Why are some against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee?

  • The Unite the Right rally was ostensibly a protest over the removal of the Robert E. Lee sculpture in Charlottesville, Virginia. While I realize that many protesters used this as an excuse for other ends, I want to focus on the statue itself. Some people seem to be very attached to this statue, and I suppose the person of Robert E. Lee. There seemed to be a similar concern over the removal of a statue of Stonewall Jackson.

    I want to better understand: what reasons have those that oppose the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee given for opposing its removal? Is it historical interest? An attachment to the Confederate States of America? Something else? Again, I am fully aware that a number of people used this as an excuse to promote other interests, but for those who claim genuine interest in the sculpture's preservation, what are their stated reasons?

    Comments deleted. Please note that comments are supposed to provide constructive criticism to the question. They are not supposed to answer it and not to state personal opinions about the subject-matter of the question.

    After looking into this issue further, it seems that local Charlottesville citizens have very different perspectives on this topic compared to others who have just read about it online. Some of the responses (including mine) might be improved by separating these differences in perspective between local Charlottesville residents and netizens.

  • Machavity

    Machavity Correct answer

    4 years ago

    There's two general arguments that I've seen tossed around defending the Lee/Confederate statues (at least those not mentioned while chanting with a literal torch in hand)

    1. They're historical landmarks - The Lee statue that sparked the Charlottesville incident has stood since 1924. There's a suggestion that this is an attempt to rewrite history by hiding symbols of the Confedracy. This was the line of reasoning used by Donald Trump

      President Donald Trump invoked such an argument on Tuesday: “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and, this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

      This is, more or less, an extension of the debate started when South Carolina removed Confederate flags after the Dylan Roof racially motivated shooting.

      The concern is that the momentum created by the recent push to remove these monuments will lead activists to simply make new demands to remove other, less controversial monuments. The Daily Wire noted that, in Oct 2016, Columbus Day protesters demanded the removal of a Theordore Roosevelt statue. In Feb 2017, activists were able to get a statue of Christopher Columbus removed. Recently, Al Sharpton (an outspoken activist) suggested the Thomas Jefferson memorial be defunded.

    2. Lee wasn't a racist and/or opposed slavery - This was mentioned by Dinesh D'Souza

      How ignorant of the left to choose Robert E. Lee--who opposed both slavery & secession--to symbolize the evils of slavery & secession

      Many have noted, however, that Lee owned and beat his own slaves, and generally supported slavery

      Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

    On the "slippery slope" arguments ("next it will be George Washington"), see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/08/15/why-slippery-slope-arguments-should-not-stop-us-from-removing-confederate-monuments/ by Ilya Somin. TL;DR: we celebrate Washington for great achievements that outweigh the negative of slave ownership, but Lee et al have no achievements beyond losing a war that they fought explicitly to preserve the institution of slavery.

    @PaulJohnson There is now a call to defund the Jefferson Memorial. Then there's the removal of a Christopher Columbus status. It's hard to allay fears that this isn't going to stop with just Confederate statues with that going on.

    Columbus has been controversial for a while. Supposedly, Lincoln offered Lee the position of commanding the *Union* army but he turned that down and fled, because his native Virginia had seceded.

    Keep in mind *when* many of these monuments were erected - during the booming expansion of the Klan, and as pushback against the Civil Rights movement. It kind of casts doubt on the intent as historical. Another litmus test is to apply that logic to non-Confederate monuments. Some have noted the lack of Hitler statues at Holocaust memorials and the absence of an Osama bin Laden statue at the WTC site.

    @PoloHoleSet That's a terrible comparison. Hitler instigated WWII and executed civilians en masse. OBL sought to kill as many civilians as he could. Lee fought a civil war and, afterward, the places he fought for had to be repatriated. Statues to him may not be a good idea, but they are not in the same vein as other historical "losers"

    @Machavity - The Confederate "heroes" were leaders of a movement that aimed to destroy the USA as it was and is known, caused almost as many American deaths as all other wars combined, to protect the institution of slavery. What's there to "honor"? This directly speaks to the claim that it doesn't honor them, it's about history in its full context, so it doesn't matter if what they fought for was evil. I'm talking about seeing if specific arguments hold up when applied to other scenarios, so that one is specific to the "it's about history, good and bad must be included for context."

    @Machavity - Again, most of these statues and memorials were put up in the 1920s, and 1950s and 60s. They have **nothing** to do with facilitating repatriation. https://www.splcenter.org/20160421/whose-heritage-public-symbols-confederacy

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    Dinesh D'Souza's track record for being factually accurate is, to be gentle, god-awful. Not a criticism of the answer, which doesn't not just take his word at face value, but offers it as one of several perspectives.

    What's also interesting is that Lee, himself, was opposed to Confederate memorials/statues, in general.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM