The new tribe is growing bolder and is taking down the totems of the old tribe.
Baltimore was riven by Mr. Lincoln’s War and occupied for four years by northern troops; but after the close of that dreadful conflict, the citizens came together again and, as is the custom in civilized countries, erected monuments to the brave men who served on both sides. Most of that reconciliation happened while memories were still fresh, and while survivors still grieved for the fallen.
Now the city is ruled by a majority-black city council and a black mayor (Catherine Pugh), who hastily removed four statues in the dark of night, August 16, 2017. The Police Department allegedly warned the mayor that “activists” had threatened to destroy the monuments if the city did not remove them. So, rather than protect the statues and arrest anyone who messed with them, they capitulated.
I have a personal interest in this matter, having grown up in the neighborhood where two of the monuments used to stand. My 6-greats grandfather John Cockey served on the first commission to lay plans for Baltimore Town in 1720, and his father William was among the first settlers of the region in the 17th century. The suburban eyesore called Cockeysville is named after my family. It’s nothing to brag about today, but it used to be a pretty little country village. My family’s name is most often displayed these days on the vehicles of a waste management company owned by a very distant cousin. People occasionally ask me whether I really am cocky, and I reply that it’s hard to be humble when your name is on so many dumpsters.
Although the University will probably disown me for writing an article for Vdare, I am a complete Hopkins product, B.A. in Human Biology from Johns Hopkins University, M.D. from the medical school, and residency and instructorship in diagnostic radiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I was even born at Hopkins Hospital. For thirty years, I practiced medicine in the Baltimore area and lived in a pleasant part of northern Baltimore City. I sent my children to private schools because the city public schools are not good.
Rising crime in my neighborhood was a major factor in my decision to retire and move out of Baltimore forever. We sold our house to a lady from Vermont who repairs stringed instruments. When I asked her why she wanted to move to Baltimore, she said it reminded her of her childhood home of Oakland, California (!) and that she believed ours was a safe neighborhood. I privately wondered whether someone had told her that there was a lot of violence in the city and she thought they had said violins.
By the time we left, black teens were stealing packages off the front porch, white heroin addicts were breaking into the carriage house, and the police were advising residents to lock their second-floor windows and avoid going out alone or at night. Black teenage carjackers shot a man through the neck about eighty yards from my front door. The police occasionally caught the perps, but the courts released them because they were under-aged. The State of Maryland makes it almost impossible for a normal person to obtain a concealed carry permit, but even if you could get one, you would be better off dead than having to deal with the legal repercussions of shooting a black criminal. The police can hardly do it.
On the topic of safe neighborhoods, a friend who is a realtor tells me that he would lose his license if he told a client that a particular neighborhood is “good” or “bad,” “safe” or “unsafe.” The government has spies who try to catch realtors who ask the wrong questions. He is also forbidden to ask a client where he comes from, what his religion is, or even how much he earns. This last prohibition of speech caused quite a bit of trouble and embarrassment for a lady who tried to buy a unit in a cooperative and went through the whole application process, only to be turned down by the coop committee. The agent could have told her not to bother if he had known her income.
This, then, is the background for the city government’s latest brilliant idea: spending over a million dollars to remove statues.
The Lee-Jackson Monument
Empty granite pediment of the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, with Baltimore Museum of Art and brick buildings of Johns Hopkins University in the background (photo by the author)
Shortly before the Lee-Jackson statue was removed, vandals spray-painted graffiti on the base, and an “artist” set up a papier-mâché statue of a pregnant, jet-black African fertility goddess with pendulous breasts and a baby on her back, raising a fist to the mounted Confederates. After Lee and Jackson were dragged off to a city lot and hidden under a tarp, the African fertility goddess of demographic revenge was set up on the pediment but reportedly succumbed to vandalism in her turn.
Considering the hatred that the left has directed against the Lost Cause ever since I can remember, it is actually surprising that the statue lasted as long as it did. Sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser beat out five men in the competition to create the monument, which was dedicated in 1948. A local banker J. Henry Ferguson (d. 1928) bequeathed $100,000 for its construction. Nancy Pelosi’s father, Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. gave a speech at the dedication ceremony. I always thought the statue had a cold severity about it. These mounted figures were the gods of war, scarcely recognizable as the courtly, kind, gently humorous Lee and the eccentric, professorial, saintly Jackson. The lettering at the top of the granite base reads: “So great is my confidence in General Lee that I am willing to follow him blindfolded” and “Straight as the needle to the pole Jackson advanced to the execution of my purpose.”
