David Barton Likens Confederate Statues to Holocaust Ovens

David Barton
David Barton

In an appearance on Friday’s Joe Pags (Joe Pagliarulo) radio show, self-styled historian and Republican strategist David Barton invoked the existence of Nazi ovens and Gestapo headquarters in Germany as analogous to the existence of Confederate monuments in the U.S. You can listen to the podcast here (within the first 10 minutes). A transcript is below:

We’re looking at taking Confederate monuments down, and by the way, from a historical standpoint, if you know your history those monuments don’t scare you. If you know your history in Germany, the fact that you have ovens where the Holocaust occurred. The fact that you have Gestapo headquarters that are now mu – that’s not a problem because you know it’s wrong. And because you know it’s wrong, you can teach the next generation and that’s why you’ll find that Germans are particularly sensitive toward neo-Nazi movements arising in Germany. They don’t tolerate it.  So even though they’re there, they don’t – and so you can do that with history. In Israel, they got great kings like David, but you know what, they’ve also got a monument to Absalom, who was a (unintelligible). They’ve also got a street named after Ahab who was a lousy king. But that helps them know the good, the bad, the ugly.
So when you do Confederate monuments today, we don’t know enough about our own history to know the balance that used to be there and that was part of it. So to put the balance in perspective, when you talk Confederacy, let’s cut right to the chase and say it’s not Confederacy, it’s Southern Democrats, straight out, hands down.

Barton’s Faulty Reasoning

Tributes to the Confederacy aren’t necessarily scary; they are offensive. The analogy Barton attempts to make is bizarre. The ovens and Gestapo headquarters were not preserved by the German government as tributes to the Nazis. Confederate statues are tributes erected many years after the events of the Civil War took place. They were erected to elevate the image of the Confederacy. What the Germans kept was not to elevate the image of the Nazis but to demonstrate the evil. The Confederate symbols and monuments which are being targeted were not erected to show how bad the Confederacy was.
For Barton’s analogy to make sense, there would need to be a movement to bulldoze over the battlefields and other historical locations. I don’t know of any efforts to do this and the conversation between Barton and Pagliarulo didn’t touch on any such movement. Removing monuments placed to sanitize the image of the Confederacy isn’t in that category.
Barton came close to making sense when he accurately said the Germans are sensitive to neo-Nazi elements. In fact, Holocaust denial is a criminal offense as is displaying Nazi symbols. If we take that German example and translate it to the U.S., it would suggest that we should be very sensitive about neo-Confederate elements, such as white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. It would suggest that we should not build tributes to the Confederacy and remove the tributes already in place. If Germany could teach us anything, it would be that those monuments should never have been erected in the first place.
About the Gestapo headquarters: Barton seemed to be about to say that the headquarters was a museum. However, those facilities were destroyed after the war. More recently, a museum dedicated to showing the horror of Nazi institutions was built. Again, what the Germans built was not a tribute to Nazism, but what is called the Topography of Terror Documentation Center.  I don’t believe any of the Confederate monuments at issue document the horrors of slavery or the Jim Crow laws which followed.

Barton and Pags Real Target: The Democrats

I think the reason Barton has such a hard time with this issue is because he really wants to make Democrats look bad. He really wants people to understand that the Democrats favored slavery and were behind the KKK. Barton said:

So when you do Confederate monuments today, we don’t know enough about our own history to know the balance that used to be there and that was part of it. So to put the balance in perspective, when you talk Confederacy, let’s cut right to the chase and say it’s not Confederacy, it’s Southern Democrats, straight out, hands down.
When Landrieu the Governor or the Mayor of New Orleans takes down 4 Confederate monuments, let’s point out that it’s a Democrat mayor taking down 4 Democrat heroes that were heroes in the South. Now would that change the narrative if people knew that today. You bet it would.
The racism narrative would change if, for example, people knew that Democrats openly acknowledged in Congressional hearings that yes, the Ku Klux Klan is our organization, that’s a Democrat arm. Who knows that today? We know so little about our own history that we can’t even tell the good from the bad anymore so we think we have to wipe it out. And does that mean if conservatives take over, we’re going to get rid of the FDR memorial because he was a progressive liberal? Or if liberals get it, were going to get rid of Calvin Coolidge’s home because he was a conservative Republican? Where does it stop at that point? But you don’t worry about it if you know history, but we just don’t know history today.

True, Southern Democrats were defenders of slavery. However, this fact is well known. Anyone who studies the Civil War even a little bit realizes that the party of Lincoln and emancipation was the GOP. However, it is now a Republican president who is defending what he calls the “beautiful statues and monuments.” The Democrats want to take the statues down. It doesn’t matter much that long dead Democrats were racists when the party of Lincoln has shifted to a defense of the Confederate symbols. Why would Republicans want to leave them up? It makes no sense to me.

