The Wrongheaded Righteousness of Spray Paint

Vandalized Texan MonumentWe’ve had such a good month here at ECW that I hate to end on a sour note. However, I received an alarming note from Rob Orrison this morning about some unfortunate shenanigans in the Wilderness where, it seems, the Texans were again under attack.

Lo and behold, some aspiring Picasso chose to express his righteous indignation in spray paint on the face of the Texas monument.

In case you can’t read that, it says, “Fuck UR Rebel flag.”

The picture, Rob tells me, comes from the Bull Runnings Facebook page; he passed it on to me from there. 

Located along Plank Road, the Texas monument marks the location where the Texans arrived on the morning on May 6 at a crucial moment of the battle of the Wilderness. Lee’s Confederate army faced total collapse on the right, but the timely arrival of Longstreet’s First Corps, with the Texas Brigade in the lead, shifted the tide. “Texans always move them,” Lee said as the Lone Star soldier swept forward. He wanted to lead them into battle himself, but as the story famously goes, the soldiers began crying out “Lee to the rear!” Another monument next to the Texas monument commemorates that part of the episode.

The Texas monument, made of pink Texas granite, is one of ten identical memorials the state put up on Civil War battlefields to commemorate the Centennial: Antietam, Bentonville, Chickamauga, Fort Donelson, Gettysburg, Kennesaw Mountain, Mansfield, Pea Ridge, Shiloh, and the Wilderness.

Regardless of where you stand on the topic of Confederate monuments, there are two essential points here. First, vandalism of any sort is bad, and we should certainly hate to see it at a National Park; and second, nowhere in the swirl of controversy over Confederate monuments have I heard anyone credible seriously suggest that such monuments are in any way out of place on national battlefields.

(Of course, I also cringe at the idiotic “UR.” Apparently, “your” was too much to spell. Or else they weren’t sure whether to use “your” or “you’re,” so they just decided to avoid the problem by spelling it as though they were texting.)

It’s impossible to talk rationally to people who think vandalism is an appropriate form of First Amendment expression. In this case, someone decided to be offended by the entire notion of the Confederacy 155 years after the fact, and in their righteous indignation, chose to express their frustration by spray painting their protest over a monument in such a way that, obviously, settles the whole point.

They don’t see their own act as being offensive, nor do they see their offensiveness as being the hypocrisy it is. According to this way of thinking, if you’re offended, it’s not hypocritical to be offensive in return. After all, you’re right, right?

Of course, that sort of escalation has a long-proven track record of not solving anything, ever, but hey, it’s not about solving anything or discussing anything or understanding anything—it’s about shouting your rage and shouting down your opponent. It’s not about justice, it’s about pissing people off because you’re pissed off.

And in this case, I daresay someone is pissed off about something they probably don’t even understand. Confederate heritage and Civil War history in general are subjects that demand nuanced discussion in order to really understand them, not broad brush strokes or can sprays. Confederate heritage is especially touchy, and this kind of asshattery prevents dialogue. Spray painting monuments erases middle ground.

It also paints opponents of Confederate heritage as a bunch of hypocritical, frothing-at-the-mouth libs, which dehumanizes them and undercuts legitimate concerns about Confederate history and race relations. That doesn’t help dialogue, either.

Finally, let’s add one last component to the equation: Law enforcement has to investigate the vandalism. Restoration experts have to clean the monument. Someone’s tax dollars have to pay for all that (and by “someone’s,” I mean yours and mine).

As I’d mentioned, we’ve had a great month here at ECW: the second-best month of readership in our history. The only month to surpass this month was last August, when events in Charlottesville turned into tragedy and catapulted Confederate monuments into the national headlines. As the monument controversy reached a fever pitch, I heard people suggest that some monuments should be taken down not because they were offensive but in order to protect them from being vandalized or damaged. I admit, that perspective surprised me at first, but then didn’t as I thought about it—and now here we have a case in point.

Ironically, spray painting “Fuck UR rebel flag” as a protest against the Confederacy is a uniquely un-American act. Our whole system of government was built around the principle of respecting differences of opinion, enshrined in our two-party system. Furthermore, our whole society depends on the rule of law. A single vandal with a can of spray paint and an ax to grind flaunts both of those things.

Vandalized Texas Monument cleanedThis afternoon, I walked out to Widow Tapp field to see the monument for myself. I’m happy to say that it’s been cleaned up since the first photo was taken. My thanks to the Park Service personnel who fixed it up.

There is a meaningful discussion to be had about Confederate heritage. Spray painting obscenities on a Confederate monument is not the way to have it. That’s about as un-American as it gets.

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25 Responses to The Wrongheaded Righteousness of Spray Paint

  1. Donna Lee Davis says:

    Well said. Tragic that it needed saying.

  2. John Davis says:

    It would be good if some of these vandals were caught and prosecuted and made to pay for the clean up. That might put a stop to some of it. The same thing is going on here in Louisville Kentucky.

  3. Meg Groeling says:

    It just seems wrong to have to “like” this post. I hate that it has come to this. We fight our own battles, and we who write for the public sometimes have to remind ourselves to play nicely with others, but this? This is just not correct on any level imaginable. I am so, so sorry this happened.

  4. Kevin Pawlak says:

    Very sad but very well said, Chris.

  5. Dale Fishel says:

    Disgusting and totally misguided…how are these kinds of crimes supposed to help?

  6. waverlytrust says:

    Sad to see the lack of understanding still in our country, by those who’s lack of education is so displayed. Most, if not all of those who read these posts lost family in this war and hold both sides in honor for their loss………..

  7. Doug Pauly says:

    Why would anybody be surprised in this day and age? When you’re up against the ‘ends justify the means’ crowd, this is the norm.. Sad but true….

  8. John Pryor says:

    Shallow, sad cowards. It’s a shame they can’t sit down today at a table across those 150 years, as Americans to Americans, and meet those Texas and Arkansas boys, miles from home. many from families who were not slaveholders. Sharing a dinner and just talking is just so much better than this self righteous vandalism. It is so tiring to see the triumphalist rhetoric from those who would probably have brought a substitute to fight 150 years ago.

  9. rarerootbeer says:

    Back in October I sat down with my counterpart, the Grandfather of my grandchild, from my daughter’s boyfriend’s point of view. My ancestor fought with Sherman and Grant, protecting the supply line from Grand Gulf to Vicksburg, 1863. My counterpart had a slaveholding ancestor in Mississippi. They might have been pro-Union, since many plantation owners did not support the Confederacy, but did support protecting their land from what they thought was an “invasion.”

    We sat down with 150 plus years of tradition and American history between us. I agree with the feelings of the spray can “artist”, but I dont agree with what he did. Lee was wrong, the Texasans did “not” always succeed in driving in the Union army. They failed. Lee failed. And the whole Confederacy was a failure.

    To help the ancestors of the “defeated” and occupied, the federal government allowed states to put up monuments “to respect” the defeated with honorable monuments to remember their struggle to defend their “failed” Confederacy.

    I respect my grandson’s grandfather, a hard working citizen of Louisiana, and appreciate our
    mutual respect for each other, even if my ancestor might have fought his ancestor, while protecting hard tack and coffee.

    My ancestor died in Alabama. I appreciate his ancestors not spray painting “f… the Union” on his grave stone. The statues of Gettysburg are being destroyed piece by piece there as well, chopping off stone rifles and such. Maybe those who created pink monuments for the Confederate troops should add a couple more, for Vicksburg and Appomatox Court House.

    At times I get so tired of this Groundhog Day experience of reliving the war over and over again. We will celebrate the Confederates losing again at Little Round Top. And four years from now we will celebrate it again. The war is over, let it go.

    I am listening to the biography of Grant. I enjoyed the Civil War part of the war, but he lived on. The United States lived on. The world didnt end with the end of the war. The Emerging Civil War lives on in us. Lets live here in this time. They fought their war, its not our war, unless it is to help the preservation of the battlefields. Its awesome to sit where Grant sat and pondered the destruction of the Confederacy. Even Eisenhower had a picture of Lee with him while he pondered leading the United States as one of our greatest presidents, and he was born in… Texas.

  10. Rob Orrison says:

    Huzzah to the maintenance staff at Fred-Spot for cleaning that so quickly and thoroughly

  11. Shoshana Bee says:

    Two points immediately came to mind as I read this article:

    1. This is not a monument in the sense of a marble statue venerating a lone figure. I rather view it as akin to a headstone memorializing those of the aforementioned Texas Brigade whose blood was spilled on the battlefield. It is practically a desecration to deface this monument.

    2. The hue and cry as to “what to do with the monuments” has overwhelmingly been to “put them in a museum”. I view our National Military Parks as outdoor museums. My guess is that the cretin who did this damage has probably never set foot in a museum, thus, the point is lost.

    With each passing day, I lose a little more faith in the world around me.

  12. Jack Humphries says:

    Chris –

    I regret to say the vandalism was not only the Texas monument (front and back), but also the James Power Smith “Lee to the Rear” marker and the lesser known Nance marker along the Orange Plank Road.

