Hello everyone, today I want to talk about monuments. Specifically, Confederate monuments in the United States; and I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I feel like the discussion there isn’t really settled, and it’s also relevant beyond US borders. The first time I got wind of this debate if Confederate monuments should be removed or left alone was in the wake of the neo-nazi rally in Charlottesville which gathered to protest against the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee who was a commander of the Confederate army in the American Civil War. Now the statue has since been removed on the order of a local judge, but this monument is only one of many, and the discussion about the appropriate place for this monuments is still ongoing. So let’s talk about it, and also about a couple of arguments by some YouTube personalities. Now, do I think these monuments are historical objects? Yes, although not in the way you might think. Do I think they should be removed regardless? Also yes. So, what are these statues actually monuments to? Our uninvolved observer might say a statue of Robert E. Lee is just that, a statue of Robert E. Lee, or maybe a monument to the Civil War as a whole, a way to remember the involved personalities and the dead. Well, it’s not. A lot of Confederate monuments, especially those who are built in a similar manner to this one, aren’t really monuments to the Confederacy or the Civil War. Neither was the intent behind erecting them remembering the dead. To find out what these monuments are actually for, we have to go back a bit and look at the time in which a lot of them were constructed. The American Civil War started in 1861 and ended with the defeat of the Southern States in 1865. What followed after is generally called the Reconstruction period, which sought to reintegrate the former Confederate States, to put an end to Confederate nationalism, and to end slavery, making the former slaves into citizens with equal civil rights guaranteed by three new Constitutional amendments. As you can imagine, this led to a backlash by the rather racist types, and it was around this time when the Ku Klux Klan emerged, whose members dressed up as the ghosts of fallen Confederate soldiers who came back to haunt the black population. Now one might think that the numerous Confederate monuments we still see around today were put up right during that time period since the memory and the pain from the conflict was still fresh, but that’s not really the case. What followed the Reconstruction period and especially between 1890 and 1914, was what you could call old structures reasserting their political power over the South, enforcing Jim Crow laws taking control of Southern governments, and systematically disenfranchising and disempowering African Americans. It was also during this time period that the US Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Plessy versus Ferguson which reaffirmed the validity of the separate but equal laws on a state level. Now what came hand-in-hand with this political shift was the rise of what is called the Lost Cause ideological movement, which framed the Civil War from a Southern perspective as a noble struggle for the Southern way of life, while minimizing or denying the role of slavery in the conflict. And in this time period, in the context of what I just described, is when a lot of Confederate monuments emerged. If we look at this graph, which shows when most of these monuments were erected, we can see there’s a massive spike around in the 1910s, 45 years after the Civil War was over and at the height of lynching in the South. There’s also a smaller second spike in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was gaining traction, but this might also be explained by the 100-year anniversary of the American Civil War. Looking at the time when a lot of these monuments were constructed, and also where, namely on public spaces, which were subject to racial segregation, it becomes clear that these are not monuments to specific people or the Confederacy, but to the racism it represented. These monuments were supposed to embody the dominance of the white population over the black population. They’re historical objects in the sense that they are monuments to the Jim Crow era and black disenfranchisement. So the main argument for taking these statues down is not just that the personalities depicted by them simply were racist, because this would apply to a lot of monuments of people from a different time period, But that the monument itself is supposed to embody the White Supremacy that continued after the Civil War was already over. So it’s no surprise that the opposition to taking down these statues rarely comes from actual historians familiar with the nature of these monuments, like Jane Daley, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago. “Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past, but were rather erecting them toward a white supremacist future.” That a lot of Confederate monuments glorify personalities that literally took up arms against their own country to ensure the supremacy of whites over blacks, should be enough of a reason to remove them. But even putting that aside and looking at the history of these monuments, it is simply impossible to remove them from their heavily racialized past. Even the direct descendants of people like Stonewall Jackson acknowledged this. After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, the two great great grandsons of Stonewall Jackson called on the town of Richmond, Virginia to get rid of the monument while stating, “Confederate monuments like the Jackson statue were never intended as a benign symbol, rather they were the clearly articulated artwork of White Supremacy.” On top of that, as I mentioned earlier, a big part of these monuments are located in public spaces, which means if you’re a black