Archive for the Law & Justice Category

Regarding Civil War Monuments in Arizona

Posted in Law & Justice, Social & Political with tags , , , , on June 11, 2017 by xaipe

I recently encountered an opinion piece in our local Phoenix, AZ newspaper, The Arizona Republic, by columnist Laurie Roberts. In her column, Ms. Roberts discusses several monuments in Arizona commemorating the Civil War in some regard (her headline is stated rhetorically as a question, as though she doesn’t quite understand why Arizona would have monuments to an event that occurred 47 years before we even became a state, but I digress).

I can’t say that I disagree with the rhetorical flourish, but let’s not try to suggest she does anything but feign real surprise that there are Civil War memorials in Arizona. She wants to emphasize her conclusion: that there are valid reasons most of these monuments be removed from public spaces (the exception is for a marker at the site of the westernmost battle in the Civil War), a result I support. One of the primary markers erected in Arizona wasn’t even dedicated until 100 years after the Civil War. This fact alone should lead you to a conclusion regarding the reality of what these markers mean.

As a native of Arizona, recognizing our independent spirit & progressive roots, I can appreciate that Ms. Roberts takes a balanced, common sense approach to looking at the purpose of the monuments before deciding whether each should stay or go. However, she does very little to provide any context for what a “commemoration or memorialization” of the Confederacy actually means!

As an example, Ms. Roberts cites The Daughters of the Confederacy as endorsing the creation of many of our Arizona markers to the Confederacy. What she doesn’t do is offer the reason this organization exists, i.e., put in the context of the cult of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. I say “cult” because most recognize it for what it is, a forced ideology designed to whitewash, rationalize, fetishize, iconize, idolize, & bathe-in-golden-aura all the invented romantic symbols of a “noble South” that only existed in the minds of the privileged white southerner. 

The cult of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy was created to obscure the reality of the Confederacy, to sanitize history to the fact that the the Civil War was a war of insurrection against the United States, & that it was specifically about the subjugation of people into slavery, as the Cornerstone Speech by their vice-president, Alexander Stephens clearly states: 

“[the] corner-stone [of our Confederacy] rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.” (Stephens)

Now, I have another question to add to Ms. Roberts’ original concern: “How has removing monuments to a war fought to save slavery, a war against America, become controversial, particularly in a time celebrated for its America First pronouncements?!”

It should be obvious that such markers memorialize & celebrate a (thankfully) failed experiment to destroy America. The sole aim of this insurgency was to preserve the so-called “right” of one person to own another person as a slave. If you fought for the Confederacy, then you fought against the United States. There are no American patriots in the Confederacy, by definition!

New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, made this same point in an excellent speech on why it’s important to remember the reasons these monuments exist. As Landrieu demonstrates, if such “monuments” exist to “commemorate our history,” they have failed also to memorialize the slave ships or to create markers that recall the very trees from which the bodies of the lynched swung. 

“So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it,” (Landrieu) 

We should be especially loud on this point: We do not support any reverence to a false narrative that glorifies some notion that the Confederacy is a lost Camelot! This is simply not factual.

Many of the markers in Arizona are not about “remembering” history. They are about obscuring it & offering homage to a false mythology.

This serves no one, period. 

If people want to fly their confederate flags, I’m not about to stop them. Their free speech rights allow them to fly that flag. However, these people need to own up to what it is they’re celebrating: those flying the confederate flag endorse the greatest attempted sedition against the United States of America in history! I fail to see how there can be a patriot among them.

In defending the removal of the statues in his city, Mayor Landrieu took each monument in turn, giving important context to their existence. In each case, these monuments are indefensible. The reasons they exist & the things they memorialize aren’t “history” but rather an overt effort to suborn the facts.

These markers are the expressions of a wistful mythology built around a failed revolt against a just cause, liberty for all! These monuments were meant to support the status quo of a Jim Crow America & specifically to undermine the Civil Rights Movement itself. 

I think it is imperative that all Arizonans understand this regarding our own markers to the Confederacy. Given the facts, I think most Arizonans would agree that many of these markers should be removed from our public arena. Of course, if we are to decide to remove the markers in question, can we then muster the will to act? 

Those are all discussions that should be had. We can’t just bury our heads & accept what we’re told about these things that exist in our public sphere. If you still want to defend these symbols of racism & insurrection, consider how you would respond to this situational posed by Mayor Landrieu:

“Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city.

Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?” (Landrieu)

In the end, honoring the broad strokes & real sacrifices, tragedies, & triumphs of our shared history serves us all. 

Importantly, Mayor Landrieu also notes, the enterprise to truly respect our past is not about taking something away from one to give it to someone else. History simply demands us to respect the full breadth & scope of our shared story, to celebrate the full factual narrative that truly makes us great; that we find both comfort & joy in our National Motto, “Out of many, we become One.”

This was a concept expressed by Mayor Landrieu when talking about the things that make New Orleans such an incredible city: her people, in whom is expressed all the wonder that can be America, a living celebration of diverse ancestries wrapped into a shared cultural identity dependent on each diverse flavor to express the best of itself so that the whole might be greater still.

We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz—the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think:

All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. (Landrieu)

The fact must be admitted: We are stronger & better when we engage together in meaningful exchange, both to develop a respect for the factual narrative of our past & to build a better framework for creating the narrative of our future, beginning with honoring the vital ingredients each culture brings to the notion of what constitutes America itself, a nation founded on a principle of individual liberty for every person crossing our borders & a respect for justice above all else.

If we’re faithful to our own historical narrative, the future has a better chance at being faithful to its coming history, regardless of by whom it’s recorded. I think we owe it to ourselves to continue to have this kind of discourse, to recognize that honoring history isn’t identity politics.

Identity politics is about subverting the whole in favor of tribal self-interest & self-identification. Honoring history is about recognizing the facts of our past & weaving a meaningful narrative that makes clear to our contemporaries as well as to our progeny that we appreciate & respect the whole truth of our incredible collection of world cultures & multicultural expressions of universal moral concern for achieving the fullest expression of liberty & justice for every individual, regardless of one’s specific identity characteristics.

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