Korner: Virtue Signalling


James continues to offer fresh, Centrist thinking on the social issues that we all grapple with.  Sports Is Life :- )


An announcer named Robert Lee is being dropped from ESPN's broadcast of some upcoming college game (involving U.Va, I think) because of the similarity to General Robert E. Lee's name. I'm as much for obliterating Confederate monuments as anybody, I believe, but this seems a tad of an overreach. My question is whether you  think the statistical record for former Angels reliever Bob Lee will remain in baseball.reference.com.
Asked by: SGoldleaf

Answered: 8/23/2017
 Well, first we have to get rid of everybody named "Jefferson" or "Davis"; they've all got to go.   Pitcher Zach Duke combines the names of a Confederate general (Zachariah Deas) and a modern Ku Klux Klan leader, so I'd say he's got to go quick.  I personally am planning to protest any game that he pitches in.   Anybody named "Wallace". . . .outta here.   That comedian named George Wallace. . . how is he getting by with that?   
The fundamental flaw in the logic of cleansing the past is that it promotes the belief that we are better people than those of the past.   We're not.   I am not a better person than Thomas Jefferson, because I am not a slave holder and I recognize the evil of racism.   I am not a better person than Robert E. Lee, and frankly, neither are you.   You are PRETENDING to be a better person than Robert E. Lee.   You are promoting yourself as a more enlightened, more advanced person than those horrible racists of the past.   It's [baloney]. You are NOT better than they were; we are not better than they were.


Another way I'd say the same thing is this:

Suppose in 200 years, George and Jane Jetson looked back on the year 2017.  And they chuckled, "Can you believe those people drank lattes while children starved in the other hemisphere?"  Would we want the Jetsons to then invalidate EVERYTHING we ever said ON ANY TOPIC, tear down our statues, and purge us from human memory?

The question for humanitarians today is less, "Do they drink lattes?," and more "Are they ahead of the curve in their own time?"  A lot of 17th-19th century American leaders were well ahead of their own societal curves on humanitarianism.  Without a doubt our founding documents were so.






Yup. I tried in vain over his teenage and young adult years to get my son to see the folly of judging people from the past by modern standards.

Verily it is said, in the same way you judge others you will be judged. Good luck to those who judge with absolute harshness and no grace. I gotta go read me some Romans 2.


(1) If true, I find the choice to not let Robert Lee broadcast silly at best.  Frankly, I see it as damaging on a small stage, but damaging nonetheless.

(2) DaddyO I share your concern that judging the past through the narrow and comfortable prism of today is dangerous.

(3) A monument isn't a documentary, a monument is a celebration.  I do not see a problem using today's values to determine how we celebrate our history.  In my mind, Robert E. Lee is clearly on the wrong side of history and I am not enthusiastic about celebrating his 'achievements'.

(4) The University of Texas didn't drop it's confederate monuments to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico or grind them up and make them into concrete -- they are being moved to the Briscoe Center for American History.  Here is what the University of Texas president Fenves had to say:

“The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history,” Fenves said Sunday. “But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres.”

"We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus," he added.

Quotes from ABC news: http://abcnews.go.com/US/university-texas-removes-confederate-statues-ov...



Dr Kelly!   Great to hear from you. :-) I see it takes a Korner to draw a comment -

That's all well stated IMHO.  And I'm sure your intent is merely that you approve of statements against authentic racism.  I also value anti-racism statements that are coming from a place of goodwill and humanitarianism.  +1


Would honestly take a broader view of monuments than that.   Many are there for celebration, such as the Statue of Liberty and Washington Monument.  But the dictionary definition does indeed emphasize that they mark places of major historical interest, such as war memorials and cemeteries.   For me they have always emphasized the factor of simple memory.  

Monuments are most fundamntally memorials.  Few here would begrudge the Japanese their statues honoring World War II figures who fought bravely.  Robert E. Lee was a rather major figure in American history.  If he's Hitler, sure, purge him.  He wasn't.  James' point is precisely that UT students cannot pretend to being better iverall human beings than Lee was.


University Presidents are aware that  no one puts slavery on a pedestal. But you don't remain President long if you don't prove hair-trigger responsiveness to the "micro-aggression industry."  Which of course wishes to frame the societal race debate in terms of guilt symbols.

Hence the James remarks about the self-superiority of those on historical purge crusades.


I agree with your memorial comment, but I suspect we see history differently -- I do not mean in the details, which surely we see differently, but rather what history is in general. 

