Sometimes, I truly miss having discussions with people offline. And sometimes, I’m reminded that certain people can be frustrating to deal with in person. As I wrote in my travel blog this morning, Bill and I went to the Wiesbaden wine week festival last night. We met up with some of his co-workers, most of whom were very nice and good conversationalists. This isn’t to say that talking was an easy task, given how loud it was at the fest. There were a lot of people there; most of them were drinking wine and probably getting drunk. There was also loud music.
Before things got too loud, I met one of Bill’s colleagues. He attended Virginia Military Institute, which is the same college my father, uncle, and several cousins attended. I also have several relatives who worked there for many years. Bill and I got married there in 2002.
It’s actually funny this topic is coming up today, since almost exactly a year ago, I got into a contentious online discussion with some Washington Post readers about that school, which spawned a pretty good blog post (in my opinion, anyway). I’m mostly a VMI booster, although I understand why some people don’t like the school and think it should be shut down. There are big problems with racism and sexism there, at least historically. It probably continues today, although the school does put out some pretty excellent military officers. My dad was one of them.
If you know anything about VMI, you know that it’s a very southern school, and people there are very proud of the fact that VMI cadets were involved with the Civil War. The VMI Corps of Cadets fought as a unit at the Battle of New Market in Virginia. General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson is a hero at the school, and for most of the college’s existence, cadets were obligated to salute a statue of the man. The statue, which was one of several commemorations of Jackson, was removed and relocated in 2021.
If you know anything about Virginia, you might know that until just a couple of years ago, there were many public Confederate monuments and memorials there, especially in the state capital city of Richmond. A lot of people were very upset that the statues were removed, although probably just as many were either indifferent or ecstatic to see them go. They were a reminder of dark times of the past, when Virginia allowed White people to enslave Black people.
Bill’s co-worker happened to mention, casually, that he didn’t think it was right for the statues, monuments, and memorials to come down. He said they were part of history, and removing the statues was akin to “erasing history.” I was probably visibly shocked when I heard him say that, but somehow, I managed to keep my mouth closed.
The guy continued that his family comes from Cuba, and to them, when the government starts renaming streets and taking down statues and such, it means communism is coming. I guess I can understand that reasoning. I’ve heard it from other descendants of people who have escaped communism.
On the other hand, a couple of months ago, when we visited Estonia and Latvia, I heard two different guides talk about how glad the Estonians and Latvians were to get rid of communism. When I lived in Armenia, I didn’t hear as many people praising the fall of communism, probably because life for them was so difficult in the early to mid 1990s. I’m sure many Armenians at that time would have preferred that the Soviet Union stayed intact, because the Soviet style of government was what most of them were used to, and life was easier when they were more closely aligned with Moscow.
In any case… even back in the mid to late 1990s, Armenia started divorcing itself from Russia. That meant that the street signs, most of which were in Russian and Armenian when I arrived in 1995, were changed to just Armenian. City names that celebrated Lenin and Stalin were changed back to Armenian names. The Russian rouble stopped being the official currency; Armenian drams were used, complete with pictures of Armenian leaders. Armenians started to sing the Armenian national anthem instead of the Soviet one. There used to be schools that specialized in Russian, and there may still be some now, but there are just as many schools that specialize in English. I taught at an English specialty school. There were many changes made, all of which were essential for the country to move forward.
When I was in Latvia and Estonia in June of this year, I heard about the same things happening in those countries. When the Soviet Union fell apart, and communism was no longer the style of government in those countries, things changed. Statues celebrating Soviet history and heroes were taken down, and people stopped learning and speaking so much Russian… and guess what? Street names also changed! In those cases, the name changes and removal of statues and monuments were due to communism going away!
I suppose I was a little flabbergasted that this guy– a retired high ranking military officer who now works with Bill– thinks that removing Confederate monuments and memorials is akin to promoting communism and “erasing history”. Talk about unskilled thinking. I wasn’t impressed at all.
Bill said that when the guy started talking about how awful it was that the monuments were taken down, I visibly stiffened. He said it was subtle, but noticeable to him. Bill knows me very well and pays attention to my body language. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, a lot of communication is done non-verbally. I didn’t say a word to the guy about his thoughts on the Confederate monuments, but apparently my body was saying a lot. I don’t know if he noticed my unspoken comments. I’m kind of gratified that Bill noticed.
Count me among those who think taking down the monuments is a positive thing. It marks progress in promoting equality, mutual respect, and racial sensitivity. The monuments don’t really mean much to me, personally. I never would have thought to launch a campaign to have them taken down. I always had them in my community when I lived in parts of Virginia, so they’ve always been part of the environment I’m used to seeing. But I’m caucasian, and have never had a reason to feel offended by the monuments, other than having empathy for those who do find them offensive. I’m sure the descendants of slaves have a very different opinion than those who think the monuments are part of history that should be publicly preserved.
Given that in the United States, we are all supposed to be equal members of society, Black people’s opinions and preferences certainly matter. And if removing the monuments promotes peace, mutual respect, and racial harmony, I’m all for it. We sure could use more solidarity, especially in today’s polarized society. It hurts no one to remove the monuments, as the people who have been memorialized are long gone, and the cause they were promoting and defending failed after just four years.
Why publicly celebrate people who were ultimately traitors? It surprises me that this high ranking retired officer, a man who obviously has basic intelligence, doesn’t ask himself that question… but then, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I know from knowing my dad, and the many other VMI grads in my family, that going to VMI is kind of like joining a cult and becoming indoctrinated into the school’s ways. And when you’re in a cult, your mind isn’t 100 percent your own.
I still appreciate VMI. It’s part of my own history, even though I didn’t go to college there. But after talking to that guy last night, I realized that an education there has its shortcomings. And given that until very recently, cadets were obliged to salute a statue of Stonewall Jackson every time they passed it, I’m pretty sure that graduating from VMI is, at least in part, behind this guy’s opinion that removing Confederate monuments– that were erected during the Jim Crow era to keep Black people in their places– is akin to “erasing history”.
How disappointing. Guess I should go back to conversing online. Well… at least Noyzi is a good listener.