For the politically correct warriors of today, the young Robert E. Lee — scion of the Revolution, then hero of the Mexican War — is irrelevant; he was a slaveowner who served, along with legions of others, in the Confederate rebellion against the United States. Forgotten, also, is his outspoken advocacy of reconciliation in the wake of the rebellion.
Instead, a citizenry among which many cannot date within 50 years the actual collision of the Civil War, is agitated by pandering politicians to attack symbols of the old Confederacy, dead 150 years in its grave.
Is the South’s veneration of Lee — there’s no other good phrase for it — as offensive as all that? Lee’s story is the stuff of legend, and his life in full deserves study by younger generations.
In politics, symbols matter. The embrace of the Confederate battle flag by racists is a genuine evil; South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is right to shun it on public displays in light of the Charleston church shooting. A white supremacist in America today is at least as much a traitor as Lee ever was.
A long way from Charleston, Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposes to topple Lee from Lee Circle, amid a pusillanimous display of public “reflection” and “dialogue” and political claptrap of “deliberation” about New Orleans’ history. Left untouched on Landrieu’s hit list is the slave owner Andrew Jackson at the epicenter of Louisiana’s tourist trade in the French Quarter.
All this is not new. God knows the people of Iraq had reason to topple the statues of Saddam Hussein, or Russians to tear down “Iron Felix” in Lubyanka Square. Ironically, today, the neo-Soviet leadership is rehabilitating the symbols of the old USSR, including a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky.
Symbols have consequences; the idolatry of the white supremacists led a foolish young man into cold-blooded murder in a church.
New Orleans has heard this before, as schools named after what once were called patriots were hunted by the politically correct for renaming; presumably, Lee High School on Lee Drive in Baton Rouge (home of the Lee “Patriots” since 2005) might become a target of retrospective moral judgment, as other Lee monuments and remembrances have across the country.
What’s the good news in all this foolishness? Well, it puts down the rumors that Mitch Landrieu still wants to run for governor this year. He’d be hard-pressed after this to carry Lincoln, Grant or Union parishes in north Louisiana.
There is also the reality that these popular enthusiasms are not likely to last. The power of history will overcome today’s pandering politics.
Virginia Shehee: The Shreveport civic leader who died last week was an extraordinary figure in the life of her city, but she also was a trailblazer as a state senator in the Legislature. She will be greatly missed among those who served with her in the State Capitol.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.