28 June 2020

I Saw This Coming!

What follows is a short essay I wrote almost exactly two years ago when the first wave of statue breaking was in progress. I said then that it would not stop with the Confederate heroes.

It was published on 10 June 2018 as an introduction to an article from The Imaginative Conservative entitled 'Erasing General Lee'', by R.M. Stangler.

Robert E. Lee is one of my heroes. He is, to my mind, the finest gentleman and greatest soldier the United States has ever produced. He is the only man in the history of the United States Military Academy at West Point to complete his studies without a single demerit. He lost the War of the Northern Invasion not because of a lack of brilliant generalship, but because the Confederacy lacked the men, resources, and financial backing possessed by the North. 

After the Confederacy was defeated in the War of Northern Aggression, Lee returned home to Virginia. Not to his his plantation, Arlington, however. That had been confiscated by the victors and is now a National Cemetery. He was an Episcopalian, and the story is told that on a Sunday when Holy Communion was being celebrated, an old black woman approached the rail and knelt to receive before all the 'white folks' had been administered the chalice. No one would receive after it had been 'polluted' by being drunk from by a black. General Lee got up out of his pew, and deliberately went to the rail and knelt next the old woman, so that he would be the next to receive!

This essay and the concurrent attempt to erase the Confederate heroes and the memory of them from the American consciousness by destroying their statues, renaming institutions, buildings and streets named in their honour, and refusing to teach their history in the schools, remind me, inevitably, of a well known novel and of another time.

In Orwell's 1984, there is a 'Newspeak' word 'unperson'. It can be defined as 'someone of whom, after his or her execution, any evidence [up to and including memories] that he or she ever existed was erased [or derided as potentially dangerous falsehoods]'. What we are seeing in the case of the Confederate heroes differs in only one point. These men were not executed. They either died in battle, fighting for their country, or they died, full of years, after the War. Other than that, it is obvious that the left is attempting to turn Lee and the other heroes of the South into unpersons.

In the Stalinist era, in the Soviet Union, the inspiration for Orwell's novel, the same idea existed but the individuals who were 'erased' were known as 'nonpersons'. One was Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov, head of the NKVD from 1936 to 1938. As the head of the NKVD he was Stalin's point man during the Great Purge. Shortly after, he fell from Stalin's favour, was arrested, tortured,
and 'confessed' to crimes against the Soviet State, and executed. To the right are two pictures, the original taken before Yezhov's fall from grace, the other altered after. Yezhov is the short, weaselly looking character in the right of the picture. Just as with the statues of Lee and others being destroyed, Yezhov was removed from the picture. He had become a nonperson, not to be mentioned or pictured. We are rapidly approaching the point where any evidence, up to and including memories, that the heroes of the Confederacy ever existed will be erased or derided as dangerous falsehoods, with them being painted in the textbooks as totally evil men.

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