Pulling Down Statues
My favourite “Neo Catholic” (orthodox but not Traditionalist) magazine is the American New Oxford Review which comes out 10 times a year. It’s always challenging. October’s issue contains a rather crass unsigned piece welcoming the removal of Confederate monuments in the American South. What particularly got up my nose was the way the writer drew a parallel between Robert E. Lee and Saddam Hussein—and he drags in not just Saddam, but even the Nuremberg trials.
The American civil war was about far more than slavery: the struggle was concerned primarily with the preservation of the United States. President Abraham Lincoln himself asserted as much: In his letter to Horace Greeley he wrote:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it… What I do about slavery or the coloured race I do because I believe it helps save the union.
General Lee, a man with a strong sense of honour and duty, seems to have been somewhat ambivalent about slavery. He agonised about whether to support his own state of Virginia or the United States, but when Virginia joined the Confederacy, he decided he must choose Virginia, and was put at the head of the Southern army. The NOR writer believes Lee’s statue should come down because he was “the leader of an enemy force that killed Americans”. That’s overly simplistic. William Tecumsheh Sherman, the Union general who took the Confederate surrender, was also the leader of an enemy force that killed Americans—in the view of the southerners. He also quite deliberately made war on civilians, particularly in his march through Georgia.
Perhaps the most balanced comment came from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who fought on the Federal side:
We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win, we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluble, we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred convictions that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.