The Confederate Memorial in Arlington.
(Arlington National Cemetery; photo by Rachel Larue)
by Donald Smith
Jim Webb, former U.S. Senator from Virginia, former Navy Secretary, and certified badass (Navy Cross, Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from his service as a Marine officer in Vietnam) grabbed quite a bit of attention last week. On August 18 he called for the Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery to be spared. You can read his commentary here, if you have a Wall Street Journal subscription (or have some free articles left.) Here’s a link to a no-paywall article on Webb’s piece. Here’s a link to the most prominent criticism I’ve seen of Webb’s piece, from Civil War historian Kevin Levin.
Webb’s commentary points out an important and, until now, mostly ignored repercussion of Congress’ blanket approval of the Naming Commission’s recommendations: it diminishes our nation’s soft power. That makes it harder for our military and diplomats to achieve our nation’s goals overseas without having to resort to coercion or violence. Continue reading
Washington and Lee
by Donald Smith
Maximus: Still no word?
Quintus: Not a sign.
Maximus: How long has he been gone?
Quintus: Nearly two hours.
“He” was a Roman liaison sent to see if the Germanic tribes lined up across the valley from Maximus’ (and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’) legions wanted to avoid a fight. Shortly after Maximus’ conversation with his executive officer Quintus, the liaison’s horse rode back into the Roman lines. Strapped in the saddle was the liaison’s headless body. Across the valley, the leader of the Germanic tribes held up the head and shouted defiance. “They say no,” said Maximus.
Earlier this past week, W&L students blanketed a plaque honoring Traveler, General Lee’s horse, with apples. This effort was endearing — and also offered the W&L leadership an opportunity to NOT escalate the ongoing fight over the place of Confederate heritage in the public square. This wasn’t a Faithful Slave monument. It was a plaque about a horse, which mentioned General Robert E. Lee and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Here was a chance to demonstrate that wokeness hadn’t crushed common sense at Washington and Lee.
The students offered their school’s leadership a chance to show Virginians that W&L leaders and faculty could handle complex thoughts and reason through complicated subjects. America’s history is complex. It can’t be properly handled by shallow, emotional thinking. The apples were a plea for the W&L leadership to demonstrate that they understood that. That they really could walk AND chew gum at the same time.
They said no. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
In April, in Georgia, a correction morphed into an overreaction. As part of the ongoing process to change the names of military bases named for Confederate generals, Fort Benning became Fort Moore. Around the same time, the National Ranger Memorial Foundation (NRMF) responded to a directive from U.S. government officials. The NRMF sent workmen to the Ranger Hall of Fame stone tablet, created and maintained on Fort Moore by the foundation, and covered a single name — John S. Mosby. The workmen also pried up bricks that commemorated Confederates in the foundation’s Ranger Memorial Walk. An exhibit on Mosby at the National Infantry Museum was also removed. With those actions, an understandable effort to modernize Army base names degenerated into pettiness.
The Naming Commission, an investigative body established by Congress, recommended that all Army bases named for Confederate generals be renamed. I am a great-grandson of Confederate cavalrymen — and I freely admit the commission had a point. In 2022 the Army had more major active-duty bases named for Confederate generals who lost the Civil War than Union generals who won it.
But the Naming Commission went farther than base names. Much, much farther. It looked for every street name, every monument, plaque, and sign on DoD facilities that might be perceived to show Confederates in a positive light. Like Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, it relentlessly searched for every last can of Confederate Who-Hash! It then recommended that, with few exceptions, all be removed or changed. Apparently Congress didn’t reject any of the commission’s recommendations; that has caused names to be covered on stone tablets, memorial bricks to be pried up and (soon) campaign streamers that commemorate Confederate service to be removed from Army National Guard colors. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
I’ve written a lot about the Congressional Naming Commission (CNC). In my opinion, the CNC has expressed contempt, and even disgust, for the legacy of people who served for the Confederacy. I base that assessment largely on the opinions and judgments the CNC declared in the Preamble to its Final Report. That Preamble is reprinted, in its entirety and without editing, below:
“There is much the United States should commemorate about the American Civil War
The Civil War turned a slaveholding republic into a champion of liberty, equality and freedom, and our nation has continually expanded its definition and defense of those values ever since – both between its shores and throughout the world. Through the courageous service and sacrifice of more than two million United States Soldiers from 1861 to 1865, what could have been our nation’s end became, instead, our second American Revolution. It made our Union more perfect. The American Civil War was, as Abraham Lincoln immortalized at Gettysburg, “a new birth of freedom.”
