Thursday, August 23, 2018

Elegy for Silent Sam: Twice a Victim of History

Friends, while the mainstream media obsesses about the legal travails of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort -- and obfuscates the inconvenient fact of President Trump's innocence of any crime -- my eyes have been turned to recent events in the Tar Heel State: North Carolina.  There, days ago, a mob of left-wing activists tore down the statue of "Silent Sam," who was a memorial to Confederate war dead.  The disrespect these protesters showed, not only to fallen Confederate soldiers, but also to the rule of law, American history and heritage, and basic standards of decency, is profoundly shocking.  Actually, I take that back -- it is disgusting, but not shocking, because the passion for silencing their opponents, and destroying all symbols of a hated past, seems to infuse the modern Left.  We have seen it before, and we will see it again.  At any rate, I wanted to register my disapproval.

Silent Sam” Wasn't Silent Enough for a Liberal Mob

Recently we witnessed the tragic and grossly illegal toppling of the “Silent Sam” statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by a crowd of enraged protesters. Silent Sam had stood for over 100 years as a memorial to fallen soldiers of the Confederacy. He represented not a single, specific individual, but a great mass of several hundred thousand Confederate soldiers who died fighting for their homeland, albeit a homeland that practiced slavery. He especially stood for the UNC alumni who died in the Civil War.

A campaign to have the statue removed from campus had been active for years, but the mob that formed on August 20th was not inclined to wait. Silent Sam was knocked to the ground and stomped on by euphoric radicals. All this was done in the name of anti-racism and to defeat “white supremacy,” which in point of fact receded as a meaningful force in American politics decades ago. Besides a tiny fringe of genuine hardcore racists and “Nazis” in the U.S., white supremacy has become, more than anything, a rallying cry for the Left, and an excuse to bully, silence, and even physically assault conservatives. Racism is and ought to be condemned by the vast majority of Americans, but the use of violent and illegal tactics to achieve one's political goals is never acceptable.

The Left's rationale for the removal of the Silent Sam statue rested largely on the fact that it was dedicated by, among others, the avowed racist Julian Carr, who saw Silent Sam as embodying the “Anglo Saxon race” in the South. This was indeed an inauspicious start for the statue, but the fact is that Silent Sam himself had no explicit connection to white supremacy – he is, or was, simply a weary Rebel soldier, who represented ordinary combatant Southerners, the vast majority of whom did not own slaves, but who did feel a duty to defend their homeland from what was perceived as “Northern Aggression”. Regardless of the justice of their cause, these men fought and died in appalling numbers, and it is not unreasonable that the people of North Carolina, and the state of North Carolina, would honor their courage and their sacrifice.

While we must concede that the Left is correct that Silent Sam does have some potentially negative associations, the bigger problem is that the Left's desire to expunge historical symbols with such “baggage” is extremely selective. Very few historical personages rise to the level of moral purity and perfection demanded by the modern-day acolytes of political correctness. And, if all historical heroes and heroines are flawed, who are liberals to decide which of these luminaries are to be consigned to the dustbin of history?

To take an obvious example, liberals are united in celebrating the contributions of Susan B. Anthony to the cause of women's liberation and female suffrage. The fact of the matter is, however, that Anthony was a racist, who opposed passage of the 15th Amendment, which enfranchised black men, because she believed that white women, due to their superior “intelligence, justice, and morality”, should received the vote first, and “the negro” last. She referred to newly emancipated black men as “densely ignorant”. That racist philosophy, however, has never prevented leftists from lauding Susan B. Anthony, from erecting statues in her honor, or from pushing for her face to appear on the currency of the United States.

Liberals seem to take the view that, if an historical personage was, in the main, “on the right side of history,” then his or her sins, no matter how inexcusable by modern standards, can be forgiven and forgotten. In fact, even to raise questions about his or her virtues, as I have with Susan B. Anthony, is to invite a charge of racism or sexism on oneself. Simply put, the heroes in the liberal pantheon are effectively beyond reproach. They occupy holy ground on which no critical thinker may tread.

If, by contrast, liberals simply don't like an historical figure, or they associate him or her with retrograde or conservative beliefs, that individual's flaws becoming defining features, and he or she can never be celebrated or memorialized, and can only be discussed in the context of evil, oppression, and injustice. The fact that even people who do bad things can have good qualities, worthy of examination and even admiration, offends the black-or-white moral code by which liberals live. To them, the verdict of history is an all-or-nothing affair: you are either with us, or you are against us, and “us” means the modern Left itself, the views of which are the only (self-referential) standard of rectitude liberals recognize. No higher law exists than this: the Left must prevail – over the past, over the present, and over the future.

In the end, conservatives must oppose the toppling of the Silent Sam statue for two reasons. First, because it is an affront to the rule of law and an instance of mob rule. Second, because how we interpret history is a reflection of the cultural and moral values that we practice and hold dear. We simply cannot afford to hand our nation's heritage over to leftists, who will expunge and destroy everyone, and everything, that fails to live up to their totalitarian vision of the perfect society. After a few years, we would have nothing left but a jerry-rigged gallery of purported heroes and villains, useful only as props in liberal propaganda.

Sadly, Silent Sam was twice a victim of history. He died first on the battlefields of the Civil War, fighting for a cause that was arguably doomed from the start. Last week, he died a second time – a victim of liberal rage and intolerance, and of political correctness gone berserk.

Let's do all that we can to make sure that the next chapter in American history won't be written by a left-wing mob.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: He appears weekly on the Newsmaker program on WLEA 1480.

And here's the version that appears in The Daily Caller: 


  1. Dr. Waddy: It would not surprise me if the next leftist attack on the heritage of Confederate devotion to their homeland will be directed at Civil war battlefields, which are graced by monuments and graphic references to both Union and Confederate steadfastness. And that, if they venture it, is where they will encounter the reenactors and the Civil War buffs from both sides.

    We met them in Gettysburg last November at our annual "Remembrance Day" parade marking the Gettysburg Address, which always hosts a multitude of mutually respectful Union and Confederate reenactors. There had been a written leftist threat to our procession but we marched anyway, through a cold rain and to the acclaim of an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd, to the flank of Cemetery Hill, some of us hand in hand and all of us cheering, our Confederate and Union brothers.I'll never forget it. There was no sign of heartless radicals; "they have but little courage".

    The thugs who defaced Silent Sam must pick their objectives very carefully, especially in the South. As a nationally elite university perhaps UNC has surrendered to them. But I would not bet on their chances elsewhere in that country where the resolute Confederate stand is not and will never be, forgotten. The sincere and proven U.S. patriotism of the South stands as affirmation of their support for our national goals but they will not abide their cultural heritage being trashed and I laud them for it.

  2. Hear hear, Jack! It appears that you are right that the authorities at UNC-Chapel Hill essentially surrendered the field to the radicals and allowed them to tear Silent Sam down. The university's administration wanted the statue gone anyway -- the mob did their work for them.

    It's true that one would expect battlefield memorials to start cropping up on the wreckers' list of targets... Will they move in that direction, or will they instead take a detour into flag burning, or throwing red paint on bald eagle statues (offensive to eagles and to bald people, naturally)? Time will tell.

  3. Dr. Waddy: Being radicals, they are radically anxious for radical change and may conclude that its time to move on to what (?) that is revered nationally. They are pissing into the wind.

    I was at a ceremony today at a Civil War Monument which was saved from the wrecker's ball and sentiment there was against those who would apply 21st century moral standards to those who had experienced only half of the 19th century. That's the real America at work, with common sense, not Marxism, as its guide. I'd rejoice to see a towering monument to Harriet Tubman, a woman of monumental courage and constancy, placed right near the other most celebrated memorials in DC but leave the Confederate memory unsullied. We are, after all, a nation of "diverse" traditions are we not and that principle cannot be credibly assailed by leftists.

  4. Jack, "diversity" is in the eye of the beholder, as the Left proves over and over... I suppose, to be fair, there are always limits to what anyone can tolerate -- the pity is that, for the Left, most of what used to be considered typically and genuinely "American" crosses over the no-no line. It's mainly a pity for them, though, because can you imagine living your life with that degree of prickliness?

  5. Dr. Waddy: No and I don't think they are capable of the kind of introspection and intellectual honesty which might enable them to contemplate it. My current reading appears to show that to be an inheritance from Marx of which most of them would be either unaware or uncaring. It is a reflex to them now. I look forward to their irrevocable marginalization to our polity and only then will I feel some pity for them - once their crusade to destroy us is finally defeated. For now, in my opinion, the determination to effect that end must guide us.

  6. For what it's worth, Jack, even if the Left were to "seize power," in the grand sweep of history I believe their victory would be fleeting. To borrow a phrase, "There's no 'there' there." Leftist ideology is in the end empty self-delusion. What that means is that they can do tremendous damage in the short term, as they blunder about trying to construct their utopias, but their projects are more or less guaranteed to fail. I don't suppose that comforts the 100 million dead in the 20th century alone, but it puts things in some perspective, nonetheless...

  7. Dr. Waddy: Venezuela certainly stands in support of your view and its foreseeable future will probably continue to do so. Without even resorting, yet, to mass murder, socialists have completely gutted the economy of an oil rich country. Venezuelans, at the very depth of desperation, will probably send them to that fate deserved (though not always served) for those who presume as those dreamers have.

    For our country, its system proven by history to be most productive of true human well being, such an episode, I agree, would be productive of incalculable but yet avoidable catastrophe, if only we continue to wake to the danger. The worst can happen; for most of us it is blessedly unimaginable but hundreds of millions who still live or have borne witness know all too well that it is entirely possible.

  8. Dr. Waddy: Another thought: Radical change since 1789 has been productive of unprecedented catastrophe. I was reading about the days just after the Bolsheviks seized power. Lenin's summary proclamations (eg. complete confiscation of lands, takeover of banks, abolition of inherited advantages, "government" takeover of mines and factories, the deposition of managers and the very temporary takeover of industry by labor) must have seemed like fantasy come true. The left is still likely to attempt such wrongheaded social, economic and political engineering should it acquire the raw power to do so even in our country. Russia in the early 20th century was not hopeless; it had actually made significant progress in modernizing, particularly under the stewardship of Petr Stolypin, until the chaotic maelstrom of WWI put paid to most order. Perhaps this prospective cancerous infestation of our country by the left could yet prove another groundbreaking assault on civilization by these evil minded idealists.

  9. Jack, it's interesting that you mention the cautionary tale of Venezuela, because when I visited Colombia I witnessed the fruits of "socialism" firsthand: Colombia is full of Venezuelans who have fled their homeland for greener pastures. They are for the most part very decent, hardworking people, and Colombia seems to be straining to accommodate as many of its neighbors as possible. What socialism has wrought in Venezuela is immensely sad -- and it is still admired by many leftists! The electoral tactics and media manipulation employed by the Chavez crowd in Venezuela are also worthy of study, because they can and will be replicated elsewhere.

  10. Dr. Waddy: With one exception, I have never met a victim of Marxism, though I have conversed extensively with a China expert who was in 1972, favorable to Mao but who later met an intellectual savaged by the Red Guard in the Cultural Revolution so recklessly fomented by Mao. One of the main objectives I've had in my readings on Marxism and its application has been to try to understand how the Marxist mind detaches itself from human nature and natural reality. It is enabled, in the main, I think, by a conviction I have traced in my readings to Marx and Engels, that the conclusions of their historical examination and their philosophical ruminations are unassailable. I'm still trying to understand why they "felt" that way but that they and their present day avatars did and do is, I think, obvious. That sentient leftists can yet admire the execrable consequences of the application of their thought bespeaks profound inhumanity on their part and credits the stand of those who recognize their presumptuous and murderous intent.

  11. Jack, I don't disagree, but it seems to me that presumption and self-glorification is darn near a human universal. Even conservatives indulge all too often. I'm not sure the arrogance of Marx and Engels is all that remarkable, therefore -- but the capacity of ruthless leaders like Lenin and Mao to translate their self-indulgent nonsense into ACTUAL totalitarianism is, I think, a distinctly modern phenomenon, which has a lot to do with the technological and bureaucratic resources available to the modern state. To put it another way, idiots and bad actors are to be found everywhere and at all times, but in the modern age idiots and bad actors can do far more damage than ever before...

