4 thoughts on “Podcast 65”

  1. Interesting take you had on the Confederate forts, but there is a reason why they were named as they were. Most of them were set up as training posts in Southern states in WW1, some in WW2. In 1917, the civil war was still very much in living memory, the last Confederate veteran didn’t die until 1951.

    Despite the righteousness of the Union cause, they had pursued a very nasty scorched earth policy in 1864 and the activity of Northern carpetbaggers in the aftermath had further sowed resentment. By 1913 at the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg there were serious efforts at reconciliation, which involved a level of selective amnesia on both sides. So when the government wanted to place posts in Southern states they named them after local heroes in order to gain the acceptance of the local population and also to subdue Southern opposition to including black Americans in the 1917 draft bill.

    I suppose the closest comparison I can think of in Britain would be allowing highland regiments to wear tartan clothing after 1747 despite it being banned in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion. The British army still wanted soldiers from the highlands to fight for them. On statues it would be stuff like the Glenfinnen monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie which was raised 70 years after the rebellion.

    As with all of these things you get the problem of where do you stop. Sherman and Sheridan luckily no longer have bases named after them (they closed) but do have statues. These were men who ordered the burning of civilians homes and crops during the civil war and worse played a pivotal part in the displacement of the plains indians and destruction of the buffalo they relied on in order to starve them into submission. They would be classed as war criminals had they fought for any other army. Standing over it all was U.S Grant himself. Either way someone comes away feeling hard done by as per usual. I wonder if there is any chance we could make 2021 the year of shhhh?

    1. To be honest, it’s not so much my take but the response of Republicans and former US military officers that I’ve heard or read in the past couple of weeks.

      I agree it’s a problem of where to stop but does that really mean we shouldn’t begin? Like all things that exist on a broad spectrum, there’s a place where clear injustices end and more reasonable arguments begin. Nobody would reasonably argue that Churchill’s statue should now be taken down, but an obscure slave trader of the 17th century? We had no problem sending Jimmy Saville’s statues to the smelter (though, by the current logic, it should have gone to a museum), so clearly there’s a rationale for pulling some statues down. It akin to Churchill’s quote, “we know what you are, we’re just haggling over the price”. Only now we’re really haggling about dates/significance.

      It also comes down to the purpose of the statues. In the US, many were raised late in the 20th century, not to commemorate but deliberately provoke in the light of the civil rights movement. The debate around them is more about contemporary race relations than it is about history.

      You’re right about the civil war being almost within living memory which is why we don’t really have any equivalent. Nobody cares about the Jacobite rebellion but if somebody proposed a statue of Margaret Thatcher for Liverpool city centre, there’d be quite an outcry. Yet again: why would the statue be proposed? To remember or to taunt. Both are entirely possible.

      And to go back to Churchill, it’s not so much what he represents now but what he might represent in the future if we keep having events like the one we had in London recently. I don’t for one moment suggest that he is a figure of ethnonationalism but sometimes people don’t have much choice about their legacy. We need to protect him so he isn’t claimed by the far right.

      But let’s imagine that he has been claimed. It’s 2175. Nobody is alive that remembers the end of World War 2 and we’re living in a Clockwork Orange dystopia filled with droogs who go around with his tattoo on their arm, smoking big cigars, wearing a boiler suit, his trademark hat, and kicking the crap out of people. I might still argue that we shouldn’t take his statue down but that’s only because I’m arguing this within the context of now, not then. The arguments then would be far more difficult.

      And isn’t that the point? You say that things had changed by 1913 but things have changed again in 2020. We change, our culture changes, our symbols change, and even our understanding of history changes. I don’t see any problem with adapting to that change in a sensible way that protects history but adapts to shifting sensibilities. It’s not destroying history but recontextualising history.

      There was a story a while ago about pre-Nazi era swastikas in Canada, iirc, and how important it was to recontextualise them to stop them being vandalised. Buddhists must still be pissed off when the Nazis reversed their symbol for peace and turned it into a symbol of hate. But does anybody really suggest that the Buddhist community of London would be wise to put up swastikas in the early 21st century? And would it have been that odd if something displaying a swastika was quietly moved into a museum in 1939?

      Sadly, though, this whole conversation feels like it’s being pulled to the extremes. The Right accuses the Left of robbing the nation of its history and identity. The Left think the Right are using the symbols entirely to justify race hate. Both sides are a little bit right. The sensible answer is to be sensitive to both arguments and plot that middle course.

      1. Think you have me wrong, I don’t care a tinkers cuss if they rename the bases, or tear down the statues. I’ll be perfectly honest I don’t give a toss what they do in America socially, period. I’m no fan of the CSA. I was simply pointing out it will just cause another stink and cries of double standards. You seemed surprised on the podcast that they had been named after confederate generals, I was simply filling in why the federal authorities had done that.

        You use the example of a statue of Thatcher in Liverpool, the real comparison would be a statue of Thatcher in Grantham or in Finchley, the Glenfinnan monument is in the highlands. I’m sure some confederate statues were put up to provoke, others to eulogise people genuinely believed to have been heroes. If the majority of the people in those locales want them down they should come down, if a majority want them to stay they should stay. I honestly don’t think it is that difficult.

        1. Oh, I agree. It will always come down to local sentiments, though obviously, demographics change and that’s partly why this is now a debate in some of these places. National statues and military bases are also more problematic but, again, I’m not so wedded to tradition. Some changes me make for the good, some for the worse, and sometimes standing was the best option.

          Was I surprised? Perhaps I was but, then, some of these arguments seem so obvious when made and the surprise for me, really, was the amount of agreement on the Republican side. It’s really odd to see both sides agreeing on something. Really can’t remember the last time that happened.

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