The Confederate Women’s Monument (Monuments part 2)

Of all the recent statuary banishments, the most shameful was the removal of the Confederate Women’s Monument during the Night of the Long Cranes, August 16, 2017.

The bronze statue on a red marble base stood at the northwest corner of Charles Street and Northern Parkway, across from the northeast corner of the Johns Hopkins campus. The sculpture depicted a kneeling woman cradling a mortally wounded soldier, his flag furled and tilted downward in defeat, while a second woman stood behind her, gazing into the distance.

Funded by the United Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the State of Maryland, it was dedicated in 1917 in honor of “The Brave at Home.” The back side of the granite base reads as follows:

IN DIFFICULTY AND DANGER
REGARDLESS OF SELF
THEY FED THE HUNGRY
CLOTHED THE NEEDY
NURSED THE WOUNDED
AND COMFORTED THE DYING

An “historic preservationist” for the city contended that this and the three other statues removed did not comport with “the kind of values that we as a society want to promote.” Evidently, selflessness, generosity, and kindly solicitude are not that “kind of values.”

There has been much self-congratulation by social justice warriors to the effect that the removal of the statues was a “correction of past injustice.” It has apparently not occurred to them that one injustice does not remedy another, or that the women of Maryland suffered many injustices under Lincoln’s military occupation of the state. Folks in the hill country have a term for the practice of inflicting new injustices to correct old ones. It’s called a feud.

A Hopkins professor named N.D.B. Connolly, who is billed as “an expert in politics, capitalism, and racism” recently gave a summary of the injustices allegedly suffered by Harriet Tubman and added that “current inequalities relating to mass incarceration, eviction, public health—all these things fall disproportionately on black women. Anything we can do to claim space to honor and respect the contributions of black women is really important.” Very well, Professor, why don’t you and your successful black buddies pay for the construction of a statue honoring black women? (Whether Tubman represents the flower of black womanhood is a question best left to an expert like Professor Connolly). Oh, right, you think the rest of us owe you. I am all in favor of honoring black women, but why do you have to take down a statue honoring white women? The answer to this last question is becoming disturbingly evident: there is no more tolerance. For the black radicals and other anti-white identity groups, it’s us versus them. Remember when Americans woke up after 9/11 to find that someone was waging war against us but we didn’t know it? Well, unfortunately it’s time to wake up again.

Empty plinth of the Confederate Women’s Monument, March 9, 2018. (Photo by author)
Johns Hopkins athletic fields are in the background. Welcome to third-world Baltimore. What fools those aging widows and veterans were to donate their mites in the belief that posterity would honor their sacrifice! The city’s act of perfidy toward its past civic benefactors “helps bring the community values to important places and helps weave together the community,” according to City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
Rather the opposite, I should think. But what do I know?

Latest Study: More Social Engineering

No measures of cognitive ability? Oh, well, they don’t matter. Nothing to see here that can’t be fixed by more social engineering.

There is a new study out, reported in the New York Times, showing that the sons of highly successful black men fall backward on the socioeconomic scale more often than the sons of similarly successful white men. Of course, their headline screams, “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys.” Way to stoke the fires, guys!

Anyone who has paid attention to the black-white difference in IQ distribution will see this finding as a predictable consequence of innate differences between the races, combined with simple regression toward the mean. But the researchers did not include any data on cognitive ability in their study. That’s right, they did this impressive study, but they have no data on the IQ of the fathers and sons. As a result, they are unable objectively to confirm or refute the race-realist hypothesis. They simply wave it away in two paragraphs of tortured logic. There is a helpful summary of the main points of the study, but it is worth reading the whole thing.

The chief findings are as follows, with my comments:

  1. Hispanics are moving up the income distribution across generations, while blacks and American Indians are not.
  2. The black-white opportunity gap is driven entirely by differences in men’s, not women’s outcomes.
  3. Differences in family characteristics- parental marriage rates, education, wealth- and differences in ability [emphasis mine] explain very little of the black-white gap.

    On page 26 of the actual article, the authors explain why they think that innate differences in ability (such as IQ and trait conscientiousness) play no role. Black-white test gaps are similar for both sexes, but only men have different outcomes. To quote the actual text, “The fact that black women have incomes and wage rates comparable to white women conditional on parental income despite having lower test scores suggests that test scores do not provide an accurate measure of differences in ability (insofar as it is relevant to earnings) by race.” If you substitute the word “sex” for “race” the statement is correct. But as presented, it assumes that there are no differences in the kind of work done by men vs women and ignores the math/verbal skew of ability between the sexes, which becomes even more pronounced at the highest levels of proficiency. It also ignores the wider variance in male intelligence. There are more male geniuses and male idiots. Affirmative action and the hiring of large numbers of black women to government paper-shuffling jobs may also blunt the effect of an innate ability gap.

