The new President of Duke University sent out an email notifying the greater Duke community of his decision to remove the vandalized statue of Robert E. Lee from the Duke Chapel. He will also be establishing boards and committees to look into the best way to deal with the statuary at Duke and other vestiges of Duke’s history which may not seem as politically correct as they did when they were erected.
This seems like revisionism to me.
There are many parts of American history of which we may not be proud. Slavery is the most obvious. Removing a statue does not make that history more tolerable.
In 2015, I wrote an opinion piece to the Duke Chronicle when the leadership of the university was going to allow the Muslim call to prayer to come from the Chapel. This was wrong then and removing the statue of Robert E. Lee is wrong now, just as was its vandalization. Two wrongs still don’t make a right.
Forming committees and having university-wide discussions about the proper way to recall history is a good idea. But revising what others have done before us in an effort to correct a wrong is as symbolic as political correctness always is.
In her on-point editorial in the Wall Street Journal on August 19, 2017, Peggy Noonan correctly notes the way to address monuments to unsavory parts of our national history. Expunging the symbol won’t work. Explaining to the unaware will.
There have been a series of truly questionable decisions coming from the office of the President of Duke University with regard to the lacrosse incident, examples or research misconduct, and the aforementioned proposal to have the Muslim call to prayer come from a uniquely Christian symbol on Duke’s campus.
Have all the committees you want and encourage discussion, but don’t start rearranging the statues on campus because some vandal couldn’t control himself.
Leonard Zwelling is Trinity '69 and M.D. '73.
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