Privacy, Responsibility and General Robert E. Lee

by Janis Patterson

On this and other blogs I have always ranted about the necessity of a writer for privacy, of how we shouldn’t have to open ourselves and our personal lives up just because our fans want us to or because we need the publicity. Privacy is very important to me and always has been. Some say that by being too open, or too outspoken on social media we run the risk of losing or even alienating fans, and that is a distinct possibility. No sane person wants to damage their career deliberately. For some reason writers – especially genre fiction writers – are not supposed to be controversial. Mean people who disagree with us, we are warned, will flock to our retailers and give nothing but bad reviews in an attempt to hurt us and complain about our attacking their freedom of speech if we complain.

That sounds more like bullying than freedom of speech.

However, there are things which supercede a career. We have all been counseled to be quiet or at the most neutral about some things, politics and religion primarily. That’s good advice, but I think we are human beings and citizens first, and some things trump both the career and neutrality cards.

I live in Dallas, which is controlled by a very liberal mayor and city council – all of whom are bound and determined to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee that has been standing for over 80 years – all in a rush of indecent and (in my opinion) barely-legal haste. The powers that be had a crane ready to dismantle the statue within minutes of the council’s vote. (After over 80 years in the same place it suddenly had to be removed THAT AFTERNOON? Sounds like something’s fishy to me.) Had not my wonderful husband rushed to file a Temporary Restraining Order we would have lost an incredible work of art. The statue (or as the council member spearheading this idiocy calls it, the ‘statcha’) is one of the finest examples of heroic-sized bronze art in the country. Whoever/whatever the statue (statcha) represents, the fine detail work, the intricate delineations, the entire piece is exquisite and to take such a work of fine art out of the beautiful park setting created for it decades ago and probably out of public view forever is just plain heinous.

But that’s not the worst. Dallas is a perpetually cash-strapped city where (among other things) it can take months to get a pothole repaired, and where over 400 policemen quit the force last year because of the poor pay and a very shaky, poorly managed pension fund. Even with such financial problems the mayor and the city council simply cannot wait to pay over (and maybe a LOT over) $400,000 just to remove the statue. One statue. And that’s when even the liberal media admits that over 80% of Dallas citizens want the statue (and all such monuments) left alone.

How can I as a tax-paying citizen of this city stand still for such deliberate fiscal irresponsibility? How can I remain silent when our tax dollars are being wasted so egregiously? How can I ignore it when the city is always complaining that they don’t have enough money and say our taxes should go up yet again but our services always seem to shrink? When I think of how that almost HALF A MILLION dollars (and probably more before all is said and done) could be spent on paying our police the salaries they should have, or putting after-school enrichment programs in underprivileged schools, or creating some health-care storefronts in the poorest areas of town, or…

There are so many ways that money could be used constructively, and as a citizen I must raise my voice in spite of the wisdom that says writers should not offend anyone, that stating what you feel or believe or espouse can damage your career. I am not so naïve as to believe that there are not people who will judge my stories by my activism, even though those stories have nothing to do with it. Frankly, I don’t care. I was a human being before I was a writer, and I will be a human being after I quit being a writer.

I have a conscience. I have a voice, and I should have a say about what affects me, be it a statue or a tax increase or a mis-managed pension fund or whatever! After all, it is my hard-earned tax money that the powers that be want to squander so idiotically. I love writing, and I love my career, but life is more important than selling books. If we do not stand up for what is right, for the love of fine art and the integrity of history, for freedom of expression, we have no right to complain when things go wrong. That’s why I’ve spent days urging people to telephone or email the mayor and the city council to stop this attack on freedom, fine art, history and the will of the people.

Plus, my most recent exercise in activism is self-serving, and I believe all writers should applaud. Everything offends someone, so if a small minority can dictate – for no real reason other than they don’t like it – the removal of a statue that the majority wants left alone, how long will it be before they start burning the books they don’t like? Or destroying the art?  And after books and art, what next? People?

