Recently, we witnessed the tragic and grossly illegal toppling of the “Silent Sam” statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by a crowd of enraged protesters.
Silent Sam had stood for over 100 years as a memorial to fallen soldiers of the Confederacy. He represented not a single, specific individual, but a great mass of several hundred thousand Confederate soldiers who died fighting for their homeland, albeit a homeland that practiced slavery. He especially stood for the UNC alumni who died in the Civil War.
A campaign to have the statue removed from campus had been active for years, but the mob that formed on August 20th was not inclined to wait. Silent Sam was knocked to the ground and stomped on by euphoric radicals. All this was done in the name of anti-racism and to defeat “white supremacy,” which in point of fact receded as a meaningful force in American politics decades ago.
Besides a tiny fringe of genuine hardcore racists and “Nazis” in the United States, white supremacy has become — more than anything — a rallying cry for the Left, and an excuse to bully, silence, and even physically assault conservatives. Racism is and ought to be condemned by the vast majority of Americans, but the use of violent and illegal tactics to achieve one’s political goals is never acceptable.
The Left’s rationale for the removal of the Silent Sam statue rested largely on the fact that it was dedicated by, among others, the avowed racist Julian Carr, who saw Silent Sam as embodying the “Anglo Saxon race” in the South.
This was indeed an inauspicious start for the statue, but the fact is that Silent Sam himself had no explicit connection to white supremacy — he is, or was, simply a weary Rebel soldier, who represented ordinary combatant Southerners, the vast majority of whom did not own slaves, but who did feel a duty to defend their homeland from what was perceived as “Northern Aggression.”
Regardless of the justice of their cause, these men fought and died in appalling numbers, and it is not unreasonable that the people of North Carolina, and the state of North Carolina, would honor their courage and their sacrifice.
While we must concede that the Left is correct that Silent Sam does have some potentially negative associations, the bigger problem is that the Left’s desire to expunge historical symbols with such “baggage” is extremely selective. Very few historical personages rise to the level of moral purity and perfection demanded by the modern-day acolytes of political correctness.
If all historical heroes and heroines are flawed, who are liberals to decide which of these luminaries are to be consigned to the dustbin of history?
To take an obvious example, liberals are united in celebrating the contributions of Susan B. Anthony to the cause of women’s liberation and female suffrage. The fact of the matter is, however, that Anthony was a racist, who opposed passage of the 15th Amendment, which enfranchised black men, because she believed that white women, due to their superior “intelligence, justice, and morality,” should receive the vote first, and “the negro” last. She referred to newly emancipated black men as “densely ignorant.” That racist philosophy, however, has never prevented leftists from lauding Susan B. Anthony, from erecting statues in her honor, or from pushing for her face to appear on the currency of the United States.
Liberals seem to take the view that, if a historical personage was, in the main, “on the right side of history,” then his or her sins, no matter how inexcusable by modern standards, can be forgiven and forgotten. In fact, even to raise questions about his or her virtues, as I have with Susan B. Anthony, is to invite a charge of racism or sexism on oneself.
Simply put, the heroes in the liberal pantheon are effectively beyond reproach. They occupy holy ground on which no critical thinker may tread.
If, by contrast, liberals simply don’t like a historical figure, or they associate him or her with retrograde or conservative beliefs, that individual’s flaws becoming defining features, and he or she can never be celebrated or memorialized, and can only be discussed in the context of evil, oppression, and injustice.
The fact that even people who do bad things can have good qualities worthy of examination and even admiration, offend the black-or-white moral code by which liberals live. To them, the verdict of history is an all-or-nothing affair: you are either with us, or you are against us, and “us” means the modern Left itself, the views of which are the only (self-referential) standard of rectitude liberals recognize. No higher law exists than this: the Left must prevail — over the past, over the present, and over the future.
In the end, conservatives must oppose the toppling of the Silent Sam statue for two reasons. First, because it is an affront to the rule of law and an instance of mob rule. Second, because how we interpret history is a reflection of the cultural and moral values that we practice and hold dear. We simply cannot afford to hand our nation’s heritage over to leftists, who will expunge and destroy everyone, and everything, that fails to live up to their totalitarian vision of the perfect society.
After a few years, we would have nothing left but a jerry-rigged gallery of purported heroes and villains, useful only as props in liberal propaganda.
Sadly, Silent Sam was twice a victim of history. He died first on the battlefields of the Civil War, fighting for a cause that was arguably doomed from the start. Last week, he died a second time — a victim of liberal rage and intolerance, and of political correctness gone berserk.
Let’s do all that we can to make sure that the next chapter in American history won’t be written by a left-wing mob.
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred. He appears weekly on the Newsmaker program on WLEA 1480.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.