2017-05-18 02:12:38 UTC
by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
May 17, 2017
The statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis being prepared for
removal in New Orleans.
AMID THREATS of violence and white-supremacist protests, the city of New
Orleans has begun removing four Confederate monuments, among them statues of
Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, the supreme military and political
leaders of the Southern rebellion against the United States.
The Confederate monuments are memorials to the vilest cause in American
history. The South went to war for one reason above all: to perpetuate the
enslavement of black Americans. The dismantling of the statues is a
long-overdue act of moral hygiene; it is appalling that they were ever
erected in the first place. What other nation tolerates grand public
memorials to its traitors?
Despite decades of blather about Southern "heritage," the core message of
the Confederate monuments — especially those erected after the collapse of
Reconstruction — was never hard to decoct. They stood for bigotry and racial
backlash, and for the willingness to take up arms in defense of human
bondage. Naturally, Ku Klux Klan supporters like David Duke are among those
protesting the statues' removal.
It isn't only in America that monuments to brutal past oppressors are
belatedly being removed.
For more than a year, Poles have been debating whether to keep or get rid of
the hundreds of monuments to the Red Army erected in their country after
World War II. The memorials were put up to thank the Soviet Union for
liberating Poland from the Nazis, and they went unchallenged during the
40-plus years of communist rule that followed that "liberation."
But Poland is no longer ruled by Communists who toe Moscow's line, and
monuments to Soviet military valor can be denounced as the abominations they
are. Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo said last year that it is a
"natural, normal thing" that accolades to communist power in Poland's public
spaces be dismantled. Her government has been urging local authorities to
demolish the monuments or relocate them to less conspicuous "education
Just as Klan sympathizers angrily protest the removal of Confederate statues
in New Orleans, Russian authorities fume as Poles cleanse their town squares
of shrines to Soviet might. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has
denounced Poland's policy for having "profaned . . . Soviet-Polish
brotherhood." Moscow accuses Poles of disparaging the sacrifice of "Soviet
citizens who died in the fight against Nazism."
It is true that vast numbers of Soviet troops fought in Poland, and many
died, to defeat Nazi Germany — just as it is true that Confederate armies
under Lee battled long and valiantly in defense of the South. In both cases
that is an argument for the perpetual care of cemeteries and gravestones:
for allowing dead soldiers to rest in peace, regardless of the cause for
which they died. In Poland there has been no call by anyone to disturb
Soviet tombs — and in Louisiana there has been no attempt to impinge on the
serenity of Confederate cemeteries.
A cyclist passes the Gratitude for the Soviet Army Soldiers monument in
But respect for the dead is no excuse for glorifying the evil they fought to
The Red Army that defeated Nazi forces in Poland immediately turned its
bayonets to the imposition of a communist dictatorship. What followed were
roundups and torture, show trials and forced labor, economic theft and
political repression, falsified history and totalitarian misery. And though
the Soviet Union may have ended the war fighting Nazi Germany, it began as
Hitler's ally, colluding in the invasion of Poland and annexing half its
Moscow could order its Polish satraps to install Red Army "gratitude"
monuments across the land, but those monuments were always obscenities,
forced tributes to the boot stamping on Poland's face.
In a society liberated from tyrannical cruelty, monuments to the tyrants
have no place. Massive Nazi swastikas were destroyed in Germany. Effigies of
Saddam Hussein fell in Iraq. The statues of slavery's defenders in New
Orleans deserve the same fate, and so do the great granite testaments to the
prestige and power of the Soviet Union.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).