Remember, those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.

13 thoughts on “Privacy, Responsibility and General Robert E. Lee

  1. Janis, I agree. I made the decision to speak up about issues a few months ago. I felt that was the least I could to for my country and in honor of all those who have given their lives to keep us safe. While I am a Yankee by birth, I respect the 600,000 people who gave their lives in the American Civil War-no matter which side they were on. Robert E Lee was a great man and his sacrifice as a soldier came at a time when the allegiance to your State was considered greater than to the federal government – as our founding fathers intended. To destroy our history is an act of vandalism, the same vandalism that so many condemned committed by the Taliban when they destroyed the Buddhist statues and ISIS destroying ancient monuments. These are bad times for open-mindedness and free speech. I believe writers have a particular place in expressing their views. Marxism and communism are the enemies of freedom of thought and expression-many writers in the past have been imprisoned for “wrong-thinking”. Today’s social media is the same oppressive system that sent writers to the gulags. I would rather be on the side of truth than “correct-thinking”. Thank you for your thoughts on these matters.


  2. Perfectly said. I also have been warned not to share political or religious views because I would lose fans. But you are right in that we are humans first and, as Bonhoffer said, “Not to speak, is to speak”. God bless you!


  3. You have channeled my own thinking and voiced it much more eloquently than I ever could. I’m right in the heart of the turmoil—Richmond, VA, capital of the Confederacy and only 70 miles down the road from Charlottesville. If our statues are moved to museums, so be it, but I believe removing them is a major step in revising history, something that should never happen, and, yes, they are also fine art. Our Monument Avenue, with 5 Confederate statues (and one of Arthur Ashe) is incredibly beautiful and a National Historic Landmark District. I’d much rather we ADD monuments honoring some of our esteemed people of other races, ethnicities, genders, religions, etc., and make it a true avenue of monuments reflecting all of our history, not just part of it. Next weekend, we’re expecting to have a group from Tennessee here for the sole purpose of protesting the possible removal of our Lee statue and, while I support their right to free speech and assembly, I am concerned about the potential for violence when the “other side” inevitably shows up. Richmond has not yet decided what to do and I hope much more thought will go into, as you said, the need to put our efforts and money where they are so essential, like school improvements, crime prevention, infrastructure and the like.


  4. I really enjoyed this. I stay out of politics and opinions on social media as much as I can because I work in Human Resources and don’t dare indulge. On this issue, I have to say I don’t understand tearing down statues because they would be considered bad people in our current times. History is history. It IS to me like burning books. We learn from our past (I hope). Reminders of what have been should not keep us from moving on to what should be. In fact, they should help. We have some very bad history, but we can not wipe it out. It happened and hopefully we learned from it.


  5. Dear Ladies of Mystery

    I’ve just unsubscribed from your blog. When I subscribed I believed it was a blog on mystery writing — a broad topic with endless subtopics. I’ve enjoyed the varied posts since I subscribed.

    But today’s post is of a political nature and I believe this is *totally the wrong forum* for sharing and discussing these ideas. I choose to read about and participate in political discussions in political blogs.

    This post has spoiled the Ladies of Mystery blog for me.


