If media coverage was anything but wall to wall Trump Russia Russia Trump Trump Russia these days, it might feature the strange spectacle unfolding in New Orleans.
Mitch Landrieu – Mary Landrieu’s brother – is mayor of New Orleans. Evidently things are so splendid in the Crescent City, Mitch Landrieu has decided to address the issue of Civil War monuments. That’s right. He’s not taking on crime. Drugs. Or working with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the city won’t flood when climate change causes the seas to rise. Presumably he’s not a climate change denier.
As interesting as the images of construction workers — wearing bulletproof vests and face masks under armed protection — taking monuments down in the dark of night have been, those images pale in comparison to Landrieu’s own commentary.
“We cannot be afraid of the truth,” Landrieu explained in one setting. In another he spoke of how the monuments presented a “sanitized” version of the old south that ignored all the negative aspects of the Civil War.
Landrieu is right. We shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. However, virtually any monument – except maybe the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC – could be described as ignorant of all the terrible things wrought during war. Take the Iwo Jima Memorial for example. Using Landrieu’s logic, it is possible to portray the statues representing Marines and a Navy medic as an image of imperial conquest that purposely omits the blood bath that was Iwo Jima.
The same argument could be made of a Civil War monument. Does a statue of Robert E. Lee for example, represent the tragic toll exacted when brother turned on brother 157 years ago? Does it adequately honor African Americans as well as the impoverished white people that made up the bulk of the Confederate military and that weren’t fighting the Union to perpetuate slavery? Does a statue of Robert E. Lee reveal to the casual observer the complex 19th century political issues that resulted in war? Manumission. Divergent economies. Federalism featuring a strong central government and weak state governments. European powers jockeying to buttress their own interests in North America. Does a Civil War monument bring any of those topics to mind?
If you can answer those questions – regardless of what your answer might be – then those Civil War monuments have in fact encouraged discussion. Their very presence is what forced Landrieu to issue forth with his point of view on the Civil War. And their presence is what has led others to contribute their points of view. With the Civil War monuments gone, that discussion is silenced.
In New Orleans there will no longer be statues in public spaces that bring one to ask “What was the legacy of slavery on our country?”, or “What if manumission had run full course and slavery had atrophied over time here as it had in parts of Europe?”, or “Where does the role of the federal government end and that of the states begin?”.
Or, what about the thousands of American lives lost when we as a nation became so polarized we could no longer solve our problems in any other way but wholesale political violence.
Mayor Landrieu is right. We should never fear the truth. What a shame he fears it to the extent he’s willing to erase it from public view wholesale.
Image: Excerpted from: By Uncredited photographer for U.S. Department of Transportation – US Department of Transportation website , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24317013