Statues of Confederate Generals
The South is littered with statues of Confederate generals, politicians, and "Soldiers of the Lost Cause." These statues were built, as Virginian and US General George Thomas said, "as a species of political cant" to cover the crime of treason with a "counterfeit varnish of patriotism." They were also erected in the period 1880 to 1920, when the Southern whites had regained political control in the South and instituted Jim Crow. They were specifically intended to remind the blacks who was back in charge.
This is why there are no statues of Confederate General James Longstreet, Lee's long-time #2. After the war, Longstreet became a Republican and worked to help freed blacks. In fact, Longstreet became the Benedict Arnold of the Lost Cause movement. This movement attempted to paint the Confederacy as noble, and ended up accusing Longstreet of throwing the battle of Gettysburg. In short, the statues are no more "historic" than those of Lenin and Stalin which used to line the streets of communist countries.
Fetishism of the Military
Here I steal a bit from Josh Marshall, who notes that many of the people opposed to the take a knee protests are insulting the troops. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers were against a large standing military (such as we have now) is that they could be used to suppress democracy.
Now, the American Revolution was a case where the British standing army was used forcefully against democracy, but we're seeing how it can be used in an indirect way. Protests that take place as public events where the flag is displayed are deliberately misinterpreted as against the flag and therefore against anybody who fought for it. The symbol becomes more important than the reality of a constitutional right. It's no accident that a lot of military veterans are speaking out in favor of the protests. We value the real, not the symbolic.
What ties the statues and kneeling together is the attempt to paper over reality. The statues paper over the reality that the Civil War was fought so that rich people could keep their slaves, and the kneeling controversy attempts to paper over perceived police injustices.
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