Photo by Nebraska Unicameral
Normally I devote this column to all the latest updates on the issues that are important to me and my district. Out of control property taxes, the wind energy scam, the maddening story of a power line, constitutional rights, our troubled prison system, ranching, farming, rural life in general.Today, I’m taking a break from that stuff. I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me: Tearing down monuments of Confederate Civil War figures.
First of all, I hate mob rule. That is not what this country is supposed to be. When a statue in a park is built or removed, a school or street is named or renamed, I think it should be a thoughtful, deliberate choice made by the community, not a political kneejerk brought on by a mob.
I think the mob is winning and that bothers me. The American history surrounding these monuments is important. It is as profound as it is inescapable. Our republic has a dark past marked with genocide and slavery and the bloodiest war in our country’s history fought to end it. These are indisputable facts, and no matter how many statues are torn down, it will not erase them.
The United States is also the greatest country on Earth with a long history of incredible societal growth and enlightenment; one of constant change for the better.
Our history follows a path towards more justice, not less, one of “a more perfect union” as our constitution says. Our system is based on the rule of law, not the mob. Tearing down a monument commemorating past U.S. history, no matter how dark it is, removes a mile-marker in our growth as a nation.
How can we measure all the progress that has unfolded since the era in which the statue was built if it’s gone?
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney was the author of the terrible Dred Scott decision that rejected citizenship for African Americans. There was a statue of him on the grounds of the statehouse of Maryland. Also on the grounds was a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court.
In the mob frenzy that has followed since the tragedy in Charlottesville, Va. a few weeks ago, the Statue of Justice Taney was recently removed. I think this diminishes the achievement of not only Justice Marshall, but of the country as a whole.
The other day President Trump asked “where does it stop?” and he is right.
Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington includes statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a number of other Confederates. Will they be removed?
Will the Jefferson Memorial be taken down and a new face found for the nickel coin? Do we blast the faces off Mount Rushmore like the Taliban did to the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan?
What strikes me is at the other end of the reflecting pool opposite the Capitol is the Lincoln Memorial, which commemorates the man who defeated the Confederacy, who restored the union, who ended slavery, and advanced the country into a new era. Without the context of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is just another long-dead President and not the man the Capitol of Nebraska is named after.
In the years after the Civil War, there was a good deal of statue building, the height of it around 1910. Most were done by children of Confederate veterans trying to memorialize the war their fathers had fought. The reconstruction era in the South during the postwar years was racked with extreme poverty, with many families missing sons and fathers lost to the war. There were other, more sinister motives to build these statues too, during the Civil Rights struggle in 50s and 60s.
I find it ironic that the chief opposition to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was the political left in this country. It certainly wasn’t a conservative governor standing in front of a school denying entry to a black student.
Regardless of the motive, a great many of these statues were part of a larger effort to heal the Nation with “malice towards none” as Lincoln said. During those years after the war, Jefferson Davis was never charged with treason and was released from prison after serving only a couple years. The funeral of Robert E. Lee in 1870 was attended by senior politicians from the North. His eulogy read like he was an American hero.
If you “revise” all the history based on someone being “offended,” then we won’t have any history left because someone, somewhere will always take offense at something. Instead of tearing down an “offensive” statue from the Civil War, how about building a new one commemorating another American, someone who represents how far the country has come since then? How about we celebrate the triumph of the American idea instead of shrinking in fear from the tyranny of the political-correctness mob?
If you don’t know where you’ve been, how will you ever know how far you’ve come?
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at email@example.com or call us at (402) 471-2628.
(Tom Brewer represents the 43rd District in the Legislature -- primarily, the sandhills area north of Lincoln County.)