Wokeism: As intolerant as the Taliban

By Lt. Col. James Zumwalt

In March of 2001, the international community was shocked to witness the Taliban destroy two magnificent statues carved, centuries earlier, into a mountainside in central Afghanistan. The Buddhas of Bamiyan included a smaller statue (125 feet) and larger one (180 feet), both of which were built in approximately the sixth century. The reason for their destruction was that they violated Islam’s ban against idolatry. An historical treasure was lost that day as 21st century “woke” Islamists fulfilled their religion’s extremist interpretation that is intolerant of all other religions. For them, Islam is the only global religion.

Sadly, woke activists in 21st century America have pretty much mirrored the Taliban’s intolerance by deeming as unfit for display statues, memorials or busts of earlier generations of Americans who failed to hold dear, back in their time, the same values these activists do today. Initially, actively defacing such displays before undergoing an evolutionary process of their own, these activists now express their displeasure by demanding those objects’ removal.

They dismiss the logic that, just like man has gone through an evolutionary process allowing him to achieve the ability to walk erect, the values man has embraced throughout history have gone through a similar evolutionary process. It is a sign of evolutionary intellectualism that man’s values since America’s founding have expanded from one of racial exclusivity to one inclusive of all humanity; however, it is a sign of intellectual regression that those living today choose to hold those living before the evolutionary process began to a not-yet-evolved 21st century values standard. Yet this is exactly what is happening.

With wokeism protesting any memorialization of those who fought for the Confederacy during our American Civil War, a magnificent memorial in Arlington National Cemetery is, like the Buddhas of Bamiyan, being slated for demolition. More than a century old, the 32-foot-high Confederate Memorial was enthusiastically promoted by an earlier Congress, three U.S. presidents and veterans on both sides after the conflict. It was specifically embraced to symbolize a unified America in the aftermath of the War Between the States.

The Confederate Memorial was actually the brainchild of Union veteran and U.S. President William McKinley; it was President William Howard Taft who spoke at the laying of its cornerstone; and it was President Woodrow Wilson who spoke at its 1914 dedication, alongside both Union and Confederate veterans. Almost half a century after a war that had so divided America, claiming 750,000 lives and the maiming of over a million more, this memorial recognized a nation’s reconciliation and reunification.

Designed and constructed by Confederate veteran and internationally renowned Jewish sculptor Moses Ezekiel, he, along with three other Southerners, lie buried at the monument’s base, thus serving as their headstone. It is a grave marker also for 462 other Confederates whose graves are arranged in concentric circles around it. Such a burial arrangement is an integral part of the memorial, exactly as Congress, three presidents and veterans from both sides intended.

Those today planning the memorial’s destruction lack any appreciation for the emotions at play in 1914 or for the artistic value it offers. Hypocritically, woke activists, demanding those who fought for the South more than seven generations earlier be banned to the dustbin of history for failing to grasp 21st century values, fail to grasp the emotional needs existing in 1914 to honor all who served to help reunify a divided nation. They are committed to the memorial’s destruction at a cost of over $100 million. Meanwhile, opponents of its destruction filed a lawsuit on Feb. 16, 2023, alleging numerous violations of the law and overreaching by the Department of Defense.

In the aftermath of the 2020 death of George Floyd while being taken into custody by police, woke activists began campaigning to eradicate memorials to those who fought for the South during our Civil War. In Richmond, Virginia, which served as the South’s capital during that conflict, every public Confederate monument has now been removed. One of those – the statue of Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill, erected in 1891 – caused more of a problem than others since the general’s remains were interred beneath it. But with the support of a far-left Richmond mayor and a Circuit Court judge, the body was removed.

Tragically, the woke activist campaign has been allowed to extend its memorial removal power to other historic figures such as our Founding Fathers, Christopher Columbus, President Theodore Roosevelt and even “The Great Emancipator” himself – President Abraham Lincoln.

Sins are being committed on both sides – the woke activists seeking to erase historical figures who failed to respect a value system America did not come to embrace until modern times and the silent majority that has allowed them to do it. However, the greater sin is that of the former, evidenced by their efforts to remove the Confederate Memorial. For in doing so, they ignore any sense of respect for those – on both sides of the Civil War’s battlefield – whose emotional wounds were healing through reunification, triggering the memorial’s joint dedication by veterans representing a unified America.

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