person in the US, and you pay taxes, the money that you earn goes to the maintenance of statues who depict personalities who fought to keep you in chains. Now let’s talk about some arguments against removing Confederate monuments. One that I heard repeatedly, is that by removing them, you’re also removing a part of history, and all history is worth preserving, even the bad sides of it. Now I agree with the last part of this statement, but this doesn’t really apply to the monuments in question. Here’s an example of this argument made by Dave Rubin on the Joe Rogan podcast. If you don’t know who Dave Rubin is, he’s a libertarian-ish show host, I think. To be honest, I don’t really understand his political position. It seems to me that his political philosophy boils down to the fact that he hates SJW so much that he started believing in trickle-down economics at some point in time. Anyway, here is him making the argument I described earlier: “So that, that’s why I don’t know where you’re at on the monument stuff, but I would not take any of them down. You can put up a counter plaque or something right next to it to saying, “Robert E. Lee did this or that,” but the idea of removing the shit I think is absolutely terrible, you can’t erase history.” “No, I agree with you, I think they should – there’s a problem with having them in town squares and celebrating them, but there’s also a problem in that they were all – most of them, the ones that you – they – they’re talking about in the South, they were resurrected during the Civil Rights Movement to sort of counteract the Civil Rights Movement. So like these these are really this is not like a celebration of these people back in the day when they were viable, this is during the Civil Rights Movement, they erected these fairly cheap, and they put him up quickly, and they did it in response to black people wanting more rights. And –” “I would still, I would still. Yeah, I, I get it. I would still for be not for taking them down. You put up something next to it, you put up – what I would keep, if you want to compromise…” “I’m for taking it down and replacing them with something else and putting them somewhere else, like if you want to have a Civil War Museum–” “So that would be the compromise where you could get me.” So first argument, do you erase history in removing these statues? No. This is really just a lazy attempt to side step the conversation, and I doubt most people who hold this position apply it consistently, since I didn’t read anything about Americans erasing Iraqi history when they took down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Anyway, back to the Confederate monuments. Firstly, removing a mass produced cheaply made statue, isn’t exactly equal to destroying the city of Calakmul or something. In terms of historical record, people don’t learn anything from looking at a monument without knowing the context. You know, seeing this at the Imperial War Museum in London last year didn’t give me any new insight about Nazi Germany that I was missing previously. That said, there is a big difference between knowing history and understanding it on an emotional level. You might have read 15 books about the Holocaust, but visiting a real-life concentration or death camp can still be an extremely valuable experience, even if you don’t learn anything new from it in terms of historical knowledge. One of the most eye-opening experiences for me personally was visiting the Verdun battlefield in France. I knew quite a bit about the battle itself But sometimes historical events are so abstract to us that it’s hard to imagine what they might have looked like. There is a difference between reading the number 15,000 in a history book and actually seeing 15,000 crosses in front of you. However, Confederate monuments such as the Robert E. Lee’s statue or the one of Stonewall Jackson don’t have that effect. In fact, the opposite is the case. “These monuments give you an incorrect outlook on the history of the Confederacy, because that is their intention” as Kirk Savage describes, who is a Professor of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, talking about the time period when a lot of these monuments were erected. “There was a really big systematic push to promote the history of the Confederacy and the so-called “lost cause” that was largely engineered by women’s groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which had a very overt and systematic plan to rewrite textbooks, to erect public monuments that would establish the “true” history of the war.” If you haven’t heard of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it was a women’s group which sought to create a social network, memorialize the war and maintain a, quote, “Truthful record of the noble and chivalric achievements of their veterans and teaching the next generation a proper respect for and pride in the glorious war history.” As you might have guessed, these gals weren’t really interested in an honest reflection about the Civil War. Their goal of teaching the next generation about their idea of the Civil War was largely executed through the formation of children’s groups, such as the Children of the Confederacy. And as Kristina DuRocher explains in her book “Raising Racists – The socialization of white children in the Jim Crow South”, they were quite successful in their endeavor. “The UDC’s influence through the Children of the Confederacy was widespread. Their preservation of southern culture and efforts to socialize southern youth into their crusade of glorifying helped to perpetuate sectional differences and prevent reconciliation between the North and the South. The Children of the Confederacy produced through their memorialization of the Civil War an image of southern society that had concrete political and social implications. Not only did this mythical depiction created by white women and children of the new South uphold contemporary white racial convictions, but it rewrote the history of southern defeat in the Civil War period, creating the image of an independent and indomitable South. Like the KKK’s children groups, the UDC utilized the children of the Confederacy to impart to the rising generations their own white supremacist vision of the future.” So as you can see, these monuments were an effort to actually destroy history and replace it with a whitewashed and censored version. So given the history of these monuments Dave Rubin is actually arguing against preserving history in a way that is truthful and not the version of groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But what about putting up a little plaque at the bottom of the monument to tell people who this guy actually was? Well firstly, if a monument can stand on its own what’s the point of having it? Secondly, how long is this plaque supposed to be? Since besides explaining the person depicted by the monument, you would also have to include the entire history and motivation behind the monument itself. Thirdly, and most importantly, monuments don’t exist in a vacuum. They have a certain effect on their surroundings. Let me give you an example. This is the national monument to the first Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck in Berlin, Germany. And I’m not for taking the statue down, it just serves as an example. Around the statue of Bismarck, there are four figures, each of which is supposed to serve the heroization of Bismarck. There is an Atlas figure, symbolizing Bismarck’s titan-like strength as well as his all-encompassing greatness; there’s a Sybil sitting on the back of a sphinx and reading the book of history, which serves as an allegory for state wisdom; there’s a Germania figure pinning down the panther of discord and rebellion, which represents Bismarck’s invincible might; and lastly a statue of Siegfried forging the Reichsschwert, with which Bismarck vanquished the enemies of Germany. Now if we’re being honest, this is not just a monument to Bismarck. It serves the purpose of depicting Bismarck more as a god than a very important politician. Of course, you could put up a little plaque that explains how Bismarck was very anti-democratic and also quite the warmonger, but it would look completely silly in the face of this monument, which presents Bismarck as an Übermensch. The same goes for a lot of these Confederate monuments. Robber E. Lee is not depicted as a regular dude standing around. Him on horseback several meters above the ground puts him in a commanding position and conveys authority. These memorials have and are constructed to give you a certain image of the specific person without any additional information. As George Gurney, Deputy Chief Curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum says: “The biggest compliment you can give a man is not just to have him standing on the pedestal but sitting on top of a horse. There’s a certain stature in the fact that you’ve got an equestrian.” This is especially true when it comes to Robert E. Lee, because his horse, Traveler, was said to buck every black person who tried to ride him. Okay, now let’s talk about the compromise Dave Rubin agrees to, after getting a bit of pushback. As if possible to just put these monuments in a museum to preserve them for future generations. Theoretically speaking, that should be a possible solution, but due to the sheer number of these monuments, putting them all in a museum is just not realistically possible and even beyond that you would have to find a number of museums who are actually interested in such a statue. As is explained by Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums: “We would argue that the “put them in a museum” response to Confederate memorials reflects a misunderstanding of what museums are for – and an effort to sidestep conversations that we really need to have. There are those who respond that museums should just put Confederate monuments “in context” and by doing so, fulfill the mission of many contemporary museums to serve as sites of civic engagement nimbly poised to investigate, convene and discuss the most contested issues of the day. Yet putting monuments in context is anything but a simple, declarative act: power dynamics come into play. First, museums are physical spaces that convey authority. Statues remain powerful and physically imposing visual forms that will keep speaking even when they are in new settings. They can and certainly will shape social experiences in ways that curators may not be able to anticipate. A simple label is not enough. In displaying statues, museums will need to be prepared to contextualise them visually and dramatically, to represent the layers of their history – from the story of their creation to the story of them being taken down and collected.” “I know this is on very short notice. But do you think you’ll get it done by tonight? …oh, sorry Daniel, I probably wasn’t supposed to read that last part :).” As you can read from that statement portraying the statues in an educational setting is quite a challenge for a museum because they are not just dumping grounds for old stuff nobody needs anymore. And statues that are made to have a certain effect will keep that effect even in a museum. Another argument you frequently hear in this discussion is the “slippery slope”, when you start taking down Confederate monuments, this will go out of control and Mount Rushmore might be next. This is also the argument Donald Trump brought forward via Twitter; and according to Dave Rubin, this is even already happening. “There’s something to the argument that they’re racist statues and especially if you understand the motivation behind creating them in the first place.” “Yeah, the problem though is that, you know, I mean, I know you know this it never ends where it’s supposed to end.” “No, people wanted to go after George Washington and Trump said that… “They did.” “Trump said that and people were ridiculing him, and then almost immediately afterwards someone wanted to take down a statue of George Washington.” “I was in Old Town Alexandria where George Washington’s church was and it’s actually the same church that Robert E. Lee went to, so they had a plaque for both of them, and because they took down the Robert E. Lee one, they also took down the George Washington one, at the church that George Washington went to. I mean, if you follow that logic and this is what you have to do when you’re when you’re doing these sort of historical trackings, they will come for everything.” In this point in the video it’s probably no surprise to anyone that Dave Rubin doesn’t know what he’s talking about here. The way he frames it as is that the memorial plaque of George Washington got removed from the Christ Church in Alexandria because this is just a next logical step when you start taking down monuments of people who were racist. But when actually looking at the reasoning the church in question gave for the removal of the plaques of Robert E. Lee and George Washington, it becomes clear that the reason wasn’t George Washington’s racism or the fear of offending someone with his plaque. “The plaques were erected in 1870, just two months after Robert E. Lee’s death, by parishioners eager to memorialize two men who had impact within our parish and an outsized impact on our nation. We recognize that our church was present at the center of two of the most important events in our nation’s history: Washington is unique in our nation’s history: the leader of the Revolution the visionary who not only refused to be king but also gave up power after eight years, and a symbol of our democracy. He’s regularly worshipped in our pews and helped shaped our city’s character. We understand that both Washington and Lee lived in times much different than our own, and that each man, in addition to his public persona, was a complicated human being and, like all of us, a child of God. Today the legacy of slavery and of the Confederacy is understood differently than what it was in 1870. For some, Lee symbolize the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery. Today our country is trying once again to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color. Because the sanctuary is a worship space, not a museum, there’s no appropriate way to inform visitors about the history of the plaques or to provide additional context except for the in-person tours provided by our docents. The Vestry believes that the memorial plaques of George Washington and Robert E. Lee should be considered together. The plaques were erected at the same time. They visually balance each other, maintaining the symmetry of our sanctuary. The men they memorialize are giants in our nation’s history and were members of this parish. Robert E. Lee has taken an outsized symbolism in the national conversation about race and inclusion.” So while the church is taking down the Robert E. Lee plaque because he’s often considered a white supremacist traitor to the Union, the George Washington plaque is being removed to maintain the proper layout of the church. There is no reference in this document that suggests anyone is offended by the George Washington plaque or that the reason for taking his plaque down are George Washington’s racist views. And on top of that, these plaques are not being destroyed, but just relocated to a different place. You know, this happened in October last year, and it took Snopes about two days to debunk this claim. But Dave Rubin is still clinging to this manufactured outrage and doesn’t bother to check if anything that he is saying here is based in reality. Next up, we have a video called “Listen to A Black Conservative Tell You Why Removing Confederate Statues is Revisionist History” by a chap called Anthony Brian Logan. This should be interesting… let’s watch! “They’re also going to remove a monument of other people including Robert Lee, obviously the Confederate general. Now this will come about, of course, because people are saying that these statues embodiment, represent white supremacy, they represent oppression of blacks, a violent history of slavery, [something]. But really what it is is like revisionist history. Some of you have told me that this is like them trying to erase history and that can never happen, but in my mind is revisionist history.” Now sadly the term “revisionism” today has a very negative connotation due to Holocaust deniers and stuff like the Lost Cause. But even if taking these monuments down was revising history that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When what comes out of the revision of certain historical events is actually closer to the truth, then revising history is actually very good. “Because when you, when you remove these monuments, when you say, okay, the Confederacy represented white supremacy, represented slavery, represented racism, [something]. When you say that you ignore the whole situation, you ignore context, you ignore everything and you put it in favor of the side that won, that is called revisionist history as Marxism. As you might have guessed, this is not what revisionist history is and it’s certainly not Marxism. And I’m sure you already know where this is going, but the gist of his argument is that during the Civil War, the South actually wasn’t fighting for slavery and the North didn’t fight to end slavery; and that’s really a topic for another day, but let me just say this much. While it’s true that for the North, it was more about holding the Union together than ending slavery; the reason why the Confederate States seceded from the Union was over slavery. And we know this because they said so themselves. For example, in its Declaration of Secession, Mississippi explained: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” And