Radio talk show host and Customer Whose Latte You Better Make with Skim Milk if You Know What’s Good For You Laura Ingraham has some thoughts about the tearing down of Confederate monuments, which she expressed to the hosts of “Fox & Friends” this morning, and hoo boy. Let us dive right in:
“Robert E. Lee, who when FDR acknowledged him, I think that was in the early 1930s, said that he was one of the finest soldiers America had ever seen. That was FDR, who said that about Robert E. Lee.”
Ingraham may be referring to FDR’s comments at the unveiling of a statue of Lee in Texas in 1936, when Roosevelt said this:
“All over the United States we recognize him as a great leader of men, as a great general. But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”
Putting up a statue of Lee in 1936 was part of a long drive by Confederates and their sympathizers to rewrite the history of the Civil War, to make it about something nobler than defending the rights of white people to own black slaves.
It was an effort at valorization of the indefensible, part of America’s effort to reunify the nation by making the Confederacy out to be a glorious Lost Cause and not a treasonous movement to break up the nation over the right to own other human beings.
Putting up statues like the one in Texas or the Lee statue in Charlottesville, the protection of which was the ostensible reason white supremacists went there this weekend in the first place, was part of this rewriting and distortion of history.
Leaders like FDR in 1936 may have accepted this state of affairs then. But 80 years later, with time and distance and extensive scholarship on the Civil War, the America of 2017 does not have to follow his lead.
Moving right along:
“And now they’re going after Woodrow Wilson, who’s one of the heroes of the internationalists.”
Is someone suggesting tearing down a Wilson statue somewhere? Is there a Wilson statue somewhere? In any case, yes, Wilson’s work in sending American troops into World War I and establishing the League of Nations is well-regarded by those who feel positively about America’s role in international relations in the 20th century.
But historians also acknowledge Wilson’s terrible record on race relations. He allowed government bureaucracies that had been desegregated to be re-segregated by race. He screened D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” a film rightly regarded by historians as one of the most racist ever produced by a major American filmmaker, at the White House, drawing protests from the NAACP and other civil rights leaders.
In short, Woodrow Wilson was forward-thinking on international relations and an unrepentant bigot when it came to African-Americans in the U.S. People! They are complex! It’s why history is constantly being re-examined.
“This is about controlling a historical narrative.”
As discussed above, erecting Confederate statues in the first place was all about controlling the historical narrative. Taking them down now is about honestly reckoning with that historical narrative, which was a lie, to begin with.
“We see it with the Taliban pulling down Christian historical sites.”
The Taliban has also destroyed historical sites of other religions such as Buddhism. For them, it is not about a re-examination of an honest reckoning with history. It is religious intolerance.
Unless worship of the Confederacy has suddenly been classified as a religion in America, removing symbols of oppression of ethnic minorities from public spaces is not even remotely the same thing.
Ingraham’s screed was about as dishonest and wrong on historical and contemporary facts as a person could possibly get. But other than that, she did great.