When it comes to destroying statues, there are good examples and bad ones.
A good example would be the toppling of statues of Stalin and Lenin when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. A bad example would be the destruction of Chinese antiquities by the Maoist Red Guards during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
When Russians destroyed Communist statues, they were freeing themselves from recent dictators and an authoritarian party that had sought to destroy Russia’s history and heritage. When this happened in the East European nations that had been forced into the Soviet bloc, it was also a move to restore their national identities and independence. All to the good.
When the Cultural Revolution came to China, the purpose was just the opposite. It was to destroy traditional Chinese culture and all evidence of Chinese civilization—to create a new “civilization.” And the results were calamitous—almost beyond comprehension. The destruction went beyond the toppling of Buddhist statues and religious sites and tombs. Nothing was safe. Libraries were ransacked, paintings and scrolls of literature ripped apart. Even private homes were invaded to destroy the genealogy books and ancestor paintings of their occupants.
By one account, 4,922 of the 6,843 officially designated “historical interest” sites in Beijing were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
America is now experiencing its own Cultural Revolution, and it is following the Maoist example.
The purpose of the communist Cultural Revolution in China was to destroy “the four olds”—old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. Sound familiar?
I am not saying that a Confederate statue in Richmond is equal in significance to an ancient Buddhist site in Beijing. But the psychology behind the two campaigns is the same—mindless destruction. Destroy, destroy, and destroy, with no coherent vision of what the new order is going to be. Today’s politically correct posturing becomes tomorrow’s target, as the revolution moves on.
Any civilization is complicated, a mix of good and bad elements. But in a revolution, such distinctions are not allowed. The old is bad, the future is all promises. With today’s American Cultural Revolution, everything is seen through the lens of “white racism.” That “racism” is seen as pervasive in all walks of life, and America is seen as uniquely racist among nations. To any serious student of history, those notions are laughingly simplified, but then most revolutions are propelled by emotional outbursts unchecked by rational analysis.
White Hats vs. Black Hats
The old joke about Western movies was that you could always distinguish the good guys from the bad hombres by their hats. Actually that probably wasn’t always true even in the movies, but it certainly wasn’t in history. Real history is more complicated than that.
A case in point is the Civil War (or, the War Between the States if you want to take another perspective which is not allowed today). North: good, South: bad. North: against slavery, South: for slavery. North: patriots, South: traitors. That’s the story of America’s Civil War in a nutshell according to our cultural revolutionaries.
Yet it’s more complicated. At the time of the American Revolution, slavery was the way of the world, and had been throughout history. As my friend Allan Brownfeld has noted, “When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal.” Bear this in mind when you hear a progressive like Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va) declare that the United States “created” slavery and “didn’t inherit slavery from anybody.”
The Africans themselves were both victims and bad guys, as black slaves often were the losers in tribal wars, especially in the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and victorious chieftains would exchange their slaves for European goods. Portugal and Spain dominated the transatlantic slave trade in the beginning, but then England dominated the trade—but the abolitionist movement was also British-based, so the Brits were both good guys and bad guys.
There is no doubt that slavery was the original sin of the colonies that became the United States. But the North was not without blame. Northern sea captains were prominent in the slave trade, and emancipation was gradual in the North—in New York, for example, that only happened in 1799. Slavery came to predominate in the South because the climate and soils favored crops, such as cotton, that lent themselves to slave labor.
But even as late as the Civil War, small farmers, and merchants who had no slaves greatly outnumbered the slaveholding class in the South. The reason we think of the South in terms of plantations is because northern writers popularized and romanticized the plantations on their trips to that area. It certainly was more comfortable to be wined and dined as a guest on a plantation than to live among the pig farmers in the backwoods areas of the South.
So why did the majority of southerners who didn’t own slaves fight to preserve slavery? One answer is that the Civil War wasn’t only about slavery, despite how it is depicted today. It was also about the nature of the federal union after adoption of the Constitution. Secession was not just a southern notion; it was also threatened by the New England states when they felt their interests were not being met in the national government.
Add to this, above all: the impact of invasion of your homeland. For example, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia—where I presently live—voted with the rest of Virginia against secession the first time that came to a vote. But then the federal troops massed to invade the South, and Virginia united to join the Confederacy. To southerners, this invasion of their homeland was as real as the earlier invasion of the colonies by British troops.
I don’t think I would have any problem explaining this to Russians. Their heroic defense of their motherland against the Nazi invaders—and then victory over them—is recent enough to stir their memories even today. But America’s two world wars were fought almost entirely “over there,” so we have lost any understanding of fighting to protect your homeland against invaders. Southerners haven’t, at least not entirely yet—and that is why they are reviled by the ruling elites and their puppets in the streets.
Even during the War Years, it was not a simple matter of North vs. South.
Many people in the North opposed going to war. Most notable were the draft riots in New York City. See the 2002 Martin Scorsese movie “Gangs of New York” for a poignant depiction of young, able-bodied Irish immigrants being forcibly drafted into service as soon as they got off their ships. We are told the North was “against slavery,” but these inducted immigrants were reduced to the status of slaves for the duration of the war.
Similarly, there was considerable opposition to secession in the South. Most notable was the opposition in the western regions of Virginia, which led to the formation of the free state of West Virginia. But there was considerable opposition throughout the Appalachian region of the South, as well as in parts of states such as Arkansas and Texas.
Sam Houston, first president of the Republic of Texas, was later opposed to secession but lost that battle despite his status as a Texas hero. Opposition to secession was strongest among the Germans in central Texas and the Mexicans in South Texas. Confederate troops massacred Germans and Mexicans who sought to escape to Mexico, hoping to fight for the Union from there. That pretty much quelled the rebellion, but the predominantly German counties in central Texas were put under martial law to make certain there were no more rebellions.
On a personal note, my ancestors had immigrated from Germany to one of those counties in the 1840s. Two Franke brothers did serve briefly in the Confederate Army but, absent diaries or other documents, we don’t know if they did that out of conviction or to avoid persecution by the Confederate state government. We do know that they surrendered at their earliest opportunity—in Vicksburg—never making it anywhere near the major battle areas on the Eastern Seaboard. It’s just one example of how the Civil War was more complicated than its depiction by today’s culture warriors.
The Red Guards Come to America
Reasoned debates could be held regarding the appropriateness of some Confederate statues and monuments, but instead we are witnessing an incoherent mania of destruction. The purpose is to depict America as inherently and pervasively racist, when in reality the real contribution of America to the world has been the notion of individual liberty, coming from God not governments, and secured by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
For sure, that message was marred by the original sin of slavery, but that just points to the complexity of real history. No generation is all good or all bad. “Judge not lest you be judged.” Today’s righteous warriors should keep that warning in mind.
And for all the noise about “racism,” it’s not really about racism. Otherwise the most overt examples would be anti-white racists such as Louis Farrakhan, and his kind are not condemned but approved by the mobs in the streets. Nor is it about justice for blacks or police violence against blacks, when more than 90 percent of black murders are at the hands of other blacks. Black lives matter? Then do something about the black criminals and gangs who prey on innocent blacks in the Democrat-led cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and Newark.
The riots and demonstrations are about revolution, not white racism or justice for law-abiding blacks or real history. As with the Maoist Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution, it is about destroying the “four olds” in America–old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas. And those “olds” include George Washington’s stalwart leadership against tyranny, not for it, George Mason’s fight for the Bill of Rights, and Thomas Jefferson’s drafting of the Declaration of Independence, for starters.
So let’s call this fight what it really is—a Maoist-style revolution—and then let Americans take sides, just as they did in 1776. I know which side I’m on.