From An Angry Reader:
Angry Reader Sam Davidson
I enjoy reading your articles in the National Review. I never understood why this country has statues that honor people that took up arms against the United States. I do not think there are any statues honoring Lord Cornwallis, General Santa Ana, Ludendorf, Tojo, or Hitler. The Confederates were lucky President Johnson was a Southerner and every officer over the rank of captain wasn’t shot. In my opinion this isn’t about slavery or state’s rights, it is about treason.
Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:
Dear Kinda Angry Reader Sam Davidson,
To answer you, question why are Confederate statues somewhat different from those of a few monsters you list?
1) Not all statues of Confederates are the same. Gen. James Longstreet’s career was different from that of Nathan Bedford Forrest or Jefferson Davis, to take one example; yet we lump them all together as equally culpable. Note Erwin Rommel fought for a bad cause but he did so in a way differently from Sepp Dietrich or Joachim Peiper or Otto Skorzeny, and is recognized as such in Germany today—in the manner that a Gen. Halder of OKH was working with the U.S. after the war on the theory he was different from Gen. Keitel of OKW who was hanged.
2) Most Confederates were born American citizens; so rightly or wrongly they were seen after the war as reprobates, but not foreign enemies, and thus to be forgiven as wayward Americans rather than killed as hostiles (but given even the very few death sentences at Nuremberg were mostly later commuted or reduced, your suggestion of shooting en masse thousands of Confederate officers seems a tad extreme?).
3) The statues often were allowed to remain as tokens of reconciliation; the fear during the waning Civil War (see Lincoln’s Second Inaugural), and after, was that the killing (eventually 620,000 dead) had been so tragic and brutal that the country could never reunite. Forgiving secessionists and recalibrating them as noble fighters for an amoral cause (slavery was sometimes forgotten and the Lost Cause was substituted) was seen as both magnanimous and advantageous. I note that empirically, not approvingly, necessarily.
4) In 1861, the North struggled to find a constitutional writ enabling it legally to coerce the South back into the Union, given that the Supreme Court would not find secession unconstitutional until after the war (1869), and the Constitution had no explicit clause about leaving the Union. So many in 1861 in the North were befuddled whether it was legal to depart peacefully, and, if so, how exactly was it done?
The Union argued, inter alia, that the individual states could not autonomously appropriate the responsibilities of the federal government (national defense, tariffs, etc.) as spelled out in the Constitution, but there was nothing explicit about what would happen if the states peacefully left the Union entirely since it was believed none ever would be so foolish.
So one way of forcing them back in was to declare that they could not appropriate federal property inside their boundaries (forts, arsenals, post offices, e.g., such as Fort Sumter.), which they did by force and which became one writ for forcible reunion.
So the answer whether Confederates were treasonous seems obvious on its merits, but not so obvious when the legality of secession is carefully examined in the context of 1861. In a larger sense, Lincoln knew that a North American continent with a variety of states, as in Europe, was a prescription for endless wars—as in Europe.
5) My complaint about statue smashing is twofold: one, it is often done by violence and street thuggery and thus illegal, and city officials panic and issue executive orders without ratifications of councils or plebiscites, and then also do it by night; and two, it is a distraction from real problems. Murder epidemics in the inner-city are cause for national concern in a way knocking off the head of Robert E. Lee or renaming the USC mascot is not. We always go after the irrelevant misdemeanor when we cannot address the existential felony, largely to virtue signal rather than to admit our weakness and timidity.