I see history as a process of down selection from the innumerable events of time to those events that tell a purposeful narrative.  To me Confederate memorials tell a narrative with intent and purpose.  The narrative being that the South was the victim of an overreaching and domineering North.  That the Civil War was fought in self-defense -- hence the War of Northern Aggression.  I see these momunents as a repudiation of Northern hegemony and a justification for the Civil War.  I support the repudiation of Northern hegemony, but monument in defense of those that fought a war for the right to defend slavery is too far for me.

I realize that many thoughtful and intelligent people see the removal of Confederate memorials and monuments as an attempt to forget our history, but that does not ring true to me.  We are chosing how we tell our history, and to my eyes a Robert E. Lee monument presents an imbalanced and distorted narrative.  I see it akin to erecting a monument of Joseph McCarthy in Milwaukee when the Berlin Wall came down to commemorate his 'tough on communism' stance of the late 40's and early 50's. 


Trump's smart play on this was to make the argument about slave-holding...rather than fighting against the United States government. The latter is why the statues should come down.  They equate--at best--to Benedict Arnold.

Or put another way, why pretend to be better than Robert E. Lee...when you already know you're better than Donald Trump?


What  a great response!

i am completely bothered by this Confederate  eradication effort.  Bamboozled, too.  To compare Robt. E. Lee to a modern Alt.-Right/Klan-ish/White Supremact movement is ludicrous.  Ditto Jefferson/Washington, etc.  there men were the cream of their nation, cultured. Well-read, educated, careful, etc. they would be the cream of their nation today!  

But they were products of their times, as well.  It you reduce every historical giant to whetherbthey were champions for some modern concept, well you pull down statues of them all!

FDR?  Didn't support same-sex marriage or integration of the military.  Off with his head!  Kennedy?  Diddled 19 year old interns!  

My own 19 year old daughter just texted me an image titled "America's Newest Monunent'" that shows a magnificent marble base with a pacifier on top.

That's where we are guys.  Discussing policy on its merits is a dying thing, at least as part of the national discourse.  


If the Japanese-American community wanted to erect a statue of Hirohito to honor the bombing of Pearl Harbor, would you be OK with that?

It's not about college campus snowflakes...it's not about slavery--at least a quarter inch below the surface.  It's about declaring war on the United States.


It was about defending the homeland. Young men go to war for country when the country is being attacked. Thousands of Southern patriots fought and died for their state. Each state sent units to battle, all under a localized banner usually.

It is natural for nations to honor the dead who fought to defend the homeland from invaders or occupiers. Those who do so, "simple" folk usually, aren't except in rare cases fighting for ideas, be it White Supremacy or A New Birth of Freedom, or even The Union. They are fighting to protect mom and pop, brother and sister, neighbors and communities. 

That, I believe, is what these statues laregely represent (although I am not sure why a border state like Kentucky has them).

This motive for going to battle is noble and timeless, regardless of what age we live in. Robert E Lee, btw, embodies this motive. Patriot love moved him to defend his beloved Virginia.

Beware the iconoclast. If we feel the need to be one, walk circumspectly. I personally believe more negro soldier statues are needed. They fought for freedom, another timeless virtue.


and I buy your argument.  Robert E. Lee was not the average Confederate soldier.  What I think you are speaking to is something like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial commemorating all the soldiers that gave their lives during the Vietnam war.  Robert E. Lee on a horse is more like a monument to General Westmoreland. 


Let me respectfully ask you a question. If society were to "progress" to the point that the views of PITA extremists prevailed, would you destroy monuments to everyone who ever killed a bug? Would you submit yourself unreservedley and without mitigating comment to future judgments? Would you want to invoke comments like, "I didn't know! It's just the way we looked at things back then."

Myself I don't think such a view is progress. But how do I know how history will judge it?

The question of slavery in history was viewed much the way we currently view killing bugs. It wasn't generally and seriously questioned. In our righteous indignation we tend to forget that.

(If the bug example doesn't cut it for you, how about the pain plants endure when harvested or cut down simply for our convenience and sustenance? How about any one who used whale oil to light a lamp? Any one who ever went to the zoo? The list could go on and on.)


Hey DaddyO, I really appreciate your role as a regular contributor to my favorite sports blog SSI.


Regarding the more general point, I expect to be judged in the future based on the quality of my choices.  I expect this judgment to be based on the needs and values of the time of judgment not the time of my choice.  There is much to be gained by considering the context of the past and how it influenced the choices of the past, but I see my obligations to the present and future to outweigh my loyalty to the past.


Regarding PITA and bugs, it looks like a strawman to me.  I doubt that was the intent, but I don't think I have anything constuctive to add to that line of questioning.  Sorry.


Regarding history and how we chose to remember and celebrate it.

The United States was slow to abolsih slavery, generations behind most of Europe.  This is fact.  I do not see any reason to whitewash this history and I see no reason to celebrate the leaders in our country that fought abolition and chose secession.  Commemorate the dead, all the dead North and South. Understand, as best we are able, why the Civil War happened (with plenty of blame to go around).  By why commemorate the leaders of the Confederate States of America?

The timeline of Confederate monuments and the flying of the Condederate flag is also interesting and a more modern phenomena than some readers here may be aware.  Flying the Confederate battle flag above the capitol in Columbia, South Carolina did not originate during reconstruction, but rather in 1961 in response to desegregation.  These symbols reflect a modern race relations within our country.  Yes, they embrace history and heritage, but they are also a symbol in support of segregation in our recent past.



Btown Bomber's picture

The vast majority of these monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era, and the monuments are often placed at locations that don't have any meaning for the civil war. Instead they were constructed in former slave auction places.  No monuments to lynching victoms are ever put up. There is still resistance to commemorating lynching sites and victoms across the South.  

Furthermore, there is no confederate nation. Why should it be culturally acceptable to allow a treasonous group of secionists to be thought of as heros? 

Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson's decendents have no issue with the statues being removed. The fact the KKK tried to burn a cross on top of Stone Mountain in the past month should help everyone realize who rallies most intensely behind these statues in public spaces. Freedom to enslave another human is not freedom. 

Like the confederate flag, the only appropriate place to view these statues is in a museum where it can be used for educational purposes. Anything else is gaslighting for racists and those who support racist causes.




If it can be demonstrated in some realistic, general way (as opposed to the imposition of a policy by the few on the many) that the community wants to remove statues because the original placement was a code for Jim Crow, then by all means do so. IF the community agrees.

Btown Bomber's picture

These are elected officials responsible to their local populations that agreed to remove the statues. It was an influx of outsiders with dubious motivations that came in to intimidate the locals out of following through with the removal.


Plus more than half of the confederate states have outlawed at a state level removing monuments, statues or renaming roads by local municipalities. This is the imposition of a policy by the few on the many. 


If the Japanese community wished to have monuments to all its past emperors -- as we have aircraft carriers named after all our Presidents -- then absolutely.

We can then follow up with other statements that we're not real happy about 7 Dec 41.


Perhaps Hirohito is in that special class for war crimes, with Hitler.  I'm not familiar with Hirohito's record plus and minus; Hitler was a true outlier, a man whose balance sheet was 99% evil - which is why he's the icon for evil.  

Personally I'm great with denying monuments to true villians.  The entire problem of course is that the next step is to declare Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, etc, "true villians" of world history.  If we could avoid that, then fine.

We could agree to eradicate one or two Confederate figures if sincere people really needed that.  Problem is, most of them have a LOT more historical figures coming next.


and moved on. I am still kind of befuddled by the whole thing; as if a guy gets to pick his own name?!?! His parents named him Robert and now, as an adult he's supposed to deal with societies renewed outrage. He has the same problem as Micheal Bolton in Office Space. ;-).  My 2nd son is due in 3 weeks and we're pretty set on a name, but maybe I better do a few google searches or 30 yrs from now my son will have to be asked to take another assignment. Sheeesh. 

Also, I get that Robert E. Lee was the leader of the confederate army, but 'the rest of the story' has Lee denouncing the C.Flag due to its devisiveness. He was the most honorable loser (maybe) in American history.  He understood that once the war was over, it was time to rebuild ALL of America. Infrastructure and relationships.  With that, I don't get 'tear them all down' sentiment. I love hearing rational speech like the President of the University of Texas at Austin (thanks Dr. Kelly!!). There needs to be a place to study and learn about the past, so we can find our place in the present. Those monuments are American history (ugly as some of it may be), there should be a place for them and I'm guessing with the proper permitting, contracting, and care they could be moved to a 'better' location. Destruction of things we don't like is weak. Go through the proper avenues and I'm SURE when you ask where to put the statues somebody's hand will come flying up. Then, find somewhere else to take the family vacation if its not your cup of tea. 

I am firmly on the left and I have found myself defending the left for any number of 'issues', but I will not defend and will even denounce those to the left of ME. Blocking free speech and tearing down monuments are failures and back steps. To my surprise, I am more of a centrist than I previously realized! So are most of the people I know on the right...

