Forrest’s Statue and Crocodile Tears
Observations of a Citizen
While on our Christmas visit with our daughter and the grandkids, one granddaughter took to disruptive behavior that mommy had to stop. Immediately upon the toy being taken away, the youngster began to cry harshly, with tears dripping down her angrily rosy cheeks. She was not in pain, nor had she any cause for grief. She was just angry and frustrated at being stopped. Moments later, all was OK
There is a difference between tears of pain and sorrow, and tears of rage. The illegal attack on the statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest by Mayor Jim Strickland and the
city council helps us understand this difference when it is exhibited by adults.
Many of the monument attackers seem to argue that occasionally seeing the statue makes them feel pain and suffering. To see whether their figurative tears are ones of suffering, or something else, we need to look closely at the circumstances.
What is General Forrest doing, and what is he wearing on the monument in
Memphis (or all his
other monuments, for that matter?) It is not the mythical supervisor’s whip and
garb of the slave-owner. It is not the white hood of the klansman. No one
celebrates that. For that matter, no one celebrates his contributions to the
economy of Memphis and the South by
helping organize a new railroad, or advocate unity among whites and blacks as
the South turned to rebuild after the Yankee depredations, either.
He is mounted on a cavalry horse, and wearing a military uniform. That is the role celebrated by his statue. That is the mark Forrest made on history, a mark that is studied to this day to instruct our military in ways to defend our freedoms when war falls upon us. What was he fighting?
His uniform is the uniform of an army fighting an invader from the North. Many serious depredations were inflicted by that army upon Forrest’s homeland and his neighbors. General Ulysses Grant was one commander of the Yankee occupation forces that Forrest was fighting. Perhaps the most notorious act of abuse by Grant was “General Order 11: The Jews, as a class… are hereby expelled from the Department (of Tennessee) within 24 hours from the receipt of this order… any one returning after notification will be arrested … as prisoners…”
Though this 1862 act is not taught in the usual Civil War history courses, it was a problem for Grant later. An 1882 political cartoon showed Grant in a crocodile skin, shedding tears for the abuses of the Jews by the Russians. The comments compared his abuse of the Jews in Yankee-occupied
to his hypocritical sympathy for the Jews suffering in Russia.
They were crocodile tears, not tears of real sympathy.
Was it wrong for a general to fight such abuses by an invader? Or was it heroic to do so against such unfavorable odds, and to win so often? Is it wrong to celebrate that heroism in a troubled time?
The Forrest haters demand that the only periods of Forrest’s life that can be exposed to the public are the periods they deem evil. It is censorship. They argue that their cause is propelled with tears. Perhaps – but they are not tears of anguish. They are tears of rage.
The role for which Forrest is honored by his memorial is also the role that so desperately stirs the anger and hatred of those who demand that only their take on history be allowed. They do not want us to remember the sacrifices and successes of a renowned military leader, because these things interfere with the image they insist we accept.
They broke laws to take that statue down, like a child disrupting what could otherwise be a peaceful event. That behavior requires a firm disciplinary response.
In this case, “mom” has to be the Tennessee Attorney General, or, failing that, the Tennessee State Assembly.