this is what the state of Texas had to say in its justification for the secession: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and the Confederacy itself were established exclusively by the white race for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.” Really ironic arguing that the South didn’t fight to preserve slavery in a video about other people engaging in revisionism in a negative way. I think our friend Anthony might be a covert Marxist, given all the revisionism in his video. The next argument that he brings up, which is the slippery slope again, is also what Lauren Southern is getting at in her video “Say Goodbye To Your History”. “Even our heroes of history are far from perfect. In acts of war many many innocents were killed by the victors that we celebrate today. Look at Winston Churchill, I was happy to get a picture with his statue in London. But let’s say people demand it be taken down one day due to the Dresden bombings. You’d better take down any statues of Gandhi while you’re at it, cuz he was a huge racist. Oh wait, I just discovered while I was editing this, that they are actually already petitioning for that to happen.” Now I think you can actually have an argument to what degree we should apply our modern-day moral standards to historical figures we idealize, with Gandhi being an example of that. Lauren, however, completely misses the mark here. Because in her comparison of Confederate monuments in the U.S. to the statue of Winston Churchill at London, she misses the fact that the black people are also US citizens who have to live around these monuments and pay for their maintenance: So a more accurate comparison would be erecting a monument to Winston Churchill or even better, Arthur Harris, the man who conducted the British strategic bombing campaigns… …in Dresden. And having Dresden residents pay for it and forced them to walk by it every day. And it’s similar with the Gandhi statue as she mentions to prove that political correctness has run amok or something. Because the petition calling for the removal of a Gandhi statue was not targeting the Gandhi statue a few meters away from Winston Churchill, but a statue on a university campus in Ghana. And given some of the stuff Gandhi wrote about black people – and this is the only monument on said campus –, I can understand the opposition to it and a wish for the honouring of African heroes first and foremost. One thing I really don’t understand is why talking about the fact that not everyone is in favor of a certain monument is so bad. Before the Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park was put up, there was also controversy, because the city of Dresden objected to honoring the Bomber Command in this way. Which resulted in the adding of an inscription to also commemorate those who lost their lives in the bombing and it was fine. It’s not the end of the world to have these discussions. Let’s listen to what else she has to say. “You can find anything wrong with people whose art we show today, whose architecture still stands or whose monuments are in our parks. But if we go down this path, it’s only going to lead to madness. Public monuments of historical figures are not supposed to be idols that we celebrate and worship for their perfection. They’re meant to capture moments in history that keep us connected to the realities of our past. That means the good and the bad the praiseworthy and the condemnable.” Now that’s a nice fantasy Lauren has made up in her head there, but it’s not reality. Is anyone seriously gonna make the argument that a monument like this for instance, is not supposed to idealize the person depicted? And as we heard Kirk Savage explain earlier, when it comes to Confederate monuments, idealizing Confederate commanders is the expressed intention of the people who put them up. And if monuments are actually meant to connect us to the good and the bad parts of our history, I figure Lauren and the people agreeing with her wouldn’t see the problem if someone would erect, say, a statue of Osama bin Laden in downtown Manhattan, riding a horse and swinging a saber. You know, just so the people living there can feel connected to that specific time in history. To sum this up, if you have an interest in remembering history in a way that is truthful, you should be absolutely in favor of removing these monuments from public, non-educational spaces, so that they won’t give people passing by an incorrect version of history. And not to say that everyone who’s against taking these monuments down is a racist or a fan of slavery. Most of them probably don’t know why these monuments were put up, and for some people it’s very difficult to accept that what they view as part of their heritage may not be worth preserving or remembering in a positive way. And on top of that, there were and still are organizations actively working to keep this from happening, who have prevented what could have been an honest reflection, by lying not only to themselves but also future generations. But at some point, you have to let fiction be fiction and face reality. And I think that’s all I have folks. At least these are the arguments I saw pop up the most in this debate. The pleasant voices you heard reading the quotes earlier were youtubers “Drallasta” and “Thought Slime”, who you should all check out if you haven’t. The links are in the description. As always, thank you for watching and a special thanks to all of my lovely patrons, some of whom you can see here scrolling by. Aren’t they great? If you would like to be honored in a similar manner, head over to Patreon and have your name immortalized in my future videos. Oh, yeah before I forget, also a big thank you to the people who sometimes sent me donations via the tip jar in the video description. I’m very humbled by your generous support. I hope to see you next time. Have a good one!