    Virginia King


  6. I have a different view on this matter of statues. I agree we should all be free to speak our opinions and beliefs. I personally believe that Confederate statues should be moved to history museums or some other more nuanced contexts rather than left in public squares. Yes, the Civil War is part of American history, and I don’t see the removal or statues as the attempt to erase history. In fact, I see it as an acknowledgement of the complexity of history and the depths of the Confederacy’s painful legacy. There were protests a few weeks ago in Santa Fe at the Fiestas during the Entrada, a kind of revisionist reenactment of DeVargas reconquering the area as if it had been peaceful. The Native people did not welcome him then at the real event, and they don’t like the reenactment. A young woman from Santa Clara Pueblo leading the protest was arrested rather roughly. People who are part of the groups who were deeply damaged by those who oppressed them, oppressors who are honored by public art, see a different perspective on that art. An example I like, being part Seminole, is that Andrew Jackson will no longer appear on new twenty-dollar bills but be replaced by Harriet Tubman. He’s not being erased from history, but this particular public honor is going to someone else. The monument in Santa Fe honoring those who fought in the Indian wars has been given a new sign discussing the historical context in which that monument was raised, invoking critical thinking about history and racial and ethnic and cultural conflicts. The word “savage” has been neatly chiseled out of the front of the memorial, no longer describing the Navajo, Apache and Pueblo people who also fought in those wars. In New Mexico, that’s our history. I lived in Virginia and North Carolina for many years, and I never was happy to see a Confederate statue. They always bothered me and I always felt they stood for racism and slavery. I’ll quote Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on this topic. He said it better than I ever could, in his speech following the events in Charlottesville:

    “As I said in June, it is my belief that, as they currently stand without explanation, the confederate statues on Monument Avenue are a default endorsement of a shameful period in our national and city history that do not reflect the values of inclusiveness, equality and diversity we celebrate in today’s Richmond.

    I wish they had never been built.

    Still, I believed that as a first step, there was a need to set the historical record straight. That is why I asked the Monument Avenue Commission to solicit public input and to suggest a complete and truthful narrative of these statues, who built them and why they were erected.

    When it comes to these complicated questions that involve history, slavery, Jim Crow and war, we all must have the humility to admit that our answers are inherently inadequate. These are challenges so fundamental to the history of our country, commonwealth, and city that reducing them to the question of whether or not a monument should remain is, by definition, an oversimplification.

    But context is important in both historical, and present day, perspectives. While we had hoped to use this process to educate Virginians about the history behind these monuments, the events of the last week may have fundamentally changed our ability to do so by revealing their power to serve as a rallying point for division and intolerance and violence.

    These monuments should be part of our dark past and not of our bright future. I personally believe they are offensive and need to be removed. But I believe more in the importance of dialogue and transparency by pursuing a responsible process to consider the full weight of this decision.

    Effective immediately, the Monument Avenue Commission will include an examination of the removal and/or relocation of some or all of the confederate statues.

    Continuing this process will provide an opportunity for the public to be heard and the full weight of this decision to be considered in a proper forum where we can have a constructive and civil dialogue.

    Let me be clear: we will not tolerate allowing these statues and their history to be used as a pretext for hate and violence, or to allow our city to be threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi thugs. We will protect our city and keep our residents safe.

    As I said a few weeks ago, our conversation about these Monuments is important. But what is more important to our future is focusing on building higher-quality schools, alternatives to our current public housing that provide dignity and safety for all, and policies to provide opportunities for all Richmonders to succeed.”


    1. If we do this, lets be consistent and remove all the MLK statues, etc change school and street names to current fads because the King Civil Rights era is now history. Lets move all the Columbus statues and rename DC and Columbus OH. and put all that away in museums. Where do we stop? Where does your own cultural heritage become history?


  7. I agree, Janis: I am on the East Coast, and in Philadelphia, the statue of Mayor John Rizzo has been vandalized, and there are many groups that want it to come down. Mayor Rizzo was formerly the police commissioner. I am aghast that so many in the country are destroying history.


  8. Janis, here are cheers from your neighbor to the west in Fort Worth. I agree wholeheartedly that as writers we must speak out and follow our consciences. I always remember the Niemoller poem about those who didn’t speak out as Nazism took over Germany. And I so agree with you that in the future we will regret this unseemly haste to destroy history. We can’t change history, but we can work to change hearts–that’s what’s important. Thanks for speaking out loud and clear.


  9. I wholeheartedly agree with speaking up for the insanity of removing all that suddenly offends a small group. ISIS has destroyed churches, ancient buildings, museums, and killing those who offend them by existing. Destruction is easy. Killing is easy. Tolerance takes maturity and open-mindedness.


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