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In Reply to Robert Jensen: The Folly of the Nazi Comparison

(Steve Helber/AP)

In fact, most Southerners did not own slaves; nor were Union soldiers, most of whom were drafted, fighting for the woke ideals of Jensen or the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

“As we come to know more about the morally repulsive aspects of our national history—and, more importantly, face those realities—removing symbols of our collective failure in the past is not an attempt to deny our history. Rather, it is a sign of growth, a willingness to face our history.”

Thus, we are instructed in a homily by Robert Jensen about the need to “retire” everything Confederate before we offend more Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) moralists. It seems that any tribute to the defeated Confederates in the American Civil War pays homage to “white supremacy ideology.” The last time I checked most Southern soldiers were not fighting for slavery; they were fighting because they had been invaded by Union soldiers, who were devastating their property and burning down their cities. In fact, most Southerners did not own slaves; nor were Union soldiers, most of whom were drafted, fighting for the woke ideals of Jensen or the SPLC. 

The comparison Jensen draws between the Confederate side and the Nazis is shockingly obscene, especially for anyone who has seen the emaciated bodies of Nazi concentration camp victims. Confederate leaders did not set out to conquer the world or to exterminate entire races. They were fighting for independence for their own states from the federal union. Unlike the Nazis, the Confederates did not murder Jews. Their Secretary of State and at least one Confederate Senator were Sephardic Jews. Although the tolerance of human bondage in the antebellum South was deplorable and unjust, there have been many slave societies in history, including an abundance of them in Sub-Saharan Africa (from whence American slaves were brought). Were all slave societies ancient and modern, including non-white ones, equally Nazi? Or was this stigma reserved for the American South, in which slavery was somehow more shameful and Hitlerian than elsewhere? Were the ancient Jews or early Christians, both of whom owned slaves, precursors of Hitlerian “white supremacy ideology”? Presumably their slaves were ethnically different from themselves. 

The problem with this argument is that however regrettable slavery may have been in the United States, it was less cruel than anywhere else. Only about 5% of slaves exported to the Western hemisphere landed up on these shores. Unlike slaves sent elsewhere, the ones who were brought here lived longer with a higher standard of living and had more children than slaves who were dragged to Latin or South America. Let us not even speak about the misery of those slaves who were worked to death in Africa or were sent eastward to Muslim countries to be castrated and abused in other ways.

Since, as the SPLC has reported with profound regret, there are thousands of Confederate monuments and plaques spread over 31 states plus the District of Columbia, how exactly does Jensen intend to retire them all? It would take a crew of BLM workers toiling night and day for months to get rid of all these ghoulish nazi-like reminders of unspeakable human evil. Perhaps President Joe Biden could provide special subsidies from one of his bloated spending bills to hire enough smashers and dumpers to get rid of this evil. I am sure that every one of these monstrosities causes offense to someone somewhere. And though I have never seen evidence that they were all erected to affirm white racial supremacy (as opposed to commemorating some Civil War event or turning point), who am I to question the armies of equity and racial justice?

But there is one tiny reservation that continues to creep in every time I think about Jensen’s demand. Why should I think the Left will be happy with getting rid of the Confederate monuments and making the entire South look like Monument Boulevard in Richmond, after the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and J.E.B. Stuart were angrily defaced and finally pulled down? On the basis of what I have seen of the Left at work, defacing and pulling down Confederate heroes is just the beginning of their iconoclastic exercise. They have already attacked the images of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, both of whom were Southern slaveowners. And the same crowd has gone after Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, whose views on certain subjects were not always in line with current political orthodoxy. They have also tried to cancel the Union General (and future President) Ulysses S. Grant, whose wife inherited slaves. Why would I believe that this removal and smashing of the statues of American historical figures would stop with the obliteration of Southern heritage. That seems to have been the first step in a wider effort to dishonor the politically-incorrect dead. 

Jensen observes with obvious disgust: “In many places, Confederate symbols have been removed from public spaces after protests, almost all of which were led by African Americans. In other locations, the symbols remain, almost always when white people dig in their heels.” Don’t white people who feel some ancestral attachment to Confederate symbols have at least the same rights to preserve them as those black people who want to remove them? Why are some white Americans “digging in their heels” by expressing reverence for their dead?.

Paul Gottfried is the editor-in-chief of Chronicles, the author of 14 books, and a regular contributor at American Greatness. He served as the Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College for over two decades. 

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