Updated at 9:45 p.m. ET on June 8, 2020.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced his intention to remove his state’s most prominent statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which has presided regally over Richmond since 1890.* On the subject of whether to topple a statue of Lee, my opinion is predictable. I grew up partly in the American South, but in a mixed-race Canadian-immigrant family to whom racist white southerners knew better than to proselytize. I therefore grew up baffled and bemused by the existence of Lee veneration, which made about as much sense as Ireland building a shrine to honor the mold that destroyed all of its potatoes. Was I missing something? Lee was a bastard. Of course the statues should come down.
Once they are down, must they go straight to the smelter? Certain charmless totalitarian ideologues have enjoyed obliterating evidence of their predecessors—think of Wahhabi grave-leveling, the denuding of churches by Protestant zealots, the erasure of enemies of Stalin. Not wanting to be like Stalin is good. Certain hemming-and-hawing, bien-pensant types have proposed that we “put them in a museum.” The problem is that museums are also sometimes sites of veneration, and in a museum Lee could retain his dignity, unless he is perhaps used as a coat rack, or put on a mechanically rocking pedestal so children can ride him if they insert a quarter (U.S. currency only, please).