The sculpture was based on the famous painting by E.B.D Julio, originally entitled “The Heroes of Chancellorsville” but later known as “The Last Meeting.” Mark Twain, in his puerile, reductive way, wrote in Life on the Mississippi that the pathos of the painting is entirely in the title. He suggested that if it had been called “Jackson asking Lee for a Match” or a number of other trivial names, it would not be so touching. But he missed the point. The statue, in keeping with the original conception of the painter, conveys the heroic stature of both men, without their frailty. Soon after that meeting, Jackson would be dead, and Lee would contract the strep infection that gave him rheumatic fever, weakening him critically at Gettysburg and eventually killing him.
Last week, the city held a ceremony rededicating the site as the “Harriet Tubman Memorial Grove”. A 28-year-old master’s-degree student at Goucher College named Jackson Gilman-Forlini extruded a prime blob of post-modern nonsense, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun: “really the removal of these monuments was not so much about monuments in general as about the kind of values that we as a society want to promote,” namely “of inclusion, of tolerance, of speaking out against prejudice.” He also asserted that “These kind [sic] of gatherings in many ways are much more powerful than new monuments may necessarily be, because these are about community action and about the experience of the individual working in a community to assert positive values.” And this character works for the city as a “historic preservationist.” With preservationists like this, who needs destructionists?
So, let me get this straight. An important monument for which a philanthropist donated today’s equivalent of a million dollars should be taken down so that a small number of social justice warriors with nothing but a handful of gimme and a mouthful of slogans can feel good about their own cheap talk? Notice that this clown has a ready-made excuse for not offering to fund a separate, new monument: a bit of street theater is “more powerful.”
And let’s examine the values of General Lee: gentlemanly conduct, duty, faith, honor. We have come to a sorry pass when official city preservationists are against these values. Notice also what “inclusion” and “tolerance” really mean when uttered by these official vandals. Whatever symbols they don’t like are neither included nor tolerated, and anyone who speaks out against their prejudices will be shouted down.
Several years ago, my wife Elizabeth gave a birthday party for me in Baltimore. A composer friend sat down at the piano and announced that he was going to play a new composition entitled “Heroes.” By way of preamble, and in order to inform his performance by having a specific person in mind, he asked me to name a hero of my own. That was a tough question because there are so many people I admire. So, rather than dither, I immediately replied, “Robert E. Lee.”
There was a gasp from the other side of the room, and I realized it had come from a black lady who is a friend of Elizabeth’s. I immediately jumped to the media-programmed conclusion that my choice had offended her. At the end of the evening, as we were saying our good-byes, she told me, “I can’t believe you said Robert E. Lee!”
I replied, “Oh?”
“Yes,” she exclaimed with great animation. “He’s my hero too!”
I mention this little exchange because identity politics has become so pervasive that the default assumption is that opinions divide along racial lines. We ought to be able to share some of our heroes. The young have been especially brainwashed. There is something fundamentally wrong when junior Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott calls Lee a “terrorist” and a “traitor,” (the Sun article containing this quote has disappeared since this article was written) while endorsing Harriet Tubman, who really did conspire with a genuine terrorist, John Brown. It is disturbing that someone in a position of public trust uses such language, because it suggests that the official who talks that way is not merely stupid or ignorant but is actually part of the postmodern left, who use language not to convey useful meaning but to establish power relationships.
Even the dullest observer will by now have figured out that the government can do anything it wants to terrorists. It can lock them up indefinitely without benefit of trial; it can subject them to certain kinds of torture; and it can assassinate them on the order of the president, even if they are American citizens. So, I think we need to be very suspicious of any public official who calls people terrorists, because he is putting them in a category that is not protected by law. Today his target is a statue of someone long dead. Tomorrow it could be you.
The same wariness should apply when we hear “Nazi” or “fascist.” It’s automatically ok to hate Nazis or maybe even to kill them. Those who throw that name at their opponents are merely trying them to paint a target on their backs. “White supremacist” or “racist” is another such term, although not nearly as potent, partly because we all know, as Ann Coulter has said, that a racist is anyone who is winning an argument with a liberal. Or, as the younger generation has been taught, if you’re white, you’re a racist. It’s like original sin; you can’t get away from it. So, any mentally healthy white person who has taken more than a moment to think about this matter has already said to himself, “Ok, I can live with that.” Nobody really knows exactly what a white supremacist is, except that it’s something we’re not supposed to approve of. If it’s someone who prefers to live in a place where white people rule, then we have to include Abraham Lincoln and (by revealed preference) all the Africans who are migrating into Europe. In any case, we’ve all come to recognize “white supremacist” as just so much verbal mud in the slinger’s arsenal.
By the way, since treason is a capital offense, “traitor” is another targeting word. Traitors are traditionally shot or hanged. The term is thrown around so loosely in politics that it has lost most of its sting, but its use is still fraught with latent menace. Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army when it became clear that Lincoln was bent on invading the southern states. (He made a point of tendering his resignation immediately so that he would not be resigning while under orders.) He vowed never again to raise his sword against any man, save only in the defense of his own state of Virginia. He could not bring himself to wage war against his own family, friends, and neighbors. Anyone who calls such a man a traitor is either revealing his own moral idiocy or simply spitting poison.
Now, let’s get back to heroes. We can always learn something worthwhile by studying other people’s objects of veneration. I’m always willing to try. Clearly, Robert E. Lee has a few points in common with Harriet Tubman. Both were very brave. Both stood up for their people at great personal risk. Both spoke out against slavery. But they embodied different archetypes. My first thought was that Robert E. Lee was the Tragic Hero, and Harriet Tubman was the Heroic Outlaw (like Robin Hood, or in American myth Jesse James). Lee scrupulously obeyed the law; Tubman deliberately broke it. But this analysis is ultimately incomplete and superficial.
The Outlaw is a masculine archetype. (So too is Moses, with whom Tubman has been identified, but only because both of them led their people out of captivity. The comparison falls apart when we consider that Moses was a law-giver, and Tubman was a law-breaker, even if she was by all accounts a better wilderness guide than the biblical hero.) Although she had tough, masculine qualities, Tubman was a woman. Her efforts in the Underground Railroad may be seen as essentially maternal, gathering her brood and leading them to safety. Even her legendary ferocity seems to me to fall in the category of Kipling’s description of the female of the species fighting for her children.
Lee is a complementary type, the Good Father. This paternal aspect of the man is well known to those who have read his letters or learned about his times as commandant of West Point before the War and as president of Washington College afterward. As a disciplinarian, he had a very light touch and a sense of humor. The students were motivated principally by his example. When asked for a list of rules at Washington College, he expressed a distaste for written regulations, saying that he had only one rule: that every student should be a gentleman. Let us revive this concept. We can’t make people behave well by legislation; that approach has been tested to destruction. Being a gentleman has nothing to do with money or fine clothes or even genealogy. It is an inward and spiritual grace that manifests itself in decency of appearance and behavior.
What would Robert E. Lee do? If we men all asked ourselves that question regularly in daily life, we could not fail to be better citizens, better neighbors, better friends, better fathers, better sons. Doubtless, we would all fall short of the ideal, but at least we would not be beset by Bernie Madoffs, Harvey Weinsteins, promiscuous baby-daddies, and teenage carjackers.
Why take down a statue of two men (Lee and Jackson) who embodied the much-needed virtues of self-discipline, honor, and steadfastness? Is it because the moral example of those powerful father figures is too stern a rebuke to the dissolute young black men whose bad behavior causes so much suffering for the women in their lives? Doesn’t virtue transcend race?
If white people can learn something valuable from the tale of a Tubman, why can’t black people profit from the legend of a Lee?
The Confederate Women’s Monument, 22 September 2008. (Photo credit Frederic C. Chalfant, own work, CCA-SA 3.0. The use of this photo does not imply that the photographer endorses me or my use of his work.)