The American Civil War is history whether one considers it as a glorious war from the victors point of view (that slavery had been finally abolished) or as a memorable war from other point of views (including defeaters that Americans would be reminded of her shameful past). Historical facts can never be denied, be it slavery in America, Nazi’s slaughtering of Jews or Japan’s war crimes in Asia, massacres, sex slavery, biochemical experimentation on Chinese, Koreans and Americans and brutal murder of Taiwanese including Taiwan aborigines during Japan’s 50 years of occupation. So the violent incidence at Charlottesville, Virginia regarding the issue of removing the statue of General Robert Lee with pro and con demonstrators leaving one dead and several injured is a sad and unforgivable tragedy. General Lee was the leader of the Confederacy Army during the civil war. His statue, larger than life size riding on a horse sculptured by a New York sculptor, Henry Merwin Shrady, had stood in the city of Charlottesville since 1924. Instead of holding memorial services to recall history, some residents along with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) wanted to remove the statue. Why? You wonder? The statue is a reminder of history which Americans should never forget but abolishing it serves the opposite effect. In Charlottesville’s case, the idea of removing a historical statue triggered emotions and served the political agenda of current time activists groups pitting against each other dividing the nation.
General Lee was a career military man, a WestPoint graduate and a Virginian who was even considered as a candidate for Commander to lead the Union or Federal Army. When Virginia chose independence, Lee made a personal career choice to be the commander of the Confederate Army, perhaps more motivated by career opportunity than racial ideology. When the war ended, General Lee made the remark that he was sorry the Confederate was defeated but he was glad that the nation was united after the war. The civil war toll was 620,000 to 750,000 dead, 280,000 wounded and 200,000 missing or deserted which could easily explain the emotional charge left on large number of descendant Americans. General Lee will be always a figure in Virginia’s history which will be a part of American history. There should be law and procedure for establishing statue to memorialize historical facts and there should also be law protecting established statues and permitting memorial events held by any contemporary organizations. Virginia residents and NAACP could hold memorial services to highlight any part of the history rather than demanding removal of a historical statue. No wonder the international press is calling Charlottesville event a (Mao’s) “Cultural Revolution” act.
President Trump made a point that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had slaves, should their statues be demolished? He was right to say that we could learn from history but could not hide history. The recent American racial incidences in Virginia and North Carolina not only are lessons for Americans but also lessons for people in Japan where a German reporter asked a right-wing Japanese a question about his WW II view and he was haunted by the mob audience after the reporter made a remark that the Japanese politician’s speech would put him in jail if he were in Germany. Japan to this day opposes any statue featuring Japan’s WW II crimes, Massacres or ‘Comfort Women’. Another sad example is that some radical people in Taiwan recently destroyed the statues of Chiang Kai-Shek who retreated to Taiwan in 1949 with skilled people to practice Sun Yet San’s Three Principles of People for economic reform saving Taiwan from becoming a Communist province.
One undercurrent below the recent racial unrests such as in Virginia and Carolina seems to be stimulated by political actions of the Democratic Party/press against the Republican President Trump. During the presidential campaign, Trump made remarks that had been interpreted and sometimes inflamed by the media to be too ‘white’ – promoting white supremacy in his campaign of ‘make America Great Again’. The Democrats seem to be latching on the racial issue in preparing for a comeback in 2020. The Republicans indeed should not tarnish Lincoln’s image (Republican President) as a hero who liberated the blacks from slavery by expressing a firm anti-racism position. However, the Republican Party and the President must be aware that the nation is facing more pressing issues such as creating jobs, making tax reform, fixing immigration laws and enacting deregulation initiatives to pump our economy as well as steering our foreign policies to deal with nuclear threat, trade imbalance and tensions with rising powers. Racial violence does create headlines in media but they are political issues fed by emotions. The President and his staff must manage and not inflame people’s emotions, otherwise any racial violence activities may backfire. Steve Bannon might be right to say that “if Democrats would keep focusing on Identity and Racial Issues and Republicans on economy and nationalism, we got them.”
Being honest with respect to history will win (over being hypocritical) in the long run, especially regarding racial issue. The U.S. has been preaching human rights in the world; the U.S. must be honest to herself in human rights. The very first thing to be honest is about history and the slow progress made regarding human rights. Historically, the immigrant Americans had not been fair to the Native American Indians. History evolves with time and racial cultural assimilation may take centuries. Therefore it is unfair and hypocritical to demand other nations to solve their human rights issues in a short time while we Americans still have our own racial problems. Throughout the years we did make progress in human rights. It took centuries to evolve to granting all Native Indians American citizenship uniformly in 1924. Educational and civil rights for Native Americans were only established in the late 1960’s.
Slavery came to North America in 1619. Civil War began in 1861 and ended on April 9, 1865 ending the slavery, but the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed right after the war ended (May, 1865). Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution gave citizenship right to native born (including slaves) in the U.S., then voting rights to the blacks in 1870 by 15th amendment. Segregation persisted and legalized in 1896 by Supreme Court decision. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909. Military service right allowing integrated U.S. Armed forces was in effect in 1948. Racial segregation in schools declared unconstitutional in 1954. Martin Luther King established Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 and he was assassinated in 1968. President Johnson signed the most significant Civil Rights Act in 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on color, race, religion and national origin. Senator Barack Obama became the first black President 2008 but the racial issues continue to exist till today.
Incidences like Charlottesville may come and go and the statue removal is not the real issue. The real issue is to make significant progress in acquiring equality in social and economical status through education and job opportunities and political rights through laws. Blacks should treasure their rights and favorable status for college admission (than other minority races) rather than spend energy arguing symbolic representations of statues. If a college kid could not understand and interpret the real meaning of a historical statue and the real history behind it, he or she would never appreciate what equality and racial discrimination really mean in life.