AND with my last name Adolf really rings nicely, but the wife assures me that is a firm NO. My only retort was, 'there won't be ANYone in class with the same name." It's still a hard no and with the ESPN story it probably HAS to be or some exec will pass over him NOT based on his work ethic. Double sheeeesh.


An African-American sportscaster, used to work for ESPN and now works for Fox, said what's really going down is that --- > ESPN wants to stay to the far left of TWITTER.  Which is itself of course far left.  ESPN couldn't bear the thought of left-wing SJW's writing memes about ESPN sending Robert Lee into Virginia, since ESPN itself dishes out such fare rather than eating it.

When their CEO said "we wanted to avoid the distraction" he meant "We didn't want to take a bunch of flak on Twitter, so we yanked the Asian Robert Lee from the Virginia game."


Also ironic is the fact that ESPN busts the NFL for not wanting the Colin Kaepernick "distraction" ... :- )  Then it gets 1% the shadow of such a distraction and throws its employee under the bus (forcing Lee to state that HE wanted off the UV game).


James' tweet was all time.  "I'd like to see the Onion parody THIS."


...actually was a descendent of Robert E. Lee or even named after him, what ESPN did would still be wrong.....


However you frame it, Robert E. Lee was, as Moe says, "the cream of (his) nation." He was not a man of ugly sentiment. Even the Union Army, despite opposing him to the death, highly respected him. Many Union generals regarded him as an honorable, noble, and principled man. 

Many in the South, even leaders, knew that slavery must be addressed. They just didn't want the solution imposed by the North. They saw the North imposing a solution on the South where they themselves would suffer no serious impact, while the economy of the South would be devestated. It's not exactly equivalent, but of similar impact would be deporting all US illegal aliens within a single month. It would bring down the economies of quite a few states.

To be sure, the South was on the wrong side of morality and history. The seedy origins and practice of slavery are reprehensible now. And the South was more than happy to prosper from it's exploitation. But slavery was not always viewed this way.

We know that it was the preaching of George Whitfield against English slavery that challenged Western society's alacritous toleration of it. And before that, the history of the world is one long episode of the practice of slavery by pretty much all nations and tribes. Given the opportunity, people would be enslaved. Wars would be fought, and the conquered would be plundered for slaves. Ancient Greece and Rome did it, and they were the flower of ancient Western Civilization. And slavery extended into Asia, and China, Africa, and South America as well. The reverberations of Whitfields preaching were still being worked out in the nineteenth century. We should acknowledge that but for the Civil War and Northern victory, it would have taken quite a long time for the South to recognize the error of it's ways.

Should we expunge all positive historical reference to Alexander, to Homer, to Archimedes, to Plato, to Aristotle, etc? Are the only ones worthy of our respect and honor those born in more enlightened times? Should we recognize that these meteors of history are highly regarded because in some way they bettered the world around them, many while themselves practicing slavery and even butchery.

Is slavery evil? Yes. Is racism evil? Yes. Is the recognition of HISTORY within it's context evil? No. It is instructive, and we must not celebrate everything about someone to celebrate something about them. Should we expunge John Kennedy because of his constant dalliances with ladies? For that matter, is every US politician in history to be judged by the more modern view of the dignity of women? That would pretty much eliminate anyone prior to the 20th century. Should we judge any king who lived prior to the Magna Carta by the modern perjorative view of kings as despots? Examples could be multiplied endlessly.

A man MUST be considered within the context of his time and place. Imagine if by some miracle the South had won? Would you have them remove a statue of Abraham Lincoln because they viewed him as a despot?

This is not simply a matter of framing. It is a matter of fairness. Why? Because some day WE will be judged by history, and the only reason we do not cringe is because, like our predecessors, we have no idea about what assumptions we now live by will be seen in the future as reprehensible.


Extremely well said DaddyO. I tend to agree with much of what you said above. I do take issue with one line, though.

You argue that many in the leadership of the south knew that slavery had to be dealt with. That may be anecdotally true, but, read the inaugural address of the vice president of the confederacy if you want to know what the central political basis for it was. In it, he states, in no uncertain terms, that the confederacy existed because they rejected the northern claim that blacks were equal under God with whites and that slavery was their natural state of being.

