Let's Teach Republicans Why Preserving Confederate Statues Isn't Like Preserving Auschwitz!
The Cape Ann Republican Committee, of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, is making apologies after posting a meme to their Facebook page in support of keeping Confederate statues... and comparing keeping those statues to keeping Auschwitz standing as a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. Behold, said meme:
Oh, and by the way -- you did read that correctly. We are talking about Massachusetts here -- which, you may know, was not part of the Confederacy. Of course, some of us may have grown up in the state during what was ever-so-delicately referred to as the "busing crisis," and may not be particularly surprised by this at all.
Following an outcry -- particularly among Jewish members of the community who understand the difference between Auschwitz and a statue of Robert E. Lee -- Amanda Kesterson, the Chair of the Cape Ann GOP, attempted to explain their rationale for posting the meme:
Kesterson, who is also chairwoman of the Gloucester City Republican Committee, said she understands that any post comparing any event to the Holocaust would be disturbing. Neither the local or national GOP stand for hate speech, she added.
"My take is that history has a lot of horrible things in it — history can be good, bad and ugly — and the Holocaust and (Civil War) are two of the most ugly parts of our history," she said, acknowledging that many statutes of Confederate generals were erected in the 20th century as a means of intimidating blacks during the Jim Crow era. "That again was an ugly part of our history."
They have since apologized on their Facebook page, but without fully seeming to recognize where it is that they went wrong:
Yesterday's post which sparked much outrage has been removed. Our elected officials who are members of our group have all expressed publicly via official proclamation this week their hope that as a community we will push back against any attack on our community values of inclusion and tolerance. For any questions, please feel free to contact Amanda Kesterson. Thank you.
This was, of course, a very bad analogy. There is a very big difference between the way people see Auschwitz and the way many White Southerners, at least, see Confederate Generals posed triumphantly on horses. Auschwitz serves as a reminder of those who suffered, while the Confederate statues glorify those who fought for continued suffering. You will notice that there are no triumphant looking statues of Hitler in Germany.
There is, however, a far more accurate analogy to be made here. Imagine if, in Germany, 50 years after WWII, groups of Holocaust deniers did put up statues of Adolph Hitler looking triumphant? And then got mad that people wanted to tear them down, because how dare they not remember history?
Well, that is exactly what happened in the United States after the Civil War. The Lost Cause of the Confederacy is revisionist history just like Holocaust Denial is. It is also about as accurate.
Germany, as you may know, bans people from promoting Holocaust Denialism. After the Civil War, America did the exact opposite. It allowed the Lost Cause bullshit to proliferate, believing that it would help the nation to heal. Lost Causers were allowed to pretend that not only was the war about more than just slavery (it was not), that t was noble in some way, but also that slavery wasn't really all that bad anyway. This was taught in schools and even promoted in Hollywood, with movies like Gone With The Wind and The Birth of A Nation. My mother grew up living in Florida for half the year because of her father's job, and she was taught in school that it was not the Civil War, but The War of Northern Aggression. That the real villains in this story were the carpetbaggers. If slavery was ever mentioned, she says she does not remember it.
To this day, many textbooks in the South teach that slavery was but a "side issue" to the Civil War, rather than the reason it was fought in the first place.
A fake history was created to make the South feel better about losing, to help us heal as a nation. That was a bad idea. It did not help, it hurt. Rather than dealing, as a nation, with the devastating horror of slavery and the evil that produced it, we allowed the South to whitewash the whole thing and still think of themselves and their generals as heroes. Who want to believe they were good, because they don't want to confront a "heritage" that was wrong. We did the wrong thing.
Because now we have people who have been taught, and who truly believe in, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, freaking out because they can't understand why anyone thinks they shouldn't celebrate their glorious heritage. All of this should have been dealt with over 100 years ago, and it wasn't, because America would rather ignore pain than deal with it. The Germans dealt with their atrocities responsibly, and we simply refused to. Because it was easier this way, because it preserved everyone's idea that America is and was always basically good. Because if we lost that, then who would ever fight our wars for us?
These statues are not about remembering history, they are about misremembering history. And this war is being fought between those who want to remember history correctly, and those who want to protect their made-up history, because actually confronting the real history feels bad.
Auschwitz is ugly. It's harrowing. It makes you sick to look at it. It makes you say "NEVER AGAIN." Keeping it up is necessary for that reason. It is not there to provide comfort to Nazis. These statues, however, are meant to provide comfort to those who wish to celebrate the South and fondly misremember what it stood for. And they don't deserve that.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse