My father fought in World War II. Before joining the Navy in 1944, he and his brother worked for the Signal Corps, where they developed radar. Had their invention been available a few years earlier, the U.S. would have known in advance that Japanese planes were approaching Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941.
My father and my uncle were in that generation that fought against Hitler and his Third Reich. As Jews, the fight to defeat the man who launched the Holocaust was personal, and the jack-booted Nazis who tried to enact his genocidal “Final Solution” was personal.
And now, more than 70 years after Hitler’s final defeat, we are seeing the rise — here in our very own country — of a movement in which white supremacy adherents are waving the Nazi flag, throwing out the Nazi “sieg heil” salute and staging violent “rallies,” like the one in Charlottesville, ostensibly intended in support of maintaining statues and monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and the men who betrayed their country to fight for the Southern secession.
This week, the debate over those monuments reached new intensity when the Dallas City Council voted to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from Oak Lawn Park, also known as Lee Park. The statue was erected in the park in 1936 by the Dallas Southern Memorial Association, a group that was at that time affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. (They later renounced their ties to the KKK, but the monument was commissioned and placed by a Klan affiliate).
But here’s the thing: Those on the side of keeping the status quo in this debate over Confederate monuments are completely forgetting my father’s generation — the generation that fought in World War II against fascism and Hitler’s idea of Aryan — white — supremacy.
Sure, those sons and daughters of the South decrying calls to remove the monuments say it isn’t about racism or white supremacy, and certainly not about Nazis! But the fact remains: The vast majority of these monuments nationwide — including the statue in Lee Park — were commissioned and paid for and promoted by individuals and organizations promoting white supremacy who intended them as a symbol to blacks in the South that the whites were still in charge, and always would be.
And again, let’s not forget, that the “rally” to save the Confederate monuments in Charlottesville included men and women waving torches and Nazi flags and chanting Nazi slogans — all under the banner of the Confederacy.
While crews worked Wednesday to remove the statue from its base, several white supremacists rode down Hall Street in cars and on motorcycles to taunt those watching the removal. One blasted “Dixie” from his car. Another, on a motorcycle and wearing a Nazi helmet, shouted anti-Semitic epithets.
If those arguing that these statues of Confederate leaders honors those soldiers who died in the Civil War, they should find better ways to honor them than by dressing up as Nazis while shouting racist slurs.
When I first moved to Dallas almost 40 years ago, I found the monuments to southern Civil War leaders peculiar. I grew up in New York, where the only monument reflecting that period was Grant’s Tomb. And Grant’s Tomb is the burial place of a U.S. president, not a monument to winning the Civil War.
Across the north, there aren’t memorials to the Union beating the crap out of the South during the Civil War. There’s no gloating about how Reconstruction was an economic disaster that continued the pain and suffering. In school, we learned that this was a terrible way for the winning side to act.
In Germany, there are no statues of Hitler. When Saddam Hussein lost power in the Iraq War, all monuments to him were smashed. Across Europe, as the Iron Curtain came down, so did the likenesses of Stalin and Lenin. No statues were erected to remembering the soldiers who fought for the Kaiser (my grandfather among them). There are no bronze memorials remember those who used mustard gas to kill but then lost the first World War.
In the U.S., a controversial memorial was built in D.C. to remember the Vietnam War. No, not really the war, but those who were drafted or volunteered to fight in that war and who lost their lives for their country.
That’s a stark contrast to the Civil War monuments in Dallas and elsewhere. Those are monuments built to glorify the leaders who pulled their states out of the U.S. and fought a war against the U.S. for states’ rights — states’ rights to enslave people.
The Vietnam Memorial doesn’t honor the generals who directed such a disastrous war. It doesn’t honor Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon who lied about the war. It doesn’t glorify the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that Johnson used to escalate the war and which was based on what he knew was a lie.
It actually honors those who died. Period. Those who visit it are of all political leanings. Families visit to honor their relatives. Those who protested the war visit to heal.
The Civil War monuments divide. White supremacists use these monuments as rallying points. Racists, Nazis, Klan members hold these monuments in high regard and use them to justify their bigotry. The same politicians who shout lies about the transgender community to try and pass bathroom bills are the ones defending and protecting these monuments.
Monuments are built as a way to unite us. They say who we are.
The Washington Monument was built as the world’s tallest obelisk and tallest stone structure to honor our first president and to say who we are as a country — tall and proud.
Oddly, the Lincoln Memorial unites the country. Republicans — and more of them live in the South than the North — cite Lincoln as our greatest president. And Democrats agree that as the president that ultimately kept our union together and freed the slaves, he is our greatest president, or at least among our greatest presidents.
Memorials to leaders of the Confederacy do not unite us.
Those who argue that the monument in Lee Park in particular teaches history don’t understand the history of that monument. It was placed by the Klan to intimidate and oppress, not to educate or enlighten.
Removing the monument doesn’t erase history, as some would argue. History already seems to be erased when those carrying Confederate flags shout racist, homophobic slogans at us.
And all that anti-Semitism I’m hearing from these Confederate supporters? Well, if they knew any history — and that’s what they accuse us of erasing — they’d know more Jews fought on the side of the South than the North, because Jewish immigration to New York in particular didn’t start until after the Civil War. They’d know that Dallas’ first congressman, David Kaufman, was the first Jewish representative to serve in the U.S.
But it’s not about history. It’s about hatred.
David Taffet is senior staff writer for Dallas Voice.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 8, 2017.