  13. Joe Owen says:

    As I see this, I am saddened but not surprised with the ever increasing reports of vandalism and the destruction of monuments now on Federa property. Increasingly bold in their attempts to shift attention to theirs”righteous indignation.” Trying to make excuses for breaking the law is what those who don’t care or have some sort of “historical grudge” is increasingly prevalent as well. The more vandalism and destruction is occurring the more our historical past is also being vandalized and the common attitude overall is “so what? They were just a bunch of racist bigoted traitors.” Those who are Also try to making an argument are also starting to be called “racist bigots’ as
    well, often with silent or vocal approval of academia who are influential in historical circles. When the alarm was sounded about vandalism and destruction of monuments that lead up to attacking monuments on Federal land, many said that was just paranoid hiysteria by those who defend the “racist bigots.” Now we have vandalism on historical battlefields and active legislation to flee move monuments at Antietam, this is just the beginning of vandalism on Federal property and sadly monuments everywhere are now fair game…and with the silent or vocal approval of so called historians”’who like the attention and approval of those who are attacking and destroying property on state and federal properry. A sad commentary on our recent academia and appointed officials as well. Now I’m just waiting for someone to call me a racist bigot because I don’t want the monuments moved, vandalized or destroyed.’it’s open season.

  14. Richard Williams says:

    Sadly, this is not surprising at all. Some are defending such acts due to the moral implications associated with the Confederacy. As I’ve argued before, that is a very slippery slope. Do we vandalize JFK’s eternal flame because he was a womanizer? How long before someone calls for removing President Clinton’s statue due to his “indiscretions”?
    http://www.presidentsusa.net/clintonrapidcity.html

    If this type of vandalism is “ok” due to the moral questions associated with the Confederacy, would Native-Americans be justified in vandalizing Sherman’s statue in NYC?
    https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/grand-army-plaza-m062/monuments/1442

    Logic and intellectual consistency and honesty would mean we could never have ANY statues or monuments.

  15. Rob Wilson says:

    Sigh. A sad story and, as many of the responses say directly or imply, a trend that is becoming the new normal and turning the art of settling disagreements and conducting civil discourse into something very ugly and uncivil. This kind of thing, in my opinion, is one more outcome of social polarization and the lowering of the bar of what’s acceptable and what is not. The people who desecrated the memorials were not unlike the knuckleheads who paint swastikas on synagogues. They are like Rosanne Barr or Samantha Bee reinforcing their insults with spray paint.

    • John Foskett says:

      Whoa Nellie. You had it until your last two sentences. This is not the same as painting swastikas on synagogues. It’s unlawful vandalism. It also reflects the disturbing and growing notion in this society that if something offends your views it’s within your “rights” to resort to self-help. But it’s hardly racist or ethnic hate speech. To make that false equivalence detracts from the reality of why it’s wrong. Same for the Barr-Bee comparison. Bee’s statement was offensive and should have been addressed correctly. Barr’s was racist.

      • Doug Pauly says:

        It is indeed the same thing. Defacing property is defacing property, period. Hate speech is hate speech, period. Do YOU know the motives of the person or persons who did this? Virtually everything involved in the opposition to the Confederate monuments and memorials involve race. That is THE excuse used to ‘justify’ the assaults on them. There is no false equivalency stated in the above post. Juts because YOU claim it is doesn’t make it so!

      • John Foskett says:

        You’re wrong.

  16. Thomas R Place says:

    sign of a coward for sure so very sad and yet fills me with a new feeling of anger and renewed dis respect for them .

  17. Rob Wilson says:

    In response to John Foskett’s response to my above earlier statement that compares desecrating the monuments at Wilderness battlefield to painting swastikas on Jewish synagogues, I concede that desecrating a monument to Confederate soldiers may not have been “racist or ethnic hate speech,” as he wrote. We don’t know the motivations of the perpetrators. I also agree with Doug Pauly’s statement, made in response to Mr. Foskett’s, that “Hate speech is hate speech, period”.

    We all can agree that the desecration of places of worship and of federal monuments are serious and hateful crimes, punishable by law. However, my original comment was made not to draw an equivalence between those crimes and comments made on twitter or T.V., but to point to the lowering of the bar of what’s acceptable social discourse and expression. I also wanted to suggest that the lowering of that standard, in my opinion, helps to embolden both the individuals who take spray paint to monuments, synagogues, mosques or churches. Just like it prompts comedians like Rosanne or Samantha make outrageous and hateful statements about people with different politics than their own.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      I am with you 100%, Rob, when you suggest that the level of public discourse has been lowered. I don’t want to put words in your mouth and say “cheapened,” although that’s how I would characterize it. If we can’t have reasonable, rational discussion, then we have no avenue for peaceably settling differences. It just becomes one side trying to forcibly impose its will on the other.

      • Rob wilson says:

        Thanks Chris, for your comment and for bringing the monument incident to our attention in your original post on 5/31. The word “cheapened” you suggest above works for me.

    • John Foskett says:

      Rob: We agree that this activity is wrong and that today there seems to be no such thing as civil discourse. I just cannot equate racist/ethnic hate speech with the stupid or offensive expression of political views. With regard to the latter, it might help if we had some leadership st the top of the discourse chain.

      • Doug Pauly says:

        “I just cannot equate racist/ethnic hate speech with the stupid or offensive expression of political views.”

        Huh? How are they different, especially if the operating word is “offensive”?

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