After the tragedy that occurred Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is necessary to analyze the context in which it could have occurred and to overcome the easy clichés in which most of the media are delighted for a few days.


Last April, the Charlottesville City Council, a quiet town of 50,000, decided to dispose of the equestrian statue of the famous Southern General Robert E. Lee commanding the legendary "Northern Virginia Army" from 1862-1865. the American Civil War, a statue that has been peacefully seated in a downtown park since 1924. 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 having 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 1975, President Ford even decided to symbolically restore his full civil rights in a final gesture of national reconciliation. Its aura and exemplarity have earned it the erection of dozens of statues throughout the South, including that of Charlottesville, registered since 1997 in the national heritage. Until 2014 no one questioned the consensus around his person or the presence in the public space of a monument to his memory.  

The second death of General Lee

The first controversy around Lee was born in 2014 on the campus of Washington & Lee University (named after George Washington and General Lee) in Lexington, Virginia, of which Lee was the director of 1865 at 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 any problem to anyone. But in July 2014, a group of black students launched a petition to demand the withdrawal of these flags, considering them suddenly offensive. On August 6, the university's management agreed with the students and had the flags removed despite the excitement of such a decision in the year of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.

The episode of Washington & Lee could have remained an isolated case with no tomorrow, but the killing by white supremacist Dylann Roof on June 17, 2015 in Charleston would accelerate the controversy around all the symbols - not just statues - of the former Southern Confederation. Before coldly murdering nine black people in a Methodist church in Charleston, 21-year-old Dylann Roof had flaunted on social media with a Southern flag. This atrocious crime provoked an unimaginable chain reaction; the Southern flag has been banned from the Amazon, Walmart and eBay counters, the Warner has decided to stop the commercialization of the "General Lee" miniature cars of the burlesque series Sheriff scare me, and the majority of flag makers have stopped making 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 of the war memorial dedicated to the Caroline soldiers who died during the war and located in front of the State Capitol. 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 not overflowing. Opponents were mostly descendants of southern soldiers, grouped within the association "Sons of Confederate Veterans", not related to neo-Nazi groups or Ku Klux Klan.

Suprematists, antifas and ... ordinary people

The crisis of the Charleston tragedy spread throughout the South and several municipalities or counties had to decide on the maintenance of the Southern flag in the public space and / or the museum display of Confederate generals' statues. The controversy surrounding these issues has developed, particularly in New Orleans, when the municipality of Mitch Andrieu decided in December 2015 to remove the statue of General Lee, that of President Jefferson Davis and the of the local child, General Beauregard, Creole and of French origin. Some extremists have even called for the removal of the fleur-de-lis from the logo of the city's professional football team, the Saints, on the pretext that it also symbolized slavery because it evoked 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 early 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 debauchery at night.

During many of these vigils, these ordinary people, without any political affiliation, some of them coming from other southern states, have been attacked several times by groups of antifas whose methods and violence have nothing to envy to those of their right-wing 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 affirmations of Mitch Andrieu, they are for the moment, not in a museum, but in a depot of the city in the open sky.

Identity handled

The Municipality of Charlottesville wanted to follow the example of New Orleans and voted for the removal of the statue of General Lee. The tensions and tensions around these votes did not leave neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups indifferent. They have surfed on a legitimate discontent and misunderstanding on the part of the population against what is perceived as an attack on the sacrifices of their ancestors, but especially on their identity, hitherto assumed and accepted, by the whole country.

There is also the question hidden by the municipalities: the exorbitant financial cost of these statues withdrawals. Did Mitch Andrieu have better to make the thousands of dollars he invested in their withdrawal? By using them, for example, to repair the still visible damage of Hurricane Katrina in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods of her city, inhabited mostly by blacks? We can not hide the real social, educational and health problems that have plagued the American middle class since the collapse of their standard of living.

Journalist. He writes in several Military History magazines (Battles & Armor, LOS!), And has published several articles on the Southern Navy. He is also historian author of The French Expedition to the Dardanelles (2015) and La Marne: an operational victory (2016) at Lemme Edit. ...