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EDITORIAL: We have enough symbols of hatred in this nation
ANOTHER VIEW | BILLINGS GAZETTE

EDITORIAL: We have enough symbols of hatred in this nation

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In this country, we have plenty of offensive symbols of our racist past. We don’t have to invent any.

And we also should not, in a spate of thoughtlessness, try to erase all traces of a war that seared the soul of our country like no other.

There was, after all, a right and a wrong to that war. The South was fighting to preserve the odious and inhuman practice of slavery. Whatever else revisionist amateur historians will tell you the Civil War was about, it was about slavery. Period.

The South was also fighting against our country. Against the United States of America. That should not be forgotten.

To the defenders of Robert E. Lee, who characterize him as an intelligent man of principle, spare us. He was a traitor who made a choice to be one. Yes, he was defending his state. But he did so by fighting his nation.

Closer to home, we believe the city of Helena was correct to remove its Confederate memorial fountain.

But when protesters’ anti-monument ardor spills over into the destruction or condemnation of memorials to those on the right side of this dreadful chapter in our history, it cheapens the entire movement.

What are we to make, for instance, of the protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, who tore down the statue of Hans Christian Heg?

In the absence of actual knowledge, were none of their cell phones able to browse Wikipedia?

Heg was an outspoken abolitionist and Wisconsin Civil War hero who gave his life at Chickamagua in the fight to end slavery. He also was a prison reformer.

We also have a group actively trying to remove a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C. known as the Emancipation Memorial, which freed slaves donated money to commission and install. Why? Because the statue depicts Lincoln standing above a kneeling Black man.

We understand that a statue of a kneeling Black man could be cringeworthy in some contexts. On the other hand, this statue was commissioned to depict the moment of emancipation, something to be celebrated. The objection here seems to us to be venturing from the realm of righteous protest into the more subjective world of art criticism.

We do understand the issue behind the planned removal of the statue of Theodore Roosevelt — the fact that Roosevelt is riding between two walking men, one Black, one Native American. With some regret we understand the complaint that the relative positions represent a white-dominant hierarchy, even though the sculptor’s stated intent was to use the walking figures to represent the continents of Africa and North America, respectively.

The regret part comes in light of TR’s laudable record on civil rights, including naming the first African-American postmistress — and continuing to compensate her after racists ran her out of the job in her Mississippi town.

We believe that symbols of racism, whether flapping in the breeze atop the Mississippi Capitol or carved from granite and imposed on the passing public, should be removed forthwith. Confederate generals? Bring them down, every last one of them. Traitors do not merit statues.

Abraham Lincoln? Not so fast.

Protest is a powerful weapon. Political correctness is far less powerful, and its application here weakens the very movement we are witnessing, which is long overdue.

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