Brow Beat

How Did We Treat Monuments to White Supremacists When They Weren’t Our White Supremacists? 

The statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As the horrible events of this weekend show, white supremacy is alive and well in the United States, and, once again, a monument to a white supremacist on public land served as a combination excuse and rallying ground for a pack of all-American terrorists. It sure seems like the kind of situation that might be ameliorated by not having monuments to the Confederacy in public parks! Of course, it’s not that simple: the monuments are already there, and it’s the attempts to remove them at long last that are ostensibly sparking the current wave of violence. Then there are the cultural concerns: White southerners have strong ties to the parts of their heritage that weren’t built on millions of people suffering for centuries at the hands of a white supremacist kleptocracy, and it’s important to be sensitive to that. Monument supporters assure us that over the years, the meaning of statues of Robert E. Lee riding off to kill other Americans to defend his right to keep black people as slaves has evolved into a salute to southern culture that is somehow simultaneously inspirational and innocuous. Further muddying the waters, the monuments have survived long enough to become history themselves. They’ve been part of their civic landscapes for decades, and serve as tangible evidence of the resurgence of the Klan in the 1910s and 1920s and the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s really, really complicated.


But is it, though? For all the hand-wringing about preserving the memory of our forebears and the historic character of our cities when it comes to the Confederacy, Americans see things a little more clearly further from home. For a striking example, take a look at denazification Directive 30, jointly issued by the Allies in May of 1946, regarding exactly what to do with Nazi monuments and memorials. There’s not a lot of consideration given here to honoring German heritage, or separating the “good” traditions of the Third Reich (Ritterlichkeit, Magnolien, und Minze Juleps?) from the whole Nazi thing. And while free speech means that people who want to advertise that they are white supremacists will always be able to stick a Confederate flag on their bumper or forehead, there’s no reason the rest of us should have to use our tax dollars to maintain thousands of future Reichsparteitagsgelände all over the country. Maybe it’s time to rip the Band-Aid off. Here’s the complete text of Directive 30 (incorporating the revised version of paragraph IV from July of 1946):


4 May 1946


Legislation Dealing With the Liquidation of German Military and Nazi Memorials and Museums
Directive 30


The Control Council directs as follows:


On and after the date of this directive, the planning, designing, erection, installation, posting or other display of any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia which tends to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition, to revive militarism or to commemorate the Nazi Party, or which is of such a nature as to glorify incidents of war, and the functioning of military museums and exhibitions, and the erection, installation, or posting or other display on a building or other structure of any of the same, will be prohibited and declared illegal; also the reopening of military museums and exhibitions.



Every existing monument, poster, statue, edifice, street, or highway name marker, emblem, tablet or insignia, of a type the planning, designing, erection, installation, posting or other display of what is prohibited by Paragraph I of this Directive must be completely destroyed and liquidated by 1 January 1947; also all military museums and exhibitions must be closed and liquidated by 1 January 1947 throughout the entire German territory.

An object of essential public utility or great architectural value should not be destroyed or otherwise liquidated when the purpose of this Directive can be achieved either by the removal therefrom the objectionable part(s) or by some other alternative constituting an effective eradication of its memorial character.


The appropriate military authorities in each Zone will designate responsible local German officials who will be made and held responsible for the compilation of complete lists of memorials in their jurisdiction which are prohibited by Paragraph I and condemned to destruction and liquