The Travesty at Arlington National Cemetery
The left plans to desecrate one of America’s most sacred places.
I spent some time earlier this week strolling through Memento Park in Budapest, a small park that holds the statues of “heroes” of Hungary’s communist era, who were imposed on Hungary by Soviet force. Even though these statues were depictions of direct oppressors of the Hungarian people, they were not melted down, the fate suffered by the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, destroyed this month in a secret ceremony (although ecstatically documented by the New York Times and Washington Post, which published long features afterwards.)
The destruction of art and history met with withering commentary online. The Independent Women’s Forum’s Inez Stepman wrote of the “obvious regime change symbolism” and the “Talibanesque wanton destruction of beauty,” calling the statue-melters “aesthetic terrorists.” Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio noted that “we were told this civilizational arson was a necessary part of ‘racial reconciliation.’ But...there is far less racial reconciliation today than when I was a kid. The people who told you this would promote harmony were lying to you.”
While the Lee statue removal received a great deal of publicity ex post facto, another ongoing effort to erase U.S. history has drawn far less attention. The next monument on the chopping block is not of a Confederate general, nor is it on a courthouse square or city park. It is a memorial monument at Arlington National Cemetery whose creation was spurred by the reconciliation between North and South in the wake of the Civil War. Surrounded by more than 500 veteran and widow graves and erected in 1914, it was designed by internationally renowned Jewish-American sculptor Moses Ezekiel. Moses, himself a former Confederate soldier, was described by his biographer as “adamantly opposed to slavery”; he was so dedicated to reconciliation that he would be visited by Union commanding general and future president, Ulysses S. Grant, in his studio in Rome.
Indeed, Ezekiel himself called his masterwork New South a monument to this spirit of reconciliation, moving past the painful wounds the Civil War had inflicted on the country. Ezekiel, knighted by the King of Italy and the recipient of numerous European and American honors, produced many other sculptures, including Religious Liberty, currently in the American Museum of Jewish History. He also sculpted portraits of notables from Columbus to Jefferson to Edgar Allen Poe. Yet the memorial was broadly considered his masterwork, and he is buried at the foot of the memorial today, intending to be his mausoleum, marking his grave in perpetuity.
Arlington Cemetery is a special place for patriotic Americans of all stripes. Indeed, my wife’s grandfather, who spent years as a POW in World War II, is buried there. All of this is under threat because of a little-known recommendation of the leftist Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Naming Commission. This body was created in the wake of the George Floyd moral panic with the purpose of renaming any American military sites with any link to the Confederacy. Functionally, the purpose of the naming commission was to erase American history and rename our monuments with as little debate as possible. In 2014, the Army itself nominated the memorial for the national register of historic places. Yet less than a decade later, they are eager to make that history disappear.
That the origins of the memorial were a monument to reconciliation are beyond dispute. President William McKinley, a veteran of the Union Army who presided over the American victory in the Spanish American War, had just reinterred the bodies of the sailors from the USS Maine at Arlington. Key participants in that victory were the sons of Confederate soldiers, and McKinley saw the opportunity to fulfill the vision of Lincoln’s second inaugural address by erecting a section at Arlington for graves of Southern soldiers who had perished in POW camps and hospitals in the area surrounding Washington, D.C. In that address Lincoln had vowed to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” and spoke of acting “with malice toward none with charity for all.” Yet Lincoln’s generosity of spirit is absent from our current day.
During McKinley’s “Peace Jubilee” nationwide tour, he proclaimed in a stop in Atlanta, Georgia, that “in the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers…. Sectional feeling no longer holds back the love we feel for each other. The old flag again waves over us in peace with new glories.” His speech was warmly received as a symbol of a reunited nation. In that spirit, every President for more than 100 years has laid a wreath at the memorial.
As Jim Webb, the former Democratic U.S. Senator, historian, and former Secretary of the Navy, wrote of McKinley, “What was it that Union Army veteran McKinley understood about the Confederate soldiers who opposed his infantry units on the battlefield that eludes today’s monument smashers and ad hominem destroyers of historical reputations?” Indeed, some Confederate groups at the time opposed the statue and memorial precisely because they opposed the reconciliation that it symbolized. At the memorial’s dedication in 1914, President Wilson praised it as an “emblem of a reunited people.”
Even conservatives who have mixed feelings about Confederate Memorials of any type should understand that the removal of such memorials is only the first step, nor that it will be confined to statues. Just a couple weeks ago, the American Ornithological Society announced that bird species named after “racists and enslavers” would now be renamed—if racism by the “enlightened” standards of 2023 is the standard, we might well dig up most of the graves in Arlington, who had the virtues and faults of their time and not our own.
In addition to its ethical bankruptcy, the U.S. Army’s steps in removing the memorial are running afoul of numerous historic preservation laws. This area of Arlington National Cemetery is a National Historic District. As such, there are protection laws (NHPA, NEPA) that act as guardrails to protect and preserve perishable American historic sites for future generations. These laws exist exactly to prevent the historical “rush to judgment” that we have seen in the wake of George Floyd. Yet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has discounted these reviews attempting to do in a few months what would normally take many years.
They are manipulating Zoom meetings, failing to notify removal opponents of new developments in a timely fashion, and generally making a mockery of due process. The “public process” used to attempt to remove the memorial shows how bureaucracy purely serves the left-wing deep state. When a left-wing issue is at stake, processes that should take years can be accomplished in months; when a conservative priority is desired, processes that take months can take years, if they happen at all.
A citizen group called Defend Arlington has done yeoman’s work in attempting to stop the erasure of history, but so far, they have received tepid responses from GOP officialdom. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares supposedly has his eyes on the Governor’s mansion and Glenn Youngkin the White House, but if they are not willing to defend America’s history, how can they defend America’s present? Adding insult to injury, the monument clearly memorialized grave markers of the fallen, which were clearly exempted from even Warren’s over-broad prescription, the Naming Commission.
A lawsuit by Defend Arlington seeks to stop the desecration of the monument, focusing on Austin’s failure to appropriately address NHPA and NEPA. The Government’s Motion to Dismiss is pending in Federal Court in the District of Columbia.
That we are even considering digging up our national cemetery and a monument that was built to honor reconciliation of North and South to appease the George Floyd mob and their political camp-followers is a grave insult to America’s history. That so few politicians have stepped forward at this point to speak out against it is a national embarrassment. Can we expect that protesters will next demand the removal of any memorials to anti-semite Ulysses Grant, or any number of the “racists” or anti-gay generals who shed blood for this country over hundreds of years? Removal of our monuments starts with Confederates, but history shows it does not stop there.
We can stop it though. The Senate should enact DOD appropriations legislation provision cutting off funding for the monument removal. This has already been proposed in the House. Conservative law firms or state attorneys general looking to make a national name for themselves by defending America’s history and heritage may take the lead in stopping the desecration of the cemetery.
Webb’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed recounted the importance of the endangered memorial to him. He described hosting Vietnamese officials in Washington and urging Hanoi to make peace with South Vietnamese veterans who had been called traitors and punished after the war:
To make my point I brought them to the Confederate Memorial. Pointing across the Potomac River from Arlington National Cemetery toward the Lincoln Memorial, I told them the story of how America healed its wounds from our own Civil War. The Potomac River was like the Ben Hai River, which divided North and South Vietnam. On the far side was our North, and here in Virginia was our South. After several bitter decades we came together, symbolized by the memorial.
If it is taken apart and removed, leaving behind a concrete slab, the burial marker of its creator, and a small circle of graves, it would send a different message, one of a deteriorating society willing to erase the generosity of its past, in favor of bitterness and misunderstanding conjured up by those who do not understand the history they seem bent on destroying.
Our forefathers knew better. We should know better too.
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The preservation of the Arlington memorial to national reconciliation is “a time for choosing.” Will we seek to preserve, in these fractured times, a memorial built by wiser men, who in freedom’s name made tremendous sacrifices that today’s social justice warriors can only imagine—or will we embrace a radical iconoclasm that removes all vestiges of the past that do not pay homage to the current gods?
In particular, why should Southern whites, disproportionately part of the military’s fighting forces for generations, honor and fight for a country that spits on their history and the history of their ancestors’ reconciliation with and reintegration into America? With recruiting goals unmet, an unstable world and multiple warring hot spots, disenfranchising America’s most constant defenders is ill-timed.
We will learn a great deal from this, and we will also learn a great deal about our political leaders—and whether they can stand up to the baying mob in the name of both history and reconciliation, or whether they are incapable of honoring in their own lives the legacies that their braver forefathers, from both the North and South, died to perpetuate.