Barton’s New Lost Cause

When Barry Goldwater failed to support the Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to vote against Goldwater. Although African-American voters had been steadily moving Democrat for several years, Nixon got about one-third of the African-American vote in 1960. The turning point was Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act. The historical direction of the African-American vote isn’t about African-Americans not knowing the history of segregationist Southern Democrats, it is about the choices made by GOP leaders over the past 50 years.
Barton’s efforts to bolster Republicans by constantly reminding people about the Lost Cause Democrats is a new kind of Lost Cause. The failings of the modern Republican party are not going to be sanitized by reminders of the failings of the Southern Democrats of the past. If anything, it is admirable that modern Democrats want to make amends and, if possible, atone for the history of the party. Shouldn’t Democrats want to remove these symbols? And shouldn’t Republicans, members of the party of Lincoln, be cheering them on?
Barton referred to Mitch Landrieu, the Democrat mayor of New Orleans. Landrieu’s speech about removing the monuments makes a compelling case for his decision. The mayor spoke about history and pointed out that many of those monuments were attempts to change history.

So, let’s start with the facts. The historic record is clear. The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.
First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

Landrieu is correct. The monuments of Confederate heroes were not erected in New Orleans to warn against the errors of the Confederacy but to laud champions of white supremacy.  If the history of these monuments is known, it becomes even more clear why they need to be removed from a place of honor.

Barton’s Take on the KKK

Near the end of the broadcast, Barton brought up the KKK. Because the KKK targeted black and white Republicans, Barton minimizes the white supremacist nature of the KKK’s goals.

That’s when the Klan arose and by the way, the Klan did not arise to take out blacks, it’s stated purpose was to take out Republicans. That’s why if you look at lynchings all the way up until 1962, you have 3500 black lynchings, but 1300 white lynchings, so what you have is an organization going after Republicans. Not after blacks per se. It’s just at that time, any black in the South was a Republican. You couldn’t hang any whites, because some of them were Democrats.

The Klan arose to reestablish white supremacy in the South, not just to go after Republicans. Since Republicans at the time stood in the way of that goal, they were targeted by Klan violence.  Barton’s description has some truth to it, but he makes the history more about political party than race. For the most part, white Republicans were targeted if they helped African-Americans.
Barton’s lynching numbers are pretty accurate but a little misleading in the way he uses them. Some of those white lynchings were in Western states for reasons unrelated to white supremacy. As noted, whites who helped blacks were also targeted in the South, but the figures on white lynchings includes people who were killed as victims of frontier justice.

A Couple of White Guys on Slavery

One of the more surreal discussions happened near the end of the segment. Barton and Pagliarulo discussed slavery. For some reason, Barton thought it important to say that 43% of free blacks in South Carolina owned slaves. He added that the first slavery law “done in America provided for white slaves, Indian slaves, and black slaves. How come we don’t hear that slavery is a human issue not a race issue.”
Pagliarulo chimed in to say that the first slave owner in the U.S. was a black man – Anthony Johnson. He was one of the first but what difference does that make? What is the point of this discussion? Are these white guys trying to change the history of slavery in America to make it about something other than race?
I really don’t understand the point of highlighting the exceptions as if they were the rule. The reason we don’t hear that slavery was a human issue is because in America, it quickly became about race. The fact is slave laws evolved so that black slaves were treated differently than all others. Slavery in the United States was about race and by the time of the Civil War, the vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, asserted the following about slavery and race:

MR. STEPHENS rose and spoke as follows:
Mr. Mayor, and Gentlemen of the Committee, and Fellow-Citizens:- . . . We are in the midst of one of the greatest epochs in our history. The last ninety days will mark one of the most memorable eras in the history of modern civilization. . . .
I was remarking, that we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood. [Applause.]
This new constitution, or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. . . .
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. (emphasis added)

It is impossible to read Stephens’ remarks made on March 21, 1861 in Savannah, Georgia and not come away with the crystal clear conclusion that slavery in the U.S. was about race. The white man Stephens said the proper state of the black man was to serve the white man. For Stephens, slavery was not a “human issue” but an issue of one race being better than another. In my opinion, any attempt to minimize that fact is an unhelpful expression of white privilege.

What Should Happen with the Monuments?

The thrust of the program was to defend the monuments. At the end of the show, the host Joe Pagliarulo said he believes local communities should decide what to do with them. As a matter of policy, I agree that the federal government should not intervene in those local decisions. However, I also call on Christians to lead the local charge to remove Confederate symbols which were erected as tributes to Confederate heroes or the Confederacy as a movement. Since the Confederacy was a tribute to the evil doctrine of racial superiority, monuments and symbols which respect and celebrate heroes of the Confederacy should have no place of honor in the public square.