The tipping point, we believe, was reached two Saturdays ago.
About 500 Nazis got exactly what they wanted, which was attention and then violence, but to their regret they might have circled Aug. 12 as the day they dropped a domino that will begin an incremental removal of all hard objects in the public square glorifying the Confederacy.
This will not be achieved without additional division, turmoil and mayhem — and more deaths. But once again, the South will not put up adequate resistance against the aggressor.
We don’t want to diminish the argument that such symbols are inherently offensive to 13 percent of our nation’s population. But they serve as well as visual evidence of an imperfect past. While a black man might be offended walking past Robert E. Lee’s statue, he might also be able to see some of the progress this nation has made in the 152 years since Appomattox. A white man might be shamed, and recall why this country in the 1960s began to use law to ensure civil rights for all.
These symbols, moderately modified to add context, could become learning instruments for all of us, including those of us whose ancestors were on the wrong side of this nation’s deadliest war, one that almost destroyed the Union.
That requires what these spectacles rarely provoke, dispassionate and reasoned conversation.
There is as well the slippery-slope argument that always gets dismissed instinctively, without thought. Who are the arbiters?
Do we dynamite George Washington’s face from Mount Rushmore because he owned slaves? Do we haul away the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., because he ordered the rounding up of 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent and herded them into camps?
The list of Americans who history holds in high regard but were slaves to their generation’s mores and therefore flawed is perhaps finite, but could never be completed. These were men doing the best they could, blemishes and all — as were the Confederate soldiers who were our ancestors, whose way of life was under assault by a president they didn’t vote for, and whose proclamation was threatening their livelihood.
Ken Burns, in his documentary “The Civil War,” uses historian and author Shelby Foote’s words in an exchange between Union soldiers and a Confederate, during which the rebel was asked why he was fighting. His response was plain, not political.
“Because y’all down here,” he said.
We saw within hours of the Charlottesville chaos what it will breed, a mob in Durham vandalizing and destroying a bronze monument of a Confederate soldier and the damaging of memorials in Wilmington. It came alive on social media, with otherwise law-abiding folks applauding criminal behavior.
Another slippery slope.
Mob rule, absent the occasional Boston Tea Party, rarely produces desired results.
There will be more fights, and they will be tougher and divisive, especially in North Carolina, where state law says local governments can’t remove, relocate, or alter monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission.
That is a legal line of defense that the Durham protesters crossed. But bronze bends easily.
Perhaps a process could be identified to attempt to sanitize our past, one that should lean hard on the locals, during which there could be discussion about what to do — or not do — with these Confederate memorials, and gentlemanly agreements could be achieved.
That seems unlikely 10 days after Charlottesville.
Instead, it appears that America in 2017 will again fight a war that ended in 1865. It will be less bloody, but just as divisive.
And a waste of time.