    What if super-high-achieving men have more demanding jobs (top professional, CEO, sports superstar) that require either a rarely high IQ or rarely high innate ability of some other kind? Wouldn’t the result of the next generation’s regression toward the mean be more striking than in the case of women working less mentally or physically demanding jobs? And wouldn’t regression from the tip-top of the black bell curve be more devastating than a fall from the upper slope of the white one? Consider the hypothetical case of two male physicians in the same medical group practice, one black, one white. Let’s say they have the same IQ, 135. If the mean IQ of American blacks is 85, and the mean IQ of whites is 100, regression toward the mean is going to be more striking in the black doctor’s son. If he falls to the center of his racial bell curve, he will drop 50 points, to a level well below average for the population as a whole, whereas the white doctor’s son will drop 35 points to merely average. If each dropped only half-way back, they would end up with IQ’s of 110 and 117.5, still a slight edge for the white kid.

  1. In 99% of U.S. neighborhoods, black boys earn less in adulthood than white boys who grew up in families with comparable income. The same comments apply.
  2. Both black and white boys have better outcomes in low-poverty areas, but black-white gaps are bigger in such neighborhoods. No surprise there. Depressed regions have poor employment opportunities. The authors conclude that “whites benefit more from living in such areas than blacks do.” Well, if there’s an innate performance difference, wouldn’t you expect it to be multiplied by roughly the same factor as the average income in the region? If wages (and cost of living) are 5 times as high in Manhattan as in Granville, NY, Joe can earn 20,000, and Mike can earn 40,000 in Granville; but in Manhattan, Joe Earns 100,000, and Mike earns 200,000. Both are earning 5 times as much, but the wage gap has also gone up by a factor of five.

    Interestingly, in the Southeast, the study found that whites had “especially low rates of upward mobility” but blacks did not. Could this finding be a result of removal of barriers to black advancement or imposition of discriminatory hiring practices against whites, or both?

  3. In low-poverty areas, black-white gaps are smallest in places with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among blacks. Naturally the authors confused correlation with causation and blamed bad outcomes for blacks on mean, bigoted white people. They did not disprove or apparently even consider the alternative explanation that where blacks are well-behaved (conforming to bourgeois norms such as “father presence”) and not too numerous, white people default to the socially programmed prejudice that race is only skin deep. Many of my contemporaries shared that prejudice until forced busing filled their schools with foul-mouthed, violent, larcenous black kids.
  4. The black-white gap is not immutable: black boys who move to better neighborhoods as children have significantly better outcomes. This finding may seem to conflict with number 4, but the point is that fatherless boys growing up amid rampant crime are at a disadvantage in life.

This idea seems intuitively correct, but the ever-brilliant JayMan has some information about overestimating the importance of parenting and environment.

Recommendations from the authors:

  1. Mentoring programs for black boys. Good. It can’t hurt and might help.
  2. Efforts to reduce racial bias among whites. Oh, Please! The ongoing propaganda campaign to “reduce racial bias among whites” is all-pervading. Until blacks behave better, we are looking at postjudice, an attitude based on careful evaluation of the evidence, not prejudice. And how about reducing black bias against whites?
  3. Interventions to reduce discrimination in criminal justice. How about equal pay for equal work and equal punishment for equal crime? Let the courts be scrupulously fair, and let the chips fall where they may. Until blacks (in the aggregate) clean up their act, the “impact” will be “disparate,” but nobody gets better by making excuses for himself and blaming his failings on others.
  4. Efforts to facilitate greater interaction across racial groups. There is a long and disastrous history of sanctimonious control freaks forcing “greater interaction.” They ruined the public schools, drove white people out of the cities, and set back by several generations what really appeared to be an emergence around 1960 of interracial understanding and harmony. I have an idea. Let people associate by choice. Allow communities and clubs to be mono-racial by covenant if they wish. For those who prefer a racially blended community or a mixed-race family, go ahead, and God bless you! Let’s not coerce anybody or make anybody wrong. And when we meet in day-to-day life as fellow mortals, let’s make an extra effort to be courteous, kind, and respectful.

FDR’s Four Freedoms as multicultural propaganda: No shortage of stale ideas to recycle on the left

March is a banner month for Cultural Marxism. Hard on the heels of National Geographic’s cover story denying the biological reality of race comes the latest issue of Smithsonian.

