The first time someone ever mailed me a swastika was back in my New Jersey days, when I made a full-time living peddling opinions in newsprint. Some members of the Aryan Nation announced an upcoming rally to protest gay rights and, to honor the event, I explained that Neo-Nazism seemed to me like a disease begging to be cured at the business end of a Louisville Slugger.
We didn’t have email back then, which was a blessing because people who hated you had to draw memes by hand and spend 40-some cents on postage. The mail was more of an event then, full of misspelled vitriol and chicken-scratch hate. Rest assured, when your last name is Leibowitz and you anger the Hitler Youth, you will see swastikas. The ugly symbol never made much of an impression on me. I used to tell myself it was a German mark denoting idiocy – an emblem that said more about the drawer’s lack of intellect than anything about the viewing audience.
Easy for me to say, I see now. Because the hateful images people mailed were not commissioned as statues displayed on public grounds. I did not have to walk past, say, the Nazi equivalent of the memorial to Confederate soldiers that sits across the street from the Arizona state Capitol. Nor have I ever had to drive on a public highway named after the Third Reich equivalent of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy who has been honored with a stretch of the U.S. 60 southeast of Apache Junction.
That’s why I support the idea of banishing these Civil War memorials to a museum, and erasing Jefferson Davis Highway and also Robert E. Lee Street, which cuts east-west across north Phoenix and Scottsdale north of Bell Road.
You say, “Gosh, people are way too sensitive these days. It’s just a statue, just a street name, just a reminder of America’s history.” I say, “To you maybe. But to other people, these things are scars, reminders of wounds so deep they still ache generations later.”
Let me be as clear as I know how to be. General Lee and those Confederate soldiers we’re honoring took up arms against this nation in the support of slavery and secession. They were not heroes. They were traitors. Slavers. They killed Union soldiers – Americans.
In a few weeks, when our country pauses on September 11 to honor and recall the civilians, firefighters and police officers murdered in cold blood on that awful day in 2001, we won’t also offer a few kind words and prayers for the 19 murderers who brought the terror.
To do so would be unseemly, unpatriotic, un-American.
Not unlike, say, flying the Rebel flag over the state Capitol – an event that actually happened in 1961, to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Civil War. That was also the year the Confederate memorial was erected in Wesley Bolin Plaza.
We’re a different Arizona today than we were almost a half-century ago – though perhaps not yet different enough when it comes to the issue of race. You say, well, they’re only statues, markers, streets names. Great. If they’re “only” meaningless words and objects, then let’s remove them. Most of us will never notice the difference. And most of those who do notice will fall into one of two categories:
People who see these memorials as hurtful, unnecessary celebrations of America’s ugliest legacy. Or idiots who think General Lee, Jefferson Davis and those Confederate war dead were a bunch of great guys.
So, friend, which are you?
– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.