No monuments to treason
In January 1861, Robert E. Lee was a colonel in the United States Army. Jefferson Davis was a United States Senator and former Secretary of War. Both men had sworn an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States and defend their country. Six months later, they were both leaders of a rebellion against the very country to which they swore that oath. Make no mistake, their contemporaries saw their action as treason and they were denounced as such in the media of the time. Further, in personal correspondence both Lee recognized that his actions were treasonous. Nonetheless, Lee and Davis threw their lot in with a cause to maintain their states’ right to hold other human beings in involuntary servitude.
Four years and 700,000 lives later — including the life of our greatest President — the rebellion ended. In its wake, Republican leaders cleansed our country of its original sin of slavery by passing the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to our Constitution. With the rebellion’s end there was also the question of what to do with the rebel leaders. Some advocated summary execution. In the interest of national healing, however, the traitorous rebel leaders were not harassed. Only Davis would spend a few years in prison. Still, during the decade known as Congressional Reconstruction — a period in which the newly freed slaves were aided, encouraged, and empowered to participate in the body politic — the former rebel leaders were barred from participating in politics, at least until they were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson.
With the election of 1876, Reconstruction and the federal protection so necessary for the newly liberated African American citizens to flourish in freedom came to an end. Thus began the era of Jim Crow, the enablement of the Klan, the revision of history by southern historians, and the construction of monuments to the treason of the likes of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and others.
Let’s not mince words. The monuments to the Confederacy that dot our national landscape on statehouse grounds, parks, and other public places are monuments to treason. While they must come down, they are still important artifacts of the great treason they symbolize. Their place is in museums or at historic sites such as Gettysburg where Abraham Lincoln, speaking in honor of the dead Union patriots who fought there to preserve our country, uttered the most eloquent and immortal words of America’s lexicon:
“That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
A monumental debate
While blogging about my powerful experience this summer – the visiting of Holocaust sites throughout Europe with a child survivor – I have been continually disheartened by comments from our President.
Often on our trip, a number of us would reflect on the contrast between how Germany has confronted its past and how we have or haven’t done the same here in America.
What was so striking when visiting Berlin was how front-and-center the ownership and denouncement was of their horrific actions during World War II.
To explain it as simply as I can, everywhere I went, in the most prominent places, there were powerful monuments dedicated to the victims of the Nazi regime. And how do they recognize the Nazis themselves, the soldiers who fought, the generals who led them, the leader of the Party? To provide an example, they strategically placed a dirt parking lot over the site where Hitler’s bunker was located.
Now, compare that to what we have done here in the United States. How did we confront our guilt of imprisonment, enslavement, and murder of African captives during our country’s foundational decades?
Here, we haven’t seen prominent monuments honoring the victims, we’ve seen monuments honoring the generals of the Confederacy. We don’t hear frequent and open denouncements of the past and what these perpetrators of hate fought for. We have tributes to those who fought to keep slavery as an American institution. We have even seen many people openly place Confederate battle flags on their cars or fly it at state capitals.
If the world saw swastikas flying from city halls in Germany, and saw monuments to Hitler, Heydrich, Rommel, and others; if there were obelisks to the Nazi soldiers who fought to keep the concentration camps open – we would all be appalled.
But here at home, we’ve looked past what is right in front of us.
We have many who have seen villains as heroes and their sinful actions as culture. As our President stated:
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.” Trump continued, “Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
For me, it is sad that we haven’t clearly seen the moral true north on this issue. There is no ambiguity, there is no ‘both sides’ on this; there is simply right and wrong.
I personally will not miss any commemoration of the slavery of our past, nor do I hope any of it is replaced. There is no beauty in what the Confederacy stood for. Hopefully, as a nation we will follow the moral arc towards justice and get there sooner than later.
The author is Montclair’s Third Ward Township Councilman.
War on cops must stop
We live in a sick and crazy world; you can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without a report of a cop being shot somewhere across the country. When are we going to wake up and stand up for our police officers who put their lives on the line every day so that you and your family and your loved ones can be safe? Just over this past weekend, six cops shot, two died. This is a sad commentary for the greatest country in the world. How and when will this war on cops stop? I really don’t have the answer, except to say that it is obvious that the moral fiber of our country has gone and is being taken away from us by the many hate groups across our country, who have no respect for law enforcement and what it stands for.
The calculated and vicious attacks upon police officers by hate groups calling for the death of police officers is declaring war on the police. In cases involving the killing of a police officer in the line of duty it is my opinion that the death penalty would be appropriate, and should be reinstated across the country. If I was still in command of a police force, with what is occurring across the country, I would issue a general order to be read at all lineups that police officers shall meet force with superior force if necessary to protect their lives, including the use of deadly force with their weapon. If the government on the federal level can’t protect us, then we as police officers must protect ourselves in an attempt to put an end to this epidemic.
I know the bleeding hearts out there will label me as a racist for my extreme views on the killing of police officers; however, in society today, police cannot turn the other cheek but instead, as I mentioned, meet force with superior force to protect themselves. Ask the widows, mothers, fathers, children of slain police officers how their lives have changed because of this insanity of killing an individual because he/she is wearing blue with a badge pinned to their chest. I have 42 years’ experience, plus 10 years as a police consultant dealing with police policies and procedures. My credentials speak for themselves and my tenure as chief of police and then director of public safety for the Township of Montclair was without blemish.
Wake up, America; the appeasement of violent criminals will cause this country to revert to the days of the Old West, where problems were solved in the street with the use of a gun. TRUST and SUPPORT the police and let them solve your problems. If I have offended anyone with my views, I apologize. However, someone has to stand up and speak on behalf of our dedicated, hard-working police officers.
Thomas J. Russo
The author is Montclair’s former chief of police and director of public safety.
Let us be gardeners together
I was delighted to read about “Gardening event at Crane Park Sunday” in the last issue of Montclair Local. The video on Facebook puts the words into action.
Take a walk and take a look! Setting up this demonstration garden may inspire residents to consider adding to (or replacing!) lawns with floral and/or edible plants. Much less work, less water used to keep things alive and flowers/food to feed you physically and spiritually. What could be better?
With our environment under attack in Washington, it’s up to us to take action where we can. This is one straightforward step I think many of us can get behind.
Great work, Northeast Earth Coalition!