After the tragedy that occurred on Saturday in Charlottesville (Virginia), it is necessary to analyze the context in which it could have occurred and to go beyond the easy clichés in which most of the media have been taking pleasure in recent days.


Last April, the city council of Charlottesville, a peaceful city of 50 inhabitants, decided to get rid of the equestrian statue of the famous Robert E. Lee, a southern general commanding the legendary "Army of Northern Virginia" from 000 to 1862 during Civil War statue that has stood peacefully in a downtown park since 1865. Since the end of the war, Lee has always been hailed by both sides as a reasonable man, a brilliant Jominian general, an anti-slavery freed his slaves before joining the army of the South. And after the war, as a supporter of the peaceful reconstruction of the country. In 1924, President Ford even decided to symbolically restore his full civil rights to him in a final gesture of national reconciliation. His aura and his exemplarity have earned him the erection of dozens of statues throughout the South, including that of Charlottesville, listed since 1975 as a national heritage. Until 1997 no one questioned the consensus around his person or the presence in the public space of a monument to his memory.  

General Lee's second death

The first controversy around Lee was born in 2014 on the campus of Washington & Lee University (named in honor of Georges Washington and General Lee) in Lexington, Virginia, of which Lee was the director from 1865 to his died in 1870. It is there that he rests in a small chapel. His remains had long been guarded by the flags of the regiments of his army without anyone having a problem. But in July 2014, a group of black students started a petition to demand the removal of these flags, suddenly deeming them offensive. On August 6, the university management agreed with the students and had the flags removed despite the turmoil aroused by such a decision in the year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The episode of Washington & Lee could have remained an isolated case without a future, but the massacre committed by the white supremacist Dylann Roof on June 17, 2015 in Charleston would accelerate the controversy around all the symbols - not only the statues - of the former Southern Confederacy. Before coldly murdering nine people from the black community in a Methodist church in Charleston, Dylann Roof, then 21 years old, showed himself on social networks with a southern flag. This atrocious crime caused an unimaginable chain reaction; the southern flag has been banned from the counters of Amazon, Walmart and eBay, Warner has decided to stop the marketing of miniature cars "General Lee" of the burlesque series sheriff scare me, and the majority of flag makers have ceased production of the Southern flag. At the same time, the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina voted in favor of the removal of the Confederate flag from the war memorial dedicated to the soldiers of Carolina who died during the war and located in front of the Capitol of the State. On July 10, 2015, during a solemn and sober ceremony, the flag was removed while supporters and opponents of this decision found themselves face to face but without overflow. The opponents present were mainly descendants of southern soldiers, grouped within the association "Sons of Confederate Veterans", unrelated to neo-Nazi groups or the Ku Klux Klan.

Supremacists, Antifa and… Ordinary People

The crisis born of the drama of Charleston has spread throughout the South and several municipalities or counties have had to decide on the maintenance of the Southern flag in the public space and / or the putting in the museum of statues of Confederate generals. The controversy around these questions developed, particularly in New Orleans, when the municipality of Mitch Andrieu decided, in December 2015, to remove the statue of General Lee, that of the president of the confederation Jefferson Davis and that of the child of the country, General Beauregard, Creole and of French origin. Some extremists have even called for the fleur-de-lis to be removed from the logo of the city's professional American football team, the Saints, on the grounds that it also symbolizes slavery because it evokes a link between the symbol of the French monarchy and the black code!

The decision was not effective immediately as appeals to the Louisiana state court delayed the removal of the statues until earlier this year. Opponents of the withdrawal then mobilized to oppose peacefully by organizing night vigils around the three statues, convinced that the municipality would organize their unbolting at night.

During several of these vigils, these ordinary people and without political affiliation, for some coming from other States of the South, were attacked on several occasions by groups of antifa whose methods and violence have nothing to envy. to those of their far-right counterparts. Finally in the spring, the three statues were removed by hooded men (probably from the city's firefighters) and contrary to the commitments and assertions of Mitch Andrieu, they are for the time being, not in a museum, but in a deposit. of the open-air city.

Manipulated identity

The municipality of Charlottesville wanted to follow the example of New Orleans and voted to remove the statue of General Lee. The tensions and tensions born around these votes have not left the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups indifferent. They surfed on legitimate discontent and incomprehension on the part of part of the population in the face of what is perceived as an attack on the sacrifices of their ancestors, but above all on their identity, so far assumed and accepted, by the whole country.

There is also the question concealed by the municipalities: that of the exorbitant financial cost of these removals of statues. Didn't Mitch Andrieu have better things to do with the thousands of dollars he invested in their removal? By using them, for example, to repair the still visible damage from Hurricane Katrina in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of his city, inhabited mostly by blacks? We cannot hide the real social, educational and health problems that plague the American middle class since the collapse of its standard of living.

Journalist. He writes in several military history journals (Battles & Armored, LOS!), and has published several articles on the southern navy. He is also a historian and author of The French Expedition to the Dardanelles (2015) and La Marne: an operational victory (2016) at Lemme Edit. …