Editor’s Note: On May 9, 2023, Art History Professor Erin Thompson published a piece at The Nation gleefully announcing that Arlington Cemetery will finally be rid of its “racist” Confederate monument. The piece is indicative of the current level of scholarship by modern mainstream academics. Most of it centers on Tweets that attacked her public joy–also through a Tweet–at the Naming Commission’s recommendations to remove Confederate iconography on federal property. Her research into the Arlington Confederate monument is cursory at best. She does not cite any of the speeches or histories of the Monument written at the time of its dedication and erection. She does not address the “Defend Arlington” white papers recently published in defense of the Monument, including one by Abbeville Institute President Brion McClanahan. Instead, she takes aim at Twitter posts that she thinks she can easily refute. One of the individual Twitter posts she mocked belongs to a pseudonymous account under the name “Jefferson Davis.” The owner of that account asked The Nation to publish his response. They declined, and thus the Abbeville Institute offered to publish his remarks.
In September of 2017, Yale historian David Blight told CBS News, “I am for removal of some Confederate monuments. The time has come. Not all of them, not every single one of them, certainly not in cemeteries. I just want the process to be historical, deliberative and based on research.” By Professor Blight’s standard, the “New South” Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery should remain in place; by the letter of the law, it must remain in place.
Professor Thompson accuses her opponents of the crime in which she is guilty: rebranding the monument. She does this with three tricks: misrepresent the law, misrepresent the monument and misrepresent its defenders.
Section 370 of the 2021 NDAA limited the recommendations of the Naming Commission to assets named for those that “voluntarily served in the CSA” or “honored the CSA.” The “New South” does neither. Section 370 also specifically excluded grave markers. Professor Thompsons cannot find any reference to the appellation “Reconciliation:” if she reads the Naming Commission’s report, she would see that Reconciliation Plaza at West Point is also recommended for destruction. In reality this is all part of the Naming Commission’s rebrand of the national movement of reconciliation as an “honor” towards the CSA. This may make sense only to people that don’t know the Union veteran, President William McKinley, is most responsible for moving Confederate graves to Arlington in the first place.
The monument itself has no official name, though Ezekiel called it the “New South.” The name of the monument and its description by his biographers in his memoir all refer to peace & reunion, including the statue at the top. This is not surprising considering the monument was approved by a Republican from Ohio, William Howard Taft. The multiple northern, Republican presidents that supported the monument were not “honoring” the Confederacy. President Warren G. Harding sent remarks to Ezekiel’s funeral in 1921, declaring the monument would “mark his grave” and was a “memorial to a reunited America.” How is Defend Arlington rebranding the monument when a US President from Ohio declared it was a memorial to reunion and a grave marker? Both classifications exclude the “New South” monument from the Naming Commission’s remit.
The real question is where does this “slave monument” designation come from? Nobody knows. Slavery is not mentioned at the dedication speeches, except one passing reference. Whether there were loyal slaves is an irrelevant question according to section 370. If Americans care, they can read many slave narratives and decide for themselves. One thing is for sure, Moses Ezekiel could not capture the feelings of 4 million slaves with his chisel any better than he could capture the feelings of 8 million whites. Why are we talking about something outside of the law? Because Thompson needs to inspire the cancel mob to ignore the actual words of section 370.
Washington Gardner, of the nation’s largest Union Veteran Organization the GAR, said at the monument’s dedication: “This memorial structure speaks the language of peace and good-will. It says to all who come hither and read the super-scription that the swords and bayonets that once gleamed along the battle’s fiery front have been ‘beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks.’” Americans should trust the words of leading Union veterans and not art critics that do no research.
Professor Thompson’s attempt to destroy an American treasure will be rejected by intelligent Americans. And remember, if defending the “New South” makes someone a Neo-Confederate, David Blight of 2017 needs to be included in the group.