Well-meaning people sometimes can’t tell the baby from the bath water, which is part of what happened last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The brutality in that beautiful city might not have happened, at least not then and there, if folks in charge hadn’t repeated history by throwing out the baby with the bath water.

A wave of statue removal is sweeping the country. Officials are recognizing that statues of Confederate leaders in public places endorse, at least implicitly, what those leaders stood for. So, down they come. At first blush, the right thing to do.

But you could also say that at least some of the statues can be educational tools. A statue of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson celebrates not their slave-holding — Washington freed his slaves when he died, Jefferson sold his slaves to pay debts —  but their other contributions to our founding as a nation. You might even say that those statues commemorate the whole person, flaws and all, itself a lesson of history.

Conservative columnist Ed Rogers of the Washington Post suggests which statues ought to fall. If a child asks, he writes, what someone did to earn a statue “and the only possible answer is that he fought in the Civil War to defend slavery, then the statue should go.”

Would that the city council of Charlottesville had been so wise. Instead, the council voted to remove statues of Confederate notables. The final statue to be removed is that of Robert E. Lee, probably the most revered of southern leaders. Lee and the others fought bravely but they fought for a cause that was morally unacceptable, though in his writings Lee made it clear that he opposed slavery. But, in the temper of the times, he put his state above the Constitution he had served for 32 years as an Army officer.


The pity is that a committee appointed by the city council had come up with a better plan. It proposed the statue stay in Emancipation Park — how’s that for irony, a slave-holding soldier honored in a park renamed Emancipation? —  but that the presentation be more rounded and acknowledge that Lee and the other rebels were fighting for a morally bankrupt system.

Instead of a measured response, the council gave in to emotional appeals, such as this one by a high school student in a petition to the city: “My peers and I feel strongly about the removal of the statue because it makes us feel uncomfortable and it is very offensive.”

Lots of things make us uncomfortable. Is that enough to abolish them? Had the student written that the statue honored a vile practice, she would have had a stronger case. Had she written that the plaques at the statue could have noted that Lee was fighting for a cause that is evil on its face, she would have had a stronger case. But it makes her uncomfortable?

Like it or not, the Civil War happened. Eleven states seceded to defend slavery. They fought a war in which 620,000 Americans died, 360,000 of them fighting to end slavery.

The good guys won.

The removal of a statue (installed in 1924) honoring Lee was all the excuse the thugs needed to descend on Charlottesville under the guise of “Unite the Right.” Look again at the pictures of them storming the streets, in body armor, carrying shields and clubs and firearms (loaded?) and tell us they were just rallying to unite conservative activists.


The city council enabled the storming of Charlottesville by throwing out baby and bath water. Better to leave the statues and surround them with context. Even add a statue of Ulysses S. Grant? Or Joshua Chamberlain? A second and ultimate irony. Lee opposed erecting statues to commemorate the Confederacy. They “keep open the sores of war.”

Here’s another example of throwing out the baby with the bath water, more personal and less consequential, unless you’re a turkey.

When I was farming, I applied to an outfit called Animal Welfare Approved to certify that we treated our birds as well as possible, using the best practices of animal welfare.

We met virtually all the AWA standards, would have had to change only a couple of methods, such as how we picked up turkeys when moving them.

All in all, we measured up. The guidelines said AWA didn’t like but might exempt flocks hatched via artificial insemination. That seemed a bit odd since the eggs of more than 99 percent of all turkeys in the United States are fertilized artificially. (I won’t go deeper, in case you’re reading this over breakfast.) I figured we could jump that hurdle since the standards said AWA would make exceptions.

After hours of filling out the application form, I sent it in and waited. Came a phone call from a guy in Baltimore. He said I met virtually all standards, but that “they” don’t like artificial insemination. (Bureaucrats always say “they” to deflect responsibility.)


How about an exemption? He said, “not gonna happen.”

So, I asked Baltimore guy, “Are you telling me that 99 percent of all the turkeys hatched in the United States do not deserve the protection that AWA offers because AWA doesn’t approve of artificial insemination?”; Probably didn’t matter to the turkeys how they got started.

“That’s about the size of it,” Baltimore guy said. He could just as well have said, “Yes, we throw out the baby when we throw out the bath water.”

So, no one but we and the handful of folks at AWA who read our application knew that we stacked up pretty well in the matter of animal welfare.

Wouldn’t it be better if AWA forget about how the turkeys got here and concentrate on how they are treated while they are here?

Pitch the bath water. Keep the cleaned-up baby.

Bob Neal is a retired farmer and journalist who lives in New Sharon. He sometimes describes himself as a militant moderate.

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