Yet this rebirth and revolution came at a terrible price. Between those fighting for the United States and those fighting against them, an estimated 620,000 Americans died in the conflict, and the war’s total casualties numbered around 1.5 million. The conflict was deadly, devastating, and destructive: on a per capita basis, the Civil War was eight times more lethal for Soldiers and 10 times deadlier for all Americans than World War II. In absolute numbers, the Civil War killed more Americans than the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and all other conflicts before the Vietnam War combined. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
On the periphery of Rome, not far from the Vatican, stands a towering obelisk named for Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator and ally of Adolf Hitler. On a recent visit to the city, my taxi driver knew exactly where it was and found nothing remarkable about a request to go there.
The Mussolini Obelisk, standing watch over the Foro Italico sports complex, served as the starting point for my atypical tour of the Eternal City’s ‘fascist architecture.’ At the very outset, our tour group asked our guide: Why has the Mussolini Obelisk not been removed from what appears to be a place of honor?
For an American visitor, it was the obvious question. We have become accustomed to the removal of the likenesses of Confederate generals and even Christopher Columbus from public places. But it was not a difficult question for our guide to answer: ‘In Italy, we view it as history.’ Efforts to remove it had fizzled.
The loss that comes from laundering the past was made clear to us in the historical lesson our tour group received that day — a lesson that would have been impossible if cancel culture, American-style, had prevailed.
This is the beginning of “Italy’s Non-Cancel Culture,” an article by Howard Husock, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Husock’s article appeared in early April. In late April, Elon Musk went on Real Time With Bill Maher and discussed the “woke mind virus” that’s infecting nearly everything nowadays. Musk talked about his own experience with “cancel-culture, American style.” Continue reading
Units descended from both Confederate and Union forces are now part of the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 138th Field Artillery Brigade. These campaign streamers, from the brigade’s colors, commemorate that service. Streamers with a gray top commemorate Confederate service, blue tops honor Union service.
by Donald Smith
Soldiers go to war for many reasons — home, country, duty, glory, personal adventure. But, in the midst of battle, soldiers fight for their comrades — “the man to the left of me, the man to the right of me,” as the saying goes. Good soldiers are driven by an intense desire to not let their comrades down. That drive is one of the main reasons why Americans have always honored combat soldiers. Now, the United States Congress has arguably left out one segment of America’s past fighting force — Confederate soldiers — and indicated that those men don’t deserve the same level of respect from today’s military. Continue reading
Arlington National Cemetery. photo by Rachel Larue.
by Donald Smith
Apparently, it is the will of the United States Congress that, in the interests of sensitivity and inclusiveness, we go into our cemeteries, and then search for and remove items that might offend someone who’s not related by blood or heritage to anyone buried there. The Congressional Naming Commission (CNC) has recommended that the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery be removed, and the Secretary of Defense has concurred. The Congress, at least according to the CNC’s final report — which has mysteriously gone offline — has given its blessing to the CNC’s recommendations.
The Confederate Memorial, sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, does not sit on the Washington Mall. It’s not on Capitol Hill, in the Rose Garden or Dupont Circle, or leering over Interstate 95. It’s in a cemetery. In order to see it, you have to go to non-public places — the cemetery itself, or a parking lot at Fort Myer, an Army base adjacent to Arlington’s western border.
If you do go to Arlington to see the memorial … you really have to want to see it. It’s on the other side of the cemetery from the welcome center and visitor’s parking. The shuttle tour through Arlington does not stop at the Confederate section, Section 16. Two friends have visited the memorial on four separate occasions over the past two years, and the shuttle drivers never mentioned the existence of the Confederate cemetery, much less how to find it. Don’t use the official Arlington Cemetery map as a guide: it doesn’t label the Confederate section. (Much like the Richmond city tourism maps that didn’t label the Lee, Jackson and Stuart statues on Monument Avenue).
Once you get to the Confederate cemetery, you’ll see the memorial. It stands in the center of more than 400 Confederate graves, radiating out from the memorial in six concentric rings. If you look outside the Confederate section, you’ll notice some differences between the Confederate graves and the others in Arlington. The “regular government headstones” on most Arlington graves have curved tops, but the tops of Confederate gravestones are pointed. Graves in most of Arlington are arrayed in rows, but the Confederates are buried in a circle around the Ezekiel sculpture. This should allay the fears progressives and hypersensitive people might have that visitors might confuse Confederate graves with those of other Arlington dead. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
There are good ways and bad ways to handle controversial statues and memorials. These excerpts from a press release demonstrate one of the good ways. The press release describes how Dalton, Georgia, relocated a statue of a Confederate general, and did it in a way that fostered cooperation within the community. (All emphasis is added).