Smithsonian magazine features an immigration propaganda poster on its front cover. The image is a crude copy of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Fear” painting. A Mesoamerican mother and father are tucking their two little brown children into bed. The lamp-lit stairs in the background of Rockwell’s painting have been replaced by a wall, a guard tower, and sinister armed guards with a dog. Note that the viewer is led to perceive reality not through the mature eyes of the parents of Rockwell’s America, who see a home full of warmth and light, but through the dark imaginings of a frightened child, for whom the bogeyman is real and is personified by the enforcers of our nation’s immigration laws. In case you missed the point, the artist is quoted as saying, “This [the U.S.A.] is where people come for refuge,” and “When you see a family at a detention center maybe you will ask, ‘Why do I have a dislike of immigrants?’”

Well, where to begin? Not with his question, to which Vdare readers already know the answers, but with the ways in which this smelly piece of recycled propaganda stinks.

First, let’s go back to the original series of paintings by Norman Rockwell. Limousine leftist and Democrat President-for-Life Franklin D. Roosevelt rolled out his anti-libertarian agenda in his 1941 State of the Union address. He detested the Bill of Rights, with its inconvenient restrictions on the power of the central government, and presented his “four freedoms” as a dumbed-down, big-government-friendly replacement. The context of the speech was that the Second World War was already under way, but the U.S. had not yet been dragged into it. Thus, he was able to wrap his poison pill in a sugar coating of patriotism by saying that these were the freedoms worth fighting for.

Norman Rockwell was already a famous illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. government began commissioning art for war posters, under the supervision of communist fellow-traveler Archibald MacLeish, who was then Librarian of Congress. Rockwell himself appears to have been apolitical, and there is no reason to believe that he had any idea of Roosevelt’s nefarious ideological intent.

Freedom of Speech is so 1940’s for today’s social justice warriors, but it’s okay if the speaker is a person of color. So, instead of a lone white dissenter in a New England town meeting, we are given a young black woman in silhouette, with pink hair (you see that from time to time, right?). From her mouth, pink origami birds are flying up. The birds bear fragmentary messages: future/ times up, me too/ equal/ pay, and a few shorter fragments, too short to recognize with certainty. This poster is rather pretty in its way and has the virtue of being the only one that is not simply a distempered copy of the original. It also answers the question: If an ideology is a fragment of a myth, and a slogan is a fragment of an ideology, what do you call a fragment of a slogan? A tweet.

Freedom of Worship is an ideological abridgement of the freedom of religion, because it implicitly confines it inside the church building. It also represents a diabolically clever splintering of the First Amendment, separating the protections of religion and speech. Rockwell painted seven people at prayer. A black man is in the back of the picture, top left, and a fellow who I understand is supposed to be Jewish in the front, bottom right. Rockwell usually used his Vermont neighbors as models, so he clearly made an effort here to include a mix of diverse types. The painter of the new version says, “In the original Freedom of Worship, the five figures in the center are all white. The fringes are people of color.” Wow! Jews can be people of color, except when they’re competing with blacks and Hispanics for school admissions. He goes on to say, “That’s what institutional racism is, when you fail to notice things like that.” The new painting includes only one definitely white face, that of a frail old man. Bye, bye, whitey!

But wait. Wasn’t this poster supposed to be about worship? Why bring race into it? Because the postmodern left is all about identity politics. As Jared Taylor has pointed out, churches are the most racially homogeneous places in America because they are the last refuge of freedom of association. Most people just naturally want to be with others like themselves. Rockwell attempted to depict people of different religions, but this race-obsessed artist has to serve us a racial tossed salad.

Freedom from want is nothing but carte blanche for the socialist welfare state. But instead of painting starving communists, Rockwell depicted a cheerful family dinner with grandma placing a big turkey on the table. The author of the Smithsonian article writes, “Rockwell laid out a Thanksgiving dinner, with a turkey so real-looking that it’s no surprise to learn that he later ate it.” He ate the painting of the turkey? That surprises me! The heaping platter in the hyper-realist revision is laden instead with vegetables. Three of the diners have an elbow on the table. A kid at the left front is wearing virtual reality goggles; the baby at right front is using some kind of electronic pad; and a laptop computer is simultaneously displaying a picture on its screen in front of him. Sis in the red dress gestures oddly; she ain’t right. Grandpa looks as if he’s taking a selfie of him, grandma, and the veggie platter. The house is lifeless. There are no pictures on the wall. This kitschy representation of an unappetizing dinner for disconnected, dysfunctional consumers is unsurprisingly the only one of the series in which all the characters are white. The artist reports that he painted his own family. On the bright side, he merely painted a creepy picture of them, instead of chopping them up with an axe, yet, as far as we know.

Freedom from fear eerily anticipates today’s incremental attrition of liberty in response to terrorist attacks, school shootings, and other infrequent horrors. Offensive speech is being called terrorism, and we know what happens to terrorists. If the government has a positive obligation to protect us from an emotion, there is nothing it can’t do. Beyond these obvious objections, Rockwell’s original painting embodies a psychological fallacy. Children do not overcome their fears by having Mommy and Daddy hover over their beds to protect them from the monster in the closet. They become brave by opening the closet and facing the monster. Failure to understand the harmfulness of overprotective parenting is writ large in the “protective” activities of the nanny state. Hey, why not get it over with and just lock everybody up in a padded cell?

Bonus points to Cuban boatlift boy Edel Rodriguez for adding the immigration-advocacy angle. There are lots of scary places in the world. If every fearful foreigner can come to the U.S.A. for a safe space, isn’t that a scary prospect for American citizens? Doesn’t the government have an obligation to protect us from the fear of having our relatively safe country transformed into Somalia? No? I thought not.

Just as the stale, dismal, murderous doctrine of communism has been repackaged in the glittering fluff of postmodernism, so too the bogus “freedoms” of FDR and the early 20th-century progressives are now reinterpreted by overtly anti-American, anti-constitutional artistic hacks. Norman Rockwell was not attuned to the nuances of politics and didn’t know he was being used as a propaganda tool, beyond the obvious hooray-for-our-side bombast of wartime. Maybe he’d get the point if he could see the latest take-off on his work.

Let there be peace on earth

And let it begin with not rewriting other people’s song lyrics.

Suppose that someone takes offense at some harmless remark that you made. If you are an agreeable type, or even if you are a well-socialized disagreeable type, you will (rightly) apologize for giving offense and think about how to avoid causing future upsets. But imagine that the same person repeatedly claims to be hurt or upset or (horror!) triggered. If you are sane yourself and have any self-respect, you will eventually conclude (again, rightly) that this perpetual victim is either crazy or running a racket. On the other hand, if you’re crazy too, you may continue to put up with the crazy person’s whining and complaining indefinitely.

The cult of outrage around identity politics has got me wondering, are we crazy enough to keep putting up with the ever more absurd demands of the left? A whole new lexicon of made-up pronouns? Really? Could even the most imaginative parodist keep up with this nonsense?

Is there a point beyond which everybody stops yielding tribute to the Knights who say “Ni”? When I was in high school, the ever-so-nice leaders of the Episcopal Church gave in to the illiterate demands of radical feminists and purged the hymnal of all masculine references. “Time, like an ever-rolling stream/ Bears all its sons away” became “Time, like an ever-rolling stream/ Bears all its years away,” which makes no sense; but why would it when the demand to change it made no sense? Nobody imagined that the daughters of time were not being borne away by the same current until some feminist fruitcake started weeping, “What about me? Why can’t the stream bear me away?” Instead of just saying, “Don’t worry, baby. Time’s coming for you too,” the church capitulated. A lot of people who liked the hymnal as it was simply left the church.

“Even the weariest river/ Flows somewhere safe to sea,” wrote Swinburne, and most of the nuts who demanded those changes have probably joined the other trash in the Sargasso by now. But we’re left with their perversions of our sacred music, and their even nuttier successors are still at it.

In the 1990’s, I attended a Baptist church picnic. There was some singing of songs, and one of the numbers was the old hippy, feel-good, love-the-world favorite “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” We sang from song books, and I was shocked to see that the words had been changed. “With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.” Who could object to that? I’d bet my paisley Nehru shirt that not one girl singing that song in 1955, when it was written, thought that she was not included as one of God’s children. But all it took was some neurotic identity freak to demand “inclusive language” (which is really totalitarian manipulation of language). So, the book I saw in 1994 had everybody singing “With God as creator, children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.” Wait a minute, if God is creator, creatures all are we. It certainly doesn’t follow that we’re children, much less siblings. We could be salamanders and slugs! Of course, I sang it the way I remembered it, probably off key as usual.

Now here is the interesting part: when I mentioned the ideological word-warp to my friends, I learned that none of them had noticed. Why not? For the same reason hummingbirds hum: they can’t remember the words. The truly evil people who have taken over our academic institutions are determined to eradicate our culture as fast as they can. When books are all digitized and the hard copies are rare and fragile and costly, and the commissars have altered the electronic record, well, “You have a faulty memory, Winston!” For God’s sake, my brothers (and that includes my sisters), pay attention and remember! And let’s take back our language from the loonies.

Report from the (former) Monumental City (Monuments part 1)

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 the Baltimore Museum of Art and brick buildings of Johns Hopkins University in the background.

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.)