From time to time, various countries have to deal with political movements that can only be branded as reprehensible. Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and so on. And in most cases when those movements collapse under the weight of the oppression they create, any positive recognition of them is promptly and completely removed from public view.
An exception to that is, of course, the United States. We did not loudly condemn the armed insurrection in support of what used to be referred to as the "peculiar institution" of slavery. Instead, thanks to our system of weak central government, we stood by and watched as various states that were once participants in that insurrection erected monuments and other public reminders of their traitorous fight Against the United States.
Over the past few years, southern states have, one by one, finally begun to slowly remove the symbols of hate and tributes to those who fought to keep a race in bondage. And the blowback from many of those who ironically consider themselves to be among the most loyal, patriotic Americans has been fierce.
The most recent example of that blowback is occurring in New Orleans. This is how The New York Times described the scene as workers began removing the first of a quartet of Confederate monuments in the Crescent City:
The workers were dressed in flak jackets, helmets and scarves to conceal their identities because of concerns about their safety, The Associated Press reported. Police officers watched the area from atop the parking garage of a nearby hotel.
Citing security risks and threats to contractors seeking to do the work, the city would not reveal details about the removal of the other statues.
New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement explaining the city's aims in removing the monuments. It reads in part,
"The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "Relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile -- and most importantly-- choose a better future. We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context –and that’s where these statues belong."
The "heritage not hate" crowd is, of course, outraged. The city council ordinance passed in 2015 that called for the monuments to be removed was the subject of a protest petition that gathered over 31,000 signatures. And in the wee hours of April 24, as the work was set to get underway, supporters of the monuments gathered at New Orleans' statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis to hold a candlelight vigil.
The behavior of the "heritage not hate" folks once again reveals their true motives. New Orleans isn't taking these monuments away to be smashed into bits -- the stated intention is to place them in a setting where the full historical context can be considered. But that isn't acceptable to the neo-Confederates and their allies. They want these memorials to treason and human bondage to continue to be on full display, as they have been for decades. And the message they are sending is "Yes, this is absolutely about hate."
If it isn't about hate, what's the harm of placing the monuments in an educational setting, side by side with displays about the south's history of slavery, racism and Jim Crow? If these people truly reject the beliefs of the Old South, that seems like it would be an ideal way for them to say, "These were our ancestors. They had some very wrong ideas about many things. We remember them because they were our flesh and blood, but they don't represent who we are now."
But no, that's not acceptable. They want these symbols of the way things used to be on full display, as reminders to non-whites of who they think should be in charge, and who would be in charge if the neo-Confederates had their way. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Removing Confederate memorials isn't about rewriting history, as their defenders like to claim. It's about putting that history in proper perspective. And it is long past time for that to happen -- it has only taken 150 years. Maybe these conservative southern whites who overwhelmingly voted for Trump should take their own advice about last fall's election and realize "The Union won. Get over it."