More broadly, I would say that the southern U.S. is a tragic story. I don't revile them...I feel sorry for them. Here's their history, in a nutshell:

They came to the new world a bit later than the New England immigrants and from a more diverse sampling of Europe. They had no unifying culture at first, except the love for agrarian life and a deep knowledge of the land. Immediately, their economy became dependent on agriculture, especially tobacco, cotton, fruit trees and grasses. The problem? That economy can never grow beyond a relatively thin support system. We humans learned long ago that farming cannot be the basis of an economic system that makes real progress.

Their solution...Their way toward affluence, was slavery. Free labor made it possible for proper land owners to increase their cultural clout and profit margins. In fact, on this false economic foundation, they built a palace of cards, becoming affluent dishonestly, and being the world's largest source of both tobacco and cotton. As their numbers grew, their economic model became more and more unsustainable and reliant on slavery.

So, you're a southerner who dislikes slavery but runs a farm in that economy. What do you do? Your choices are to fail and starve, move, or take slaves and struggle with your guilty conscience. The evidence suggests that most chose the latter option and then engaged in a spectacular effort to justify their actions. Through bad interpretations of the bible, through semantics over the meaning of men, through pseudoscientific racial nonsense...And they succeeded in convincing themselves and their progeny that this belief in the inferiority of the black man was their distinct cultural heritage. For the first time, that diverse, poor group of immigrants had a common purpose.

When the question of slavery finally came to a head, and the majority of Americans sided against them, they knew, deep down, that their way of life was doomed. It must have felt like a guillotine over their heads...the certainty that, if popular opinion shifted any more, their economy would collapse. From this feeling, and from the fact that the war was fought primarily on their land, and from the economic ruin that necessarily followed the abolition of slavery came their cultural connection with confederate iconography and their shared belief that theirs was a noble cause. A hopeless struggle for self-determination against a vastly more powerful foe.

They've now spent 150 years in grinding poverty...is it any wonder that many still romanticize their confederate past? They haven't taken the lesson...that an economy based on a lie will never endure. Instead, all they see is that they lost, and their home has never recovered.


Right Matt. I agree.

My words were not an attempt to justify the South, much less slavery. Many leaders knew that slavery was not a long term institution. They knew it had to be dealt with, I should have added the word "eventually." That is a true statement historically, at least from my reading. To be sure, there were many who were ready to fight to the death, some for the eternal rights of slaveholders, some for the right to effectively deal with the problem in due time and resist any Northern attempt to impose a solution that would destroy Southern economies while suffering no real injury themselves.

Let me be clear. Slavery is a terrible thing. Looking at it from my point of view as an educated American, every possible effort should be made to free slaves as quickly as possible.

And, as I said, it is definitely true that dealing with it would have taken much, much longer had the Civil War not taken place and the North achieved victory. 

Argument can be made about what to honor from the past, and how to honor it appropriately. My beef is with those who do what Doc called "virtue signalling," and who apply modern standards to people from the past.

The next thing to be torn down will be statues of George Washington, one of the truly great men of history, because he had slaves in a day where it was not looked at the way it is now or even during the Civil War in the North. The Jefferson Memorial should be destroyed. Any public reference to Franklin Roosevelt should be expunged except in some hidden museum with appropriate reprobations. Etc., etc., etc.

If you were born in the South in the 1840s, you would have proudly fought for the South and consideredd Robert E. Lee the most virtuous man on earth.


An interesting thought rereading my post. The very people who fought and died to end slavery (as opposed to just demonstrating against it) continued to honor the Virginian George Washington as the appropriate Father Of Their Country. If they did, why should we do differently? How do we know George Washington would not have fought on the side of the Confederacy? This shows how contorted such discussions can be when historical context is not given its proper emphasis.


I expressed doubt that there was widespread doubt about the slave economy in 1860...not today.

My post was intended to express what I believe is the source of the south's preoccupation with the civil war as a cultural touchstone that they'd be willing to fight for 150 years later. Trying to express sympathy to their plight.


Yes, logically, we would need to purge the Romans and Greeks from history.  Were the pyramids built with slave labor?  And so on.


Which is where James (and I) came in.  Are you and I truly superior to these historical figures?  The Q is where we are relative to our own societal curves.  Even if somebody's behind their own curve, as Pelosi and Trump may be, it doesn't mean we George Orwell 1984 them out of memory.


History is a journey. We would not be where we are today but for those who came before. Were we born into their time and place, we would have been viewed just as reprehensibly as those who came before. We should be grateful for those whose part in the journey is worthy of some respect even if all of their beliefs, actions, and efforts might not be viewed today as such.