    And I will disagree with your first point: we are ALL victims of Marxism. Its cancerous effects are to be seen in every corner of contemporary society. Granted, many of us still lead great lives, but how much greater could they be without the Marxist stain?

  12. Dr. Waddy: I THINK Marx and Engels were motivated by their conviction that their ultra radical theories were creditable to conclude that they could be compared to no prior or even present experiences and that that not only freed them from the responsibility for supporting their beliefs but also cast them as prophets ( an office for which there was historical precedence). But I'm still far from sure about this. The sources I've been using (chiefly Service's history of communism and Conquest's Stalin: Breaker of Nations, are adament about Marist's unassailable confidence but haven't yet told me why Marx and Engels thought this way. Its entirely possible, I think, that had they beheld Stalin and Mao's totalitarian outrages they would have cringed. The character of DeStogumber in Shaw's Saint Joan recklessly urges Joan's immolation but when he actually sees it, goes mad.

    In one sense, perhaps, those who maintain that the history of the world since, say, 1780, admits of little comparison to that which preceded it, have a point. But that period also presents us with the reality of the great, prosperous and relatively humane democracies, equally enabled by modernity, which have afforded great swaths of humanity with good lives and which credibly promise the same to the rest of the world.

    Modern totalitarianism, I fully agree, is enabled by modern technology and perhaps, phenomena which distance modern bureaucrats and even theorists from the practical manifestations of their airy presumptions. In their virtual worlds (analogous, say to Stalin's Kremlin lala land?) they are untouched by the fell effect of their purely intellectual findings. Their contempt for tradition and the past makes them even less creditable.

    I certainly see your point on how Marxism has polluted all of our lives but thank God we can see it from the relatively detached vantage point of the blessed Western tradition. Of course, we must not let that blind us to the inhumanity Marxism in our own country still intends for us.

  13. FDr. Waddy; One thing I forgot to note above is that the great democracies accomplished their good not by presumptously and reflexively rejecting Western history. They subjected it to rigorous examination but with intellectually open minds and they gloried in its positive aspects.

  14. Jack, you make a good point that modern bureaucrats and theorists can luxuriate in a remarkable degree of detachment from the consequences of their degenerate policies and theories... It's a strange world, because we have the power to do virtually anything we set out to, and we can close our eyes to the ill effects, if it suits us, by wallowing in reassuring propaganda. On the other hand, suffering is also much easier to communicate than ever before. Television and the internet allow us to share in the misery of people all around the world -- although generally the people who run television networks and social media giants prefer to keep things "upbeat". It strikes me that our age is one of contradictions: we are both more connected, and less connected, than ever before. No wonder we grasp at straws (like leftism) to try to regain our composure...

    It also occurs to me that intellectual arrogance might have been a particularly 19th century vice, insofar as many thinkers like Marx and Engels lived in an era when bloody wars and ruthless dictatorships might seem to have been abolished...

  15. Dr. Waddy: Please correct me if I'm wrong but my understanding is that in the world of truly and rigorously intellectually accomplished people it is customary to express one's convictions in a positive and assertive manner and let them stand the test of examination and criticism. Perhaps Marx and Engels embraced that, I think as an outsider,with further consideration, credible viewpoint.

    But here is where I respectfully disagree with you; I do not think the media can yet come close to conveying to us in the blessed first world the true horror of war and insanely anarchic settings - the flat sight, maybe, but the stench, the often enervating heat,the unrelenting intrusion upon even the limited privacy all humans seek in sleep and shelter, the cacaphonous and merciless often human generated noise, the unalloyed terror - war vets in the U.S. know it but the rest of us do not.

    I think it very credible that Marx and Engels lived in an era when it was understandably thought gross human conflict might be rejected. It took WW1 to put paid to that notion: Gads; how traumatically discouraging that must have been.

  16. Jack, I see your point: conveying images of war doesn't convey the reality -- in fact, images can be used to OBSCURE the reality. "Truth" comes in many shades, after all. I suppose I stand by my assertion that modern life affords us the opportunity to be both isolated from friends, coworkers, and loved ones, and "intimate", albeit in a stilted way, with strangers, but you're right that such intimacy and understanding can never be a substitute for direct experience. To put it another way, so much about modern life is illusory rather than genuine.