On July 8, 2020, following 30 days of several marches and demonstrations, a town hall meeting in which a number of persons spoke to the Council of Dalton about the removal of the Joseph E. Johnston Statue from public property, a Facebook petition to move the statue and another Facebook petition to not move the statue, the City of Dalton notified the local Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (hereinafter “UDC”) that the UDC needed to make arrangements to move the statue as any permissive easement to allow its continued placement on the public right of way of the intersection of Crawford and Hamilton Streets were no longer permitted. The City of Dalton gave the UDC a reasonable time period within which to arrange to move the statue.
The UDC expressed last summer that it was ready and willing to move the statue provided that a suitable location could be found AND provided that funds sufficient to safely handle the move could be secured as the UDC did not have any money to be able to do so. … Members of the community at large including some of the original marchers volunteered to raise funds to pay for the move.
The Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia which took no position on the subject of whether to move the statue or not to move it, offered to serve as a conduit, or bank, to facilitate the anonymous donations required for the move.… Continue reading
by Donald Smith
The week of January 16, 2023, was a big one for Virginia heritage issues in the Richmond area. Connor Williams, the chief historian for the Congressional Naming Commission (CNC) came to the American Civil War Museum to explain and defend the commission’s sweeping recommendations toward, and its disparagement of, Confederate memories on Department of Defense installations.
That week also saw the announcement that the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond would be renamed as part of a campaign to strip “racist history from military facilities,” according to a story in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
In the article, Sen. Mark Warner (D), a former governor of Virginia, praised the renaming. “Naming decisions should honor the patriotism of our veterans,” he said.
So, by highlighting that particular part of Warner’s statement, the Stars and Stripes apparently thinks that, in Mark Warner’s eyes, Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire and the Virginia soldiers he treated during the Civil War were neither patriots nor veterans.
It is time for the General Assembly to act. The GA needs to convene a hearing to explore the CNC’s recommendations and let the CNC justify them. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
The Congressional Naming Commission (CNC) was authorized as part of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Its eight commissioners included two retired Army generals, a retired Navy admiral and a retired Marine Corps general. It also had academics with imposing credentials. One commissioner is a professor emeritus at United States Military Academy West Point and another is a senior official at the American Enterprise Institute. The commission’s chief historian, Connor Williams, took a leave of absence from his faculty position at Yale to serve on the CNC. The CNC even had an elected federal official — Austin Scott, a Republican congressman from Georgia.
The CNC recommended — among many, many other things — that all active U.S. Army bases named for Confederate generals be renamed. And, in the Preface to Part 1 of its report, it appears to pick a fight.
This is how the CNC report’s Preface characterizes monuments erected to Confederates and the Confederacy in the years following the Civil War:
Most importantly, during the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth century, the South and much of the nation came to live under a mistaken understanding of the Civil War known as the “Lost Cause.” As part of the “Lost Cause,” across the nation, champions of that memory built monuments to Confederate leaders and to the Confederacy, including on many Department of Defense assets. In every instance and every aspect, these names and memorials have far more to do with the culture under which they were named than they have with any historical acts actually committed by their namesakes. (Preface, page 3).
The obvious implication of this statement goes well beyond changing some base names. The commissioners presume to pass judgment on (a) what these names and memorials meant to everyone and (b) what the “real” motivations for those statues were. Think about that. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
Many Bacon’s Rebellion readers — me included — worry that Virginia’s history is being erased and scourged and its heroes demeaned. The November 2021 state elections gave us cause for cheer. During his campaign, Glenn Youngkin indicated that he would stand up to the “Wokerati” working their way through the Old Dominion’s institutions. On November 14, we got more good news: Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, would be the new Speaker of the House of Delegates. “Todd Gilbert ready to take on powerful House Speaker job,” was the headline of Charles Paulin’s Northern Virginia Daily article on December 30.
“As Speaker,” wrote Paulin, “Gilbert will be responsible for overseeing the business of the House, including deciding which bills are called to the floor for a vote and appointing committee chairs.”
Virginia heritage activists had good reason to cheer Gilbert’s speakership. In 2020, when the sitting Speaker of the House pulled statues and busts of Confederate leaders out of the state Capitol building, Gilbert didn’t ignore it. He pushed back. Mocking the claims of the then-speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn, that she wanted to “truly tell the commonwealth’s whole history,” Gilbert pointed out that the state Capitol building had also been the seat of the Confederate government — so shouldn’t we now raze it to the ground?
When the Northam administration and activists pressured Virginia Military Institute’s Superintendent Binford Peay into quickly resigning over sensational charges of systemic racism at VMI,” Gilbert reacted harshly:
When Governor Northam admitted to wearing blackface and appearing in a racially offensive photograph, he sought the grace of the public’s forgiveness. If polling is to be believed, the public has largely extended that grace to him. Now the Virginia Military Institute stands accused of accommodating racist incidents. It’s a shame that Governor Northam couldn’t extend the same amount of grace that he’s been afforded with his own past, at least until we know all the facts.
Another reason for cheer was that Gilbert appeared to be a “Somewhere,” instead of an “Anywhere.” British author David Gilbert coined the terms to differentiate between people who have close ties to a region or culture, versus people who view their current home as simply an address (perhaps temporary) of convenience. Gilbert didn’t represent Fairfax or Loudon or any of the other Northern Virginia counties now dominated by people new to Virginia. His 15th District covers Page and Shenandoah Counties — two Shenandoah Valley counties with many residents whose Virginia ties go back to at least the Civil War. Those people are “Somewheres,” in other words. Continue reading
The Jackson Arch — before sandblasting
by Donald Smith
The Virginia Military Institute’s hands were tied, it seems. It tried for months to justify leaving an inscription of Stonewall Jackson’s name on an arch at the Old Barracks on VMI’s Main Post. But the school’s leadership couldn’t find a way, so it chose… to take a sandblaster to the National Historic Landmark.
That’s the conclusion I draw from VMI’s explanation of its decision to expunge Stonewall Jackson’s name from the formerly named Jackson Arch. (See “Retained and Contextualized At VMI” for the full explanation.)
According to the chair of VMI’s Commemorations and Memorials Naming and Review Committee (CMNRC), the original intent of installing a statue of Thomas Jonathan Jackson on the Main Post and inscribing his name on the Post chapel and upon the arch was to honor “Stonewall” Jackson, the brilliant Confederate general. However, only “most compelling” reasons would allow his name to remain on Jackson Arch today. “The Committee spent months analyzing reasons that might allow the continued display of the Jackson tributes,” said the committee chair, but could not find sufficient justification.
I think Lucky Ned Pepper, the villain in the movie True Grit said it best: “Too thin!” Continue reading
The Jackson Arch — pre-retention and contextualization. Photo credit: Yelp
by Donald Smith
The Stonewall-Jackson-statue-at-VMI controversy is one of many, both in Virginia and across the country, where communities and their elected/appointed representatives have grappled with tough questions: how do we honor past heroes in modern times? Do we continue to honor them at all? When do the feelings of a minority of a community outweigh the desires of the majority? VMI, and Virginia, are just now really starting to deal with these questions, when it comes to the state’s history, up to and including the Civil War.
After removing the statue of Stonewall Jackson from the Main Post and his name from the Post chapel, Virginia Military Institute officials arranged for the inscription of the Confederate general’s name to be sandblasted off an arch, commonly known as “Jackson Arch,” of the Old Barracks during the 2021-22 Christmas break.
Four months later, on April 30th, the Commemorations and Memorials Naming and Review Committee (CMNRC), created to review all Confederate iconography on the Lexington campus, concluded its business. “[T]he VMI Board of Visitors,” said the committee in a public announcement, “voted to retain all the remaining statues and building names. Additionally, the vast majority of the other commemorative items, artwork, and memorials that had been the subject of the committee’s scrutiny because of the item’s association, however indirectly, with the Civil War, slavery, and the Confederacy will remain.” Some of the items that remain will be “retained and contextualized.” Continue reading
by Donald Smith
Governor Northam’s November speech to the VMI cadet corps has been widely panned for many reasons. Here I offer a new reason: The speech violated a cardinal principle of American leadership: you must be able to articulate compelling reasons for your decisions and actions.
When Northam spoke to the assembled Corps of Cadets, his previous treatment of VMI hung over his head like a dark cloud. Among the many animosities he had inspired was the banishment of Stonewall Jackson’s statue from Main Post, followed by an assault on the general’s legacy at VMI. Statues are symbols — of people, events or traditions we want to honor. They reflect upon the people who create and honor them — and also on those who tear them down.
With his speech, Northam had a chance to confidently and compellingly explain why Jackson’s statue had to go and why his legacy should be erased from the military academy. Continue reading
by Donald Smith
To all those who will vote in November, especially those who are thinking of voting Republican for the first time.
You may only lend us your vote. You may not see yourself as a natural Republican.
Your hand may quiver over the ballot, as you debate whether to put your mark in the Republican box—quite likely, for the very first time in your life.
And you may be determined to return to the Democrat Party next time around. If that is the case, I am humbled that, this November, you put your trust in me, that you have put your trust in us. I and we will never take your support for granted.
We will be grateful that you recognized that, sometimes, you have to base your vote on matters much bigger than normal partisan politics.
Glenn Youngkin should give that speech. Or put it in an ad. Because there’s an audience for it in Virginia right now. Many Democrats and moderates are troubled by progressive antics in Washington and Richmond. Those folks will listen to a pitch like this.
If the pitch sounds familiar, it is revised version of Boris Johnson’s victory speech on December 2019 after the last British general election. Continue reading