To me this whole "respect history" is not carte blanche for truly evil men. It would be an interesting exercise to attempt to define by what rules this exception should be invoked. I read a book last year that completely refuted the rewrite of history that Hitler's Reich was imposed on an unwilling Germany. From original sources he shows it was not so. Even a cultured, respectable society is capable of being led down a bitter path. Clearly Hitler is not to be honored. But...BUT, many people who, were we to know them, we would think noble and honorable either supported or acquiesced to the Nazi state. It is a sobering truth that, were we born into Nazi Germany, we likely would be just like them. 

I say it again. By the measure with which you judge, you will be judged. You are not only a current judge over men from history, you are yet to be in the dock and subject to the judgments of men in the future. If you now deny men any sense of fairness to the time and place of their birth, consider whether you might feel differently if such a fairness were denied to you.


that touch on Virtue Signaling (vis-a-vis Frank Clark and the incessant stream of 'domestic violence is BAD, BAD, BAD STUFF!' every time an article focuses on him) as well as a guest post at a friend's blog regarding the US Civil War.  I *never* claim to know everything about a given subject, and I don't claim to know everything about Frnak Clark or the Civil War.  But I can, with modest effort, uncover dogma-busting truths via inquiry and I think it's important to consider those truths.

Truth #1: The North did not fight the US Civil War over slavery.  Neither did the south.  The best piece of evidence in support of this thesis comes from Honest Abe's own lips:

Honest Abe?

Truth #2: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."  Courtesy of George Santayana.  Recently I came to the USA for a couple months to deal with some personal matters, and while I was there I had to leave my wife and children at home in the Philippines.  While I was there, I could not once--not ONCE--recall the face of my year-and-a-half old son.  The rest of my family's faces were vivid, but it was like someone had hit the delete key on my boy's face in my memory warehouse.  Harrowing stuff.

The purpose of my retelling that little story is this: how are we supposed to remember history if we don't keep important symbols of it front and center?  How are we supposed to learn that slavery and racism are *EVIL* if, instead of discussing the reality of slavery and how it was perpetuated, we simply cover it all up and remove imagery/icons which *to some people* represent that horrible institution?  How are we to avoid another Civil War if we don't honestly, clearly, and rationaliy discuss how the first one came to be?  No more demagoguery, no moore vilification, no more moral condescension--if we want to avoid a conflict like the bloodiest one in our nation's history, we *HAVE* to speak honestly and openly about the REAL causes of the US Civil War (hint, it wasn't slavery--it was economics, much of which orbited the issue of slavery certainly, but only a couple percent of Southerners even OWNED slaves--why would the rank and file, outnumbered 4:1 by the North, send their best and brightest off to a war they knew they had extremely long odds to stalemate, let alone win?)

Gah, I'm getting worked up.  This issue infuriates me from about twelve different angles--and my forebears didn't come ot the USA until *after* the Civil War's conclusion!


First...I guess you could say the cause of the Civil War was federal government vs. states rights--but that was about slavery, right?  Or was there something else at play?

Second, I don't know anyone who's saying about slavery and the confederacy, "cover it all up."  It would be preposterous to try to erase that history (or any history). Isn't the transfer of those statues/images to museums quite a different thing?

BTW, on that note, the teaching of the history of the Third Reich in German schools today should be a model for all of us.


I'm not saying that by moving some statues from one podium to another that people are erasing history--I'm saying that we haven't conducted an honest, national conversation about the US Civil War.  We're 'erasing' our history by refusing to even acknowledge the complexity and nuance of the situation, and we're reinforcing that error (at least partially) by acquiescing to the current social pressures originating from the Far Left regarding Confederate monuments.

I do agree that the Third Reich (and Mein Kampf!) should be required education, front to back, comprehensively examined, during Western primary school.  There are so many patently bad ideas collected in Hitler's manifesto that just going through and refuting them would improve society's collective critical thinking skills by an order of magnitude.  All I'm arguing is that the same should occur for the teaching of the US Civil War.

How many people know what the cotton gin was?  I'm guessing the denizens of this site will, as usual, be well above average in the knowledge of such things, but how many people walking the street knew the cotton gin's impact on the economic conditions of the South pre-Civil War?  How many people know that, in the early 1800's, it wasn't morality or ethical righteousness which served as the catalyst to free the slaves, but rather it was industrial automation which made slave labor non-competitive with horses, oxen, combines, threshers, and the skilled laborers which put this improved agricultural machinery to work?  Once it was no longer economically viable to employ slaves in the growth-and-harvest of corn, rice, and wheat (Northern agricultural products), the North did the obvious thing: they (largely) abandoned slavery (though 10% of the USA's slaves were still in the North at the Civil War's outset).

