Cover: Hundreds of marchers from the “Richmond Stands United for Racial Justice” rally approach Stuart Circle on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia on September 16, 2017 to counter planned pro-Confederate statue demonstrations. (Mobilus In Mobili CC BY-SA 2.0)
Tear Down This Wall: In light of the national conversation regarding race in the United States, a simmering debate about removing confederate statues and symbols is resurfacing. Retired US Army General and former CIA director David Petraeus wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic on Tuesday titled, “Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases.” The US Navy is planning to ban Confederate battle flags from all public spaces on Navy installations, ships, and aircrafts. NASCAR on Wednesday said it is also banning the display of the Confederate flag at all of its events and properties. A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was toppled in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday night. Statues of Christopher Columbus in Boston, Miami, and Virginia have been vandalized. The sentiment and the corresponding actions are not new. In 2017, during a protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee, a self-described neo-Nazi killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer after he rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then, at least 44 monuments have been removed across the country. Across the United States, there are an estimated 1,741 public symbols of the Confederacy including 771 Confederate statues and monuments, mostly in the south. Here’s a map, and here’s what each side is saying about whether or not they should be removed or taken down.
On the Right: Conservatives and right-leaning outlets have mixed opinions. On one hand, you have Quin Hillyer of the Washington Examiner who writes that, “It has never, ever made sense for U.S. military bases to be named after men who served as generals in armed warfare against the United States. Why would any nation name its military bases after men who took up arms against it?” He adds that “A reasoned and decent respect for black Americans should absolutely require that renamings be ‘considered,’ in a review that takes a dispassionate look at how and why the bases were named in the first place and any other relevant factors.” On the other hand, Dominic Green of The Spectator says, “Monuments are part of the historical evidence. This is why erasing even the loathsome statues of Confederate generals is an error… If we wreck [them] or hide [them], we remove the evidence of this wickedness from our children’s sight.” Robert James O’Neill, a former United States Navy SEAL who fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden, adds in a tweet: “You know who else destroys statues? ISIS, al Qaeda and The Taliban.”
On the Left: Democrats and left-leaning voices are in broad agreement for the removal of confederate monuments and the renaming of military bases. George Shepherd writes for CNN that just as Germany did with Nazi shrines, “all Confederate monuments should be removed. Ideally, they should be removed by state and local governments, not demonstrators; if governments remove them, rather than protestors, society’s rejection of the monuments and the evil that they represent is clearer.” Ed Kilgore adds for New York Magazine, “Fort Bragg was named for another incompetent general “known for pettiness and cruelty.” Fort Gordon was named after a Ku Klux Klan leader. Every damn one of them was a loser in a bad cause. And their names were attached to military facilities not to honor their courage or skill but to support the big lie of the neo-Confederacy, the whitewashing of the lost cause in order to perpetuate Jim Crow and the terrorism that created and maintained it.” In summary, Peniel Joseph of CNN concludes, “the elevation of the Confederate flag and the corresponding raising of monuments to soldiers who should be considered war criminals betrays our nation’s deepest commitments and principles.”
Flag This: The partisan divide is playing out pretty clearly as it relates to government leaders. US President Donald Trump says he will “not even consider” renaming military bases named for Confederate generals. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that bases named for Confederate generals “have become part of a Great American heritage, a history of Winning, Victory and Freedom”. He added: “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!” On the other hand, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that the names of Confederate leaders must be removed from American military bases and the statues of these men must be taken out of the U.S. Capitol. “The American people know these names have to go. These names are white supremacists that said terrible things about our country,” she said. “Some of these names were given to these bases. You listen to who they are and what they said and then you have the president make a case as to why a base should be named for them. He seems to be the only person left who doesn’t get it.” While this modern day debate is taking place, it’s interesting to note what happened on this day, June 12, in 1987. In one of his most famous Cold War speeches, President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the repressive Communist era in a divided Germany.