And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if all records told the same tale— then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.” (George Orwell, 1984)
I have no grandiloquent word to offer to mark this tragedy, only some amateur photographs taken of the Jackson & Lee equestrian statue during 2015 and 2016 when my family and I resided in Baltimore, MD. You can read about the statue on Wikipedia here. It isn’t difficult to find better pictures of this monument— for it was a monument, not just a statue— on the internet via Google image-search. But the pictures I took are mine, and I share them as such. I only regret that I did not take more.
“Purpose So Great”
The pedestal does not actually say “Purpose So Great.” “Purpose” is the last word of the inscription on Gen. Jackson’s side of the pedestal, “So Great,” the first two on Gen. Lee’s side of the pedestal. The two inscriptions read as follows:
“So great is my confidence in General Lee that I am willing to follow him blindfolded.”
“Straight as the needle to the pole, Jackson advanced to the execution of my purpose.”
Yet when you took in the majestic frontal view of the monument, you simply read “Purpose So Great,” the generals’ mutual salutes elided in a shared epitaph. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it was beautiful.
The north steps bore this inscription:
They were great generals and Christian soldiers and waged war like gentlemen.
Yes, they were, and yes, they did. And although the memory of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, once enshrined in bronze and stone by a generation who recognized their Christianity, their magnanimity, their courage, and their virtue, will not fade entirely from the hearts and minds of the few, it would be all too glib and Pollyannish to pretend that the torch of memory will burn as powerfully in the future. It cannot. The memory of man needs memorials and monuments. These re-present the past to the present. These kindle the torch. The left— which has always been and always will be the perpetual enemy of goodness, truth, beauty, tradition, honor, the flourishing of man, and the Christian religion— knows this. That is why they are systematically razing such monuments to the ground. And don’t think that your Yankee monuments will make it through what’s coming— they will not.
A few more pictures are below; my commentary follows.
It’s a truism to say that our country is changing. When one marks just how it is changing, though, when one witnesses the barbaric desecration of public monuments and the white-hot hatred of tradition, one cannot but feel that we are at an acute ending of an era. What can cauterize these wounds?
If someone pipes up with “The Gospel,” I’m going to club a baby seal. Metabasis eis allo genos. I’m talking about our earthly home. I know and take comfort in the truth that when our earthly tent is destroyed, we have “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” I know that “here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” That is true, and that is good, and that is not what I’m talking about— again, I am talking about our earthly home. I am talking about civilization, tradition, and culture. These desecrations do affect us, including those of us who are pilgrims on a peregrination to the City of God.
We dare not love the world such that we let these tragedies cause us to lose faith. Of course, this is easier said than done: we have no strength in ourselves to forestall such loss; we must fly to the Word of God, pray the litany, sing psalms and hymns, go to the divine service, and console ourselves with our Christian brethren. We should not mourn as those who have no hope. And yet, to not mourn at all in the face of real cultural losses is to grow callouses upon one’s soul, and I believe that this, too, endangers the life of faith. We Lutherans are perhaps more susceptible to this second malady, more prone, in fact, to attempts at recasting it as a virtue. The history of our church is the history of strife, persecution, discord, war, and loss. We have never been regnant and orthodox at the same time in a realm for more than a few generations at a time, if that— suffice it to say, the era of nationalism makes judging this even harder. We are used to ugliness, perhaps too much so. We have a tendency toward hardbitten stoicism. Mind you, this does bear certain good fruits: it is good— invaluable, even— to know what it’s like to have nothing else but the Word and promise of God. But when the persecution subsides and war becomes an historical artifact and our lives become comfortable, we wake up and find that we have no memory of how to furnish our earthly tent in such a way that we, its occupants, will flourish in the absence of persecution and war. Not knowing what else to do, we fill the vacuum with kitsch— kitsch music, kitsch liturgy, kitsch architecture, kitsch literature, kitsch art. I would submit, though, that the ugliness of war and persecution is better than the kitsch of peace. It was better when we had only the Word. Now that we have the freedom to cultivate real culture, we realize that, by and large, we no longer know how.
Perhaps this is far afield from Jackson & Lee. Perhaps you are somewhat incensed that this event, and not some other, has galvanized this contemplation of mine. Why am I not writing this about Roe v. Wade? I am not not writing it about Roe v. Wade. I am simply attempting to articulate that the erasure of monuments which is now underway— the “memory-holing,” to adapt Orwell— is a loss, too, and should be mourned as such. The furniture of our earthly home matters, even if it is not our permanent dwelling, for we inhabit it as embodied souls. This is something which not just American Lutherans but Americans in general are especially prone to forget. We have no thousand-year old castles. We have no ancient ruins. Many on the right, broadly construed, are now trying to recover a deeper cultural heritage, but the physical handholds for our memory are small, and hoisting oneself upon them in an upward climb is difficult. Moreover, they are disappearing. Books are great, they really are. Reading about Generals Jackson and Lee is good, and you should do it sometime. But reading about these great men and then visiting the monument to them when you visit Baltimore (or elsewhere) is no longer an option. This is significant.
It should also be said that the memory-holing will not work. The left will scrub and scrape and burn and raze and forge and crusade forever in their attempt to make the world and its inhabitants in the image of Social Justice. But it will never be clean enough. The memory of all that they despise— all that mirrors to them their own degeneracy— will never be fully erased, for the evils real or perceived never can be completely purged. They will realize, increasingly (for the realizations are never not happening), that evil and disorder inhabits their own hearts. The same demonic urge which drives men to cut off their genitals and grow breasts drives men to rip down monuments and desecrate the memorials which have pointed-up civilization. As in private, so in public.
I cannot here explain at length that to which I have only asserted in passing, to wit: that “the left” is inherently anti-Christ, anti-civilization, etc., while “the right” is only potentially so. This is, however, my studied conviction, and I make no apologies for it.