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The rearview mirror of today’s progressive movement

FILE-In this In this Sept. 2, 2015 file

FILE-In this In this Sept. 2, 2015 file photo, the Robert E. Lee Monument is seen in Lee Circle in New Orleans. New Orleans is poised to make a sweeping break with its Confederate past as it contemplates removing prominent Confederate monuments now standing on some of its busiest streets. On Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, the City Council is set to vote on an ordinance to remove four monuments. A majority of council members and the mayor support the move, which would be one of the strongest gestures yet by American city to sever ties with Confederate history. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) Credit: AP

Weeks from now, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will be toppled in New Orleans.
 
It will be a dramatic site. The 12-foot bronze of “the Old Man,” as his troops affectionately called him, is perched atop a 60-foot marble column.
 
It’s a long way down.
 
The statue, erected in 1876, has historical and sentimental value, including to this northerner:  On the 100th anniversary of Lee’s birth, in January 1907, a celebration was held at its base. Two New Orleans lasses, the pretty granddaughters of a Louisiana “Crescent Company” private named Henry Wassem, and purportedly the nearest living relatives to Lee himself, were brought forward with much fanfare to snip the rededication ribbon.
 
One was my grandmother Aloise Steiner. The other was my great aunt Inez. Their kinship with the general grows more dubious by the year.
 
It won’t be just Lee to fall in New Orleans. The New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to erase Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and his horse from the Crescent City skyline, too. Beauregard, you might remember, was the man who ordered the firing on Fort Sumter, which formally initiated the War Between the States, although it was almost certainly ordained to happen with or without him. Former U.S. Senator and Confederate President Jefferson Davis will buy the farm, too, along with the so-called Liberty Monument, which now stands on the New Orleans riverfront.
 
The fall of Lee comes on the heels of the not-yet-concluded excision of Woodrow Wilson from all things Princeton University and the erasure of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from the name of long-held state Democratic Party dinners.
 
None of these figures has been able to withstand the rear-view mirror scrutiny of today’s progressive movement. And this is only the beginning. Expect historical American figures to be purged going forward like ancient desert monuments in the path of Islamic State fanatics. Because once a sanitizing starts, it’s very hard to stop.
 
One wonders how figures like slaveholding President George Washington or lecherous President John F. Kennedy (not to mention Bill Clinton) will survive re-examination. And why stop with Americans?
 
Perhaps the doors should be thrown open to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its historical objects carted away. There is more bigotry, treachery and war represented inside those walls than there are monuments in America. And that’s just in the Ancient Egypt Wing.
 
I’ve twice been to the Lee monument in New Orleans’ Lee Square, which is sure to be renamed as well. His arms are tightly folded across his chest, some might think in defiance. But I see them crossed in the deepest ambivalence, which Lee felt about the institution of slavery, his role as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and about the war itself.
 
But none of that matters now. Today’s progressive tribunal has spoken. Lee has been declared guilty.
 
It feels historically dishonest.
 
My youngest daughter’s middle name is Lee, and not just because of the Lees on my mother’s side. Georgia Lee O’Reilly was named after another Georgia Lee, the  granddaughter of southern slaves who was most important in my life.  The shared middle name married the two families in my mind in a way that was as beautiful and hopeful as it was ironic. It pointed toward a bright future.
 
It’s funny, that future looks less bright to me with every falling statue. It leaves me feeling scared.
 
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.

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