Why isn't this taught in primary school?  I'm serious.  Why doesn't EVERYONE know that automation was the final domino which freed the North's slaves--and, perversely, it was automation of another stripe (the cotton gin) which kept slavery economically viable in the South's primary agricultural crop for several decades after it was no longer profitable to own slaves in the North?

Seriously, look up things like the Morrill Tariff.  Look up how tariffs like it squeezed the lifeblood out of poor Southerners while largely leaving the wealthy Southern plantation owners unaffected (since many of them made full-time residence in New York!).  Look up the relative populations of the North and South at the Civil War's outset--then look up how much of the Federal Government's annual budget was funded by import duties and tariffs on goods going to, and coming from, the South.  Then look up what happened with that money (hint: the South's tax monies didn't get invested in developing the South at a rate commensurate with the total of their payments...it went into developing the North's infrastructure.)

Why can't we be honest, clear, and rational about this incredibly complex and important moment in our nation's history?  More importantly, why couldn't we just follow Great Britain's example and buy all the slaves from their owners?  The cost of doing so would have been a tiny fraction of the cost of the Civil War, which any half-reasonable person could have seen at the time.

Gah, there I went again.


You obviously have deep knowledge here.

On your point concerning 'automation', I think it's also pertinent that the Union's great advantages in the latter half of the war was also technology-related: the use of the telegraph for coordination, and the much wider expansion of rail lines to transport troops rapidly. The South could not compete on that playing field.

The most intriguing element of your explanation is the dicotomy between poor white southerners and the plantation owners.  It is (I think) pretty widely accepted that while poor southern whites were 'free', the living conditions for many were not substantially better than black slaves.  Which makes it unclear exactly what elements of the Confederacy they were willing to lay down their lives for.  

I'm assuming some version of Goebbels' famous rationale to the German people that they needed to invade nearby countries because they themselves were about to be attacked.

(One statistical note: isn't it true that some estimates of Southern slave-owners is much higher--about a third?)


To pick one idea out of it, here's a question for you (a literal question to a man who's studied it more than I have).  That quote by Lincoln is resonant.  However, other quotes of Lincoln's cause me to question exactly what the spirit was there.  Did he mean something along the lines of ME saying, "If I could allow secession of the West Coast so that they could just do their own thing on reproductive rights, I would"?  In the broader context of seeking compromise without 100,000's of dead soldiers fighting over the issue?

In about 10-12 sentences, the Gettysburg Address stated Lincoln's thoughts on what the Civil War was about.  I think the context of that Address was decisive, standing over the smoking dead bodies, a Deathbed Declaration type of moment.

We can plow through 100 things he said on either side of the issue, as we could plow through 100 things Donald Trump said at different times and places on abortion, for example.  Push came to shove, Trump picked a SCOTUS.

Am not super well read but I know that Lincoln initiated several offers to purchase slaves' freedom at very high prices.  Not sure how much that particular quote captures his life's view of the issue?




Whole lotta people packed in one Korner. Let's see if I can throw some elbows and carve out enough space to lay down some bullet points in summary:

  • Slavery = Bad. Good put Doc.
  • Moral Relativism = Good. The funny thing is, while there are several eloquent denunciations of the practice of judging historical figures based on modern cultural norms, I'm not sure anyone here ever suggested doing that. I think that nuanced thinkers are usually on the same side of this one. I shudder to imagine what future generations will be tempted to judge us for if we create such a precedent.
  • Corollary to the above: Robert E. Lee = Good. My very first reaction to the protests, before they first blew up, was "well, yeah, I can see why people want to keep up a statue of Lee. History does suggest he was a real luminary of his day." It is dishonest to suggest that the man himself was anything other than exceptional, just because his image has been co-opted by white nationalists.
  • Corollary to the corollary: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the pyramids = Good. Duh. Again though, I find it fascinating that this point needs to be made. Are there really, truly people anywhere who want to displace Washington because of Mount Vernon? I have yet to hear from them. As a member of the left, I can promise that anyone who espouses something that silly would be a true fringe element. It's a classic reducto ad absurdum; if your worldview leads you to denounce Washington, you need a new worldview. (Were I to hazard a guess, I would say this is another sinister little manipulation by Donald J. When I first heard his soundbite about how he worried the founding fathers would be next, I audibly snorted in derision. What a ridiculous misdirection! Classic, simplistic straw man fallacy)

Given all of this, how do we come to the conclusion that Confederate Statues = Bad? I'm not sure they do, but I'll make the argument as I see it, in its most reasonable form:

The issue here is symbolism. The idea that they were erected by Jim Crow proponents, to perpetuate the Jim Crow power structure, is crucial here. Also crucial is the way in which these statues are perceived by certain groups. Surely the statues, as things-in-themselves, are not offensive. The issue is that any number of minority Americans feel that they are a vestige of oppression. I know this sounds like a "trigger warning" argument, but I swear it's not. A year ago I submitted a paper to a Shakespeare prof at my liberal arts college titled "Feminazis are the New Misogynists." It nearly lost me some friends, until they remembered that I'm a decent person who has never given any indication of being a chauvinist pig. Which was the whole point of the paper. What I’m saying is, I may be liberally-minded, but oversensitivity and political-correctness irk me just as much as the majority of you on this site. SO. When I suggest that black people's feelings should be taken into account when we consider the fate of monuments, I do so not because I think people shouldn't have their feelings hurt. I do so because as a white man, which I imagine describes most of us in this community, I am aware that I may be missing something. One lightbulb that my Hispanic best friend turned on for me, over the course of many heated debates, is that privilege can blind well-meaning white Americans from seeing the subtle-yet-powerful racist undertones that still permeate many aspects of our society. I believe that these undertones, while in some ways unavoidable, should still be dealt with when they are brought to our attention. That doesn't mean that we are bad people for unconsciously perpetuating them, or that we should apologize for any wrongdoings. That would be unreasonable. However, I feel that we have a moral obligation to listen to those who may see more from a different vantage than we do from ours. And if those people are telling us confederate statues are bad, we should consider that they might be right.

The real problem here is not people who wish to commemorate or celebrate the positive aspects of figures like Lee, or pay homage to the sacrifices made for home and country by southern soldiers. It is those people who use them as an insidious way to smuggle hate into the mainstream. "Look at Lee," says a neo-nazi, "Now there was a splendid man. He championed the right of white's to their own country." Never mind whether the neo-nazi is right: he says it, and his brethren believe it. Then the unwashed masses, whose uninformed loyalty to the confederate movement Matt so compassionately and rightly defended, side with the nazi. "Look, we don't buy into the racial superiority and hatred he's spewing, but the man has a point. Lee was a great man, and he did fight for the sovereignty of the South." Their position is reasonable. However, this has an unintended affect: by siding with the alt-right, they have implied that they are more closely aligned with those hateful bigots than they are with the Blacks, Latinos, and Jews who live in rational fear that, like at so many other times in history, the white majority will turn on them. When they express these concerns, the president doubles down in an attempt to appeal to his base, and insists that defending the statues is reasonable. His supporters flock to defend his claims. Soon the country experiences fissures, largely along racial lines, that may take years to heal. Why does this matter, you may ask, if the affiliation between the neo-nazis and the honest people of the South is only illusory? It matters because of how it feels. As was pointed out earlier, plenty of "good" men and women were complicit in the Third Reich, or the perpetuation of slavery. How terrifying must it be for members of minorities, knowing that human history encompasses far more racial animus than it does enlightened equality, to see the views of the white majority once again infiltrated by the poison of racism? Germany did not become the Reich overnight. The groundwork was laid an inch at a time. It started when good people of conscience allowed despicable fringe elements to get their foot in the door. "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross”…

Is eradicating confederate monuments the solution to this highly symbolic, nuanced problem? I have no idea. Is it a problem worth discussing, and addressing? I would think that it must be...


In not running them more often, that is.

Another very stimulating Think Tank.  Again, the idea exchange seems to be enjoyed by folks up and down the Left-Right baseball lineup.  That doesn't happen unless everybody here, or almost everybody, takes care for others' feelings.  The word "inclusivity" gets thrown around a lot.  You amigos demonstrate it.

At the risk of FKey7 auto-compliments, the Denizens never cease to edify me.  Each time we launch a Korner, we scrunch into the office chair with a kidney belt strapped on against possible bumpy rides ... but each time, we get back a virtual Editor's Collection of Essays, cordially offered and highly educational.

Jolly good shew gents.  Okay, next time just to test the brakes we're running a Korner on something randomly d20 generated from this list :- )


For fun, I clicked through on the topic list to the People section...and there under the letter 'A' were Muhammad Ali, Yasser Arafat, Joe Arpaio, Idi Amin, Julian Assange--and Kristie Alley! (among others)

You could devote Korners just to the first letter of the alphabet...and it would last the rest of our lives!  :)

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