Eric Foner’s Artful Finesse on Lee Statues

Foner gives the South’s greatest Civil War general his due in terms of character and personal rectitude. He reports that the young Lee, at West Point, never got any disciplinary demerits, “an almost impossible feat.” The general, writes Foner, “always prided himself on following the strict moral code of a gentleman.”

.. He merely predicts that future historians won’t likely return Lee to his pedestal, “metaphorically speaking.”

.. That’s because it’s all about power. As Foner wrote in another Times piece in August, “Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power—an indication of who has the power to choose how history is remembered in public places.”

.. Between the Civil War’s end and the 1890s, Lee’s image as an American went from his being “the embodiment of the Southern cause” to his becoming a “national hero.”

.. Historians such as W. A. Dunning and Claude Bowers argued that the harsh Reconstruction policies of congressional “Radical Republicans” delayed the sectional healing needed to bring the country back together. According to that argument, it kept the prostrate South at the mercy of freed blacks and Northern carpetbaggers, whose political machinations were designed to keep the old white planter class out of the power equation.

.. In short, they have not turned history on its head, but rather, they recognized that much of what Dunning’s disciples have said about reconstruction is true.”

In other words, it was complicated.

 

When History’s Losers Write the Story

They were also taking history classes. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader who killed millions of Soviet citizens, was remembered fondly.

“Whatever your view of Stalin, you can’t deny that he was a strong leader,” a counselor told me later over steaming bowls of cabbage soup. “Stalin won the war. He made it possible for us to go to space. You can’t just throw out a person like that from history.”

.. “In most countries you are more likely to get evasion and nationalistic versions of history than tough grappling with the darker parts of your past, and the U.S. is no exception,” said Gary Bass, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton.

.. “The whole notion of honoring the Confederacy and the sacrifice that your family made became part of what we taught in the schools,” said Charles Dew, a Williams College historian

.. Some audiences pushed back, saying, “My family did not own slaves, so how could they have been fighting for slavery

.. In Russia, people choked on memory. As the Soviet Union was falling, the sins of the past flooded the present. Newspapers wrote about Soviet repressions. Researchers began documenting political killings. All this, as Russians were losing their jobs, their savings, their respect in the world and their dignity. They could not afford to lose their past. So Stalin became the man who led the Soviet Union to victory in World War II and industrialized a peasant nation.

Bannon Calls Comey Firing the Biggest Mistake in ‘Modern Political History’

He cited as an example a request that Mr. McConnell once made of Mr. Trump to stop talking about “draining the swamp.”

.. Mr. Bannon predicted deep division within the Republican Party over Mr. Trump’s recent move to end the program that provided temporary relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States illegally. The president set a March end date for the program and asked Congress to come up with a solution in the meantime, a task that Mr. Bannon said could split Republicans and cost them their House majority in the 2018 midterm elections.

“If this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party,” he said.

.. “The media image, I think, is pretty accurate,” he said. “I’m a street fighter. That’s what I am.”

 .. Mr. Bannon also condemned top officials in the George W. Bush administration, calling them “idiots” friendly to what he termed China’s anti-American economic agenda. He singled out Condoleezza Rice and Colin L. Powell, former secretaries of state, and Brent Scowcroft, an adviser to Mr. Bush and his father, as those most worthy of his scorn, criticizing them for China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization.

“They’ve gotten us in this situation, and they question a good man like Donald Trump,” he said. “I hold these people in contempt, total and complete contempt.”

.. Mr. Bannon also attacked Gary D. Cohn, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, who publicly criticized the president’s comments about Charlottesville. “If you don’t like what he’s doing and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign,” Mr. Bannon said. “You can tell him, ‘Hey, maybe you can do it a better way.’ But if you’re going to break, then resign.”

Things to Think About When Taking Down Statues

One difference between democracies and dictatorships is that the constructing and revising of public spaces is not a propaganda opportunity for the ruler but a realm of democratic discourse, influenced by popular opinion and competitive electoral politics. After the shock of Charlottesville, as many American cities, towns, and campuses have taken down statues of Confederate leaders and generals, or debated whether to do so, New Delhi’s example is perhaps a useful one.

.. Lonnie G. Bunch III, who leads the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, told the Times, “I am loath to erase history.” He suggested that the statues that were removed should be grouped together in new spaces and contextualized. As it happens, that is what New Delhi did

.. And, by again raising the question of why a statue of Robert E. Lee is more offensive than one of a slaveholding Founding Father like Thomas Jefferson, the statue debates have again forced Americans to reckon with the foundational role of slavery in the construction of the Republic.

.. They stand still, while the struggle for rights and democratic pluralism is dynamic. And that struggle can lurch backward suddenly. In India today, the Bharatiya Janata Party, with its Hindu-nationalist ideology known as Hindutva, is busy rewriting school textbooks, to falsely revise the history of Muslim conquest of the subcontinent, and to reduce the prominence in the story of Indian independence of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was India’s first Prime Minister and who, during his seventeen years in office, built the modern state and its resilient democracy. Nehru was an avowed atheist, who promoted science, industry, and secularism; he worked to keep Hindu chauvinism on the sidelines, and the Hindutva movement’s ideologues have not forgotten.