowing quasi-ethnic group status upon a kind of behaviour — in this case a sexual practise — the ruling elites were able to dub this particular tribe’s struggles for recognition as analogous to the civil rights campaigns of blacks and others. Indeed, on the very day Mr. Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote erecting same-sex marriage as the law of the land, the Southern Poverty Law Centre issued a cartoon which they apparently felt summarised the situation concretely: it depicted the Confederate Battle Flag waving, being lowered, and then replaced by a gay rainbow flag flying proudly. Effective as the SPLC may be as an extortion racket, it leaves a lot to be desired as a smooth propaganda mill. If they really meant to cast our current civil war by stealth in those terms, they were sowing dragon’s teeth.

Now it is important to understand that the network of Confederate statues and monuments across the country (not surprisingly centred in the South) mean different things to different people. For the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, they are proud reminders of the struggles of their forbears in the Lost Cause. For Klansmen and Neo-Nazis, they are cherished reminders of White Supremacy. For the League of the South and the Councils of Conservative Citizens, they are inspirations for further struggle. To the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, they are tributes to their own ancestors’ gallant though vanquished foes. To many blacks, they are reminders of the institutionalised injustice of Jim Crow and legal Segregation; therefore, removing them becomes a necessary completion of the Civil Rights Movement, although polls indicate that a slim majority of blacks do not favour removal (the same polls show the rest of Americans far more opposed). For some very nationalist Americans, the Confederates were traitors pure and simple, to whom no honours should be given. For a relative few (e.g., the SPLC and New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose actions in removing his city’s Confederate memorials came on the heels of a $70,000,000 squabble with the firemen’s pension fund), the statues conflict offers unique personal opportunities. And there are still others who simply see this issue as a means of punishing a section of the country that has not gone along with the above changes as quickly or as happily as they ought. Others such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter see the unfolding events as openings for their causes.

Alongside the Confederate issue — and to some degree stimulated by it — stands the pre-existing Columbus affair. Where traditional historiography saw Columbus as the heroic navigator whose effort resulted in European settlement of the Americas, with concomitant importations of religion, technology, and agriculture (which latter trade was definitely two-way), to say nothing of this writer’s ancestors and those of most of his readers, there is a relatively new view about him. Originating with the Indigenist ideology of AIM and such writers as Vine Deloria in the 1960s, this view sees Columbus as a villain who opened up four centuries of genocide. Defending the statues and holiday dedicated to him are such as the National Christopher Columbus Association and the Knights of Columbus; wishing to tear down the former and rename the latter “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” are such as the International Indian Treaty Council and sundry local governments from Berkeley to Vermont. But to accept Indigenism, one would have to believe, contrary to fact, that a) the American Indians lived in perfect harmony with each other and nature prior to Columbus; b) Christ and His Church are unnecessary for Salvation; and c) modern American Indians would be far better off without Western technology, medicine, and education. These three realities, I hasten to add, do not lessen the real crimes committed against the Indians — especially when such crimes deflected their victims from conversion.

The aforementioned historical personages are not the only figures under attack or slated for such. Whatever his other failings or strengths, President Trump’s observation in the wake of Charlottesville that such agitation would not stop with the Confederates, but would go on to others has been proved correct. There have been calls for Washington’s and Jefferson’s statues to be toppled, because they were slave holders; for the Chicano memorial in San Diego to come down; a bust of Lincoln has been attacked in Chicago (though whether it was motivated by the Great Emancipator’s racism and belief that American blacks should be sent to Liberia is unknown); and statues of Ss. Louis, Joan of Arc, and Junipero Serra vandalised. There are calls in New York City to pull down Peter Stuyvesant’s statues there for his alleged “anti-Semitism.” One wonders if Los Angeles’ statues of Benito Juarez and Pancho Villa can be far behind.

This writer has several considerations to offer; before doing so, however, he must also admit that he has several chips on his shoulder. For starters, my paternal family are French-Canadian, and have been on this continent since the 17th century (as my father used to joke, “one of our differences from the Anglos is that ALL of our ladies could be Colonial Dames!”). Because of the Anglo-American conquest of my ancestors in 1759, we have had to use — especially in the United States — an alien language constantly. Now, were I to use much of the rationale going around to-day, my views on this topic would run thusly: since the New England Puritans were our ancestral enemies, any reminder of them — such as the iconic Roger Conant statue in Salem and American Thanksgiving Day — must go. Since the French and Indian War which ended in that terrible conquest was quite literally started by George Washington — he too must go. But as our defeat in that war was in great part due to the desertion by most of our Indian allies after Montcalm ordered them to stop scalping, torturing, or murdering British prisoners (as a result of the famed Fort William Henry massacre, immortalised in Last of the Mohicans), no statues or celebrations for them! Now, one of the major reasons for the American Revolution was King George III’s gracious granting to my ancestors of the Quebec Act, which gave us our freedom, religion, language, and laws — and was denounced in the Declaration of Independence: good-bye Fourth of July, and thousands of statues and monuments, not least Forest Lawn’s Court of Freedom! When we came to New England, where we were called the “white N-words,” everything in Church and State was dominated by the Irish, who treated us very poorly indeed. So at the very least, down with all the JFK memorials. Do not think that the misery we have endured since the fall of New France and Louisiana is a small thing! Despite our proud culture and heritage that we have maintained over two and a half centuries of alien rule, we are not merely a minority, but one that no one even thinks about south of the Canadian border. What could be worse!

But it would be small minded of me to keep such thought patterns to my own people. When attending the Los Angeles City Council’s debate on Columbus Day, I could not help but think that this decision by the Council was ironic. The councilmen are members of a government imposed upon the city by conquest in 1847, as commemorated by the monument on Fort Moore Hill — where the American commander placed his guns and threatened to blow the little pueblo to smithereens if the Californios did not surrender. The City Hall building itself, architectural beauty though it be, conceals a dark secret: it was intended to be the depot for German dirigibles like the Hindenburg (hence the red beacon light on its top) — and the ironically named Tom Bradley Tower Room is where the Nazi passengers would have disembarked. Having proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, if the City Council do not resign en masse in protest over their own governmental origin after ordering the building’s demolition, they are worthless hypocrites. If you are a devout Republican or Democrat, agitate for the closure and/or removal of all the opposing party’s presidential homes, libraries, museums, and tombs. Are you an enemy of FDR? Call for the razing of all surviving New Deal constructions, down to the lowliest WPA mural! Hate the GOP? Plough the Interstates under (they were inspired by Hitler’s autobahns anyway), and campaign for the return of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Marianas to Spain — their seizure was truly one of our most unjust land-grabs, comparable to seizing Hawaii and Samoa. As a devotee of Bl. Charles of Austria, you can guess my view of World War I memorials.

That is certainly one way of looking at things, and an increasingly popular one, thanks to media, so-called education, and many of our governmental bodies, from town, city, county, and state, to even some federal segments of the regime. It does make one feel good about oneself, and that feeling is increased by appearing to be revenge for one’s aggrieved ancestors. But in a nation with as mixed a population and muddied a past as ours, it is a recipe for division and disaster.

One of the things that always impressed me about the history of this country is how rapidly we managed to recover from the bloody division of the Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of the Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression — call it what you please, so long as you bear in mind that more Americans died in it than in all of our other conflicts combined. In most countries, such a thing would remain an open festering wound, as in Bosnia or Ulster. But fifty years after the Battle of Gettysburg, the 1913 reunion there featured old Rebels charging down the hill, re-enacting Pickett’s charge. Their old antagonists awaited them at its foot, but greeted them literally with open arms. My earliest memories coincide with the closing years of the Civil War Centennial, when the hallmark was praise of the valour on both sides, and gratitude that that division was over. Apart from the British capital’s statues of Charles I and Cromwell, Quebec’s Wolfe-Montcalm monument, and the Habsburgs’ tolerance of statues of Kossuth and other Hungarian revolutionaries, one would be hard put to find anywhere in the world such an example of national reconciliation. It is unconscionable that that wound has been reopened.

That said, it must also be remembered that Jim Crow was a horrible thing. It is not simply that it denied civil rights to thousands of Americans; it denied their talents to the country as a whole. To be fair, there were echoes of it in the North — my father’s own involvement in the Civil Rights issue was initially sparked by the New York Waldorf-Astoria hotel’s then-policy of allowing blacks in the lobby but not in the bars or restaurants. Even here in Monrovia, California, where this writer lives, the municipal swimming pool had separate days for blacks, whites, and Mexicans. Yet despite Jim Crow, during that era blacks built across the country a network of institutions — churches, businesses, newspapers, stores, colleges, and so on; there developed both a black middle class and aristocracy. More importantly, there and then lived four of the six black American candidates for beatification. But always, there was the racial issue and the question of “passing.” This is an easy history for whites to either forget or not know.

It must, however, also be remembered that Jim Crow itself arose (against the opposition of such heroes as Rodolphe Desdunes and Homer Plessy) after Reconstruction — and that phenomenon must itself be understood in order to comprehend Jim Crow. Although Abraham Lincoln had desired to reunite the country as quickly and as painlessly as possible (“with charity toward all, with malice toward none…”), the Radical Republicans were resolved to make the South pay. One of the things done was to deprive all white males who had served the Confederate government — including in the armed forces — of civil rights. This meant that that not only could they not vote, they were unable to testify in court and so could not press charges if robbed or attacked. The result was predictable — the majority of the Southern white population were deprived of any legal recourse, and the crime rate against them skyrocketed. The response on the part of some was the Ku-Klux-Klan, a group of Southerners had approached Robert E. Lee to found it; he declined and recommended Nathan Bedford Forrest. He accepted; but while willing to command a paramilitary group protecting defenceless whites from black criminals, Forrest had led black troops during the war. When the organisation turned anti-black, he angrily resigned. Ironically, the KKK became anti-Catholic as well — given the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau in luring Southern black Catholics into protestant sects during Reconstruction.

Both Generals Forrest and Beauregard saw the hope of the South in racial reconciliation; Beauregard in the Unification Movement, and Forrest with the Independent Order of Pole Bearers. Most of their fellow ex-Confederate leaders were not so advanced; but when Reconstruction finally ended in its last strongholds by the mid-1870s, a gentleman’s agreement was established. In return for their own civil rights, the white Southern leadership would guarantee that blacks would retain theirs. This would be the case for a few years. But when the generation of whites came to power that remembered only Reconstruction, Jim Crow was born. As a result, such issues as States Rights and Literacy Tests for voting became mixed up with the racial issue — to the loss of everyone.

Nevertheless, that was then, this is now — even as with my own people’s conquest. What are we to make of it all? For starters, as just mentioned, the pulling down of Confederate monuments may make some of us feel better — but it can only anger and annoy a lot of people who value their own version of their own past as much as the rest of us do ours. By characterising them all as racists and bigots, racism and bigotry are thereby legitimised — especially when non-racists and non-bigots do nothing. Moreover, by casting the struggle in such stark terms as the SPLC has — “progressives,” gay rights activists, and pro-aborts versus Neo-Confederates — the urge to extremism becomes ever greater. Antifa beating up peaceful demonstrators one day ensures said demonstrators may well be armed on another.

There is, of course, another path. Just as this writer realises the various statues and days he could feel entitled to attack mean different things to others than they do to him — so for us all. Every statue to a victor or a loser necessarily illustrates the old saw about “one man’s hero” being another man’s traitor. Let us simply accept the fact that part of the price of being an American is tolerating histories that we do not like. Rather than tearing down statues let us build more of them. Just to touch on our least remembered Americans, here are some blacks: Ven. Pierre Toussaint, Ven. Henriette Delille, Mother Mary Lange, Fr. Augustus Tolton, Julia Greeley, Rodolphe Desdunes, Homer Plessy, Daniel Rudd, Benjamin Banneker, Zora Neale Hurston, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, the 89 Black Congressional Medal of Honor Winners, Colonel Titus Tye, Stephen Blucke, Richard Pierpoint, Harry Washington, Juan Francisco Reyes, Augustin Metoyer, Biddy Mason, and the Founders of the Knights of Peter Claver; and some Indians: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Black Elk, Massasoit, King Philip, Powhatan, Pontiac, Tecumseh, Osceola, Chief Joseph, Geronimo, Black Hawk, Stand Watie, Captain Jack, Sequoyah, Joseph Brant, and Sitting Bull. Did every American know these figures — and his own — we would be a far stronger and happier country. But this is a matter of improving the present and the future — not atoning for the past.

As an example, although the memory of the Slave Trade is often used to-day as a club with which to beat Europeans in both the Mother Continent and the Settler Countries, it is a good opportunity to remember two things. Europeans bought the slaves, to be sure; but Africans sold them, as Zora Neale Hurston so powerfully reminds us in Dust Tracks on a Road. Secondly, God brings good out of evil. Without that dark chapter in human history, there would be no blacks in the Western Hemisphere, and not a single black person you know would ever have been born. A world without jazz and the blues, without the holiness of St. Martin de Porres, the science of George Washington Carver, the music of Billie Holiday, or the scholarship of Booker T. Washington — in sum, a much poorer world than we have now. And of course, for all our moral indignation about the past, slavery remains to-day. The same irony is true of the defeat of the Indians, the horrors of the coffin ships, the miseries of the sweatshops, the horrendous wars we have fought, and the occasional bloody repression of labour rights. By the same token, without the defeat of my ancestors at the Plains of Abraham, I would never have been born. We human beings are all the beneficiaries of past injustices and defeats, whether or not we want to acknowledge it. Charity, patriotism, and common sense all require that we forgive these past injustices to our fathers — at least in the degree to which we benefit from them.

But there is one last point to consider. All that has been said has implicitly accepted a universally held position — that we folk living to-day are morally fit to sit as judge and jury upon the past. Is this true? The vast majority of our ancestors, regardless of their politics or religion or place of origin or enmity toward each other, would rise as one and condemn our abortion, our perversion, and professed Godlessness (even the Supreme Court claimed this to be a “Christian country” in 1892). Moral midgets that we are, perhaps we ought to tread lightly when passing judgement upon the dead. But if we absolutely MUST judge those who came before, let us reflect that — as Catholic Americans — our fathers failed to evangelise this country, hence the disgusting state it is in. Sadly, if we want the right to put ourselves above them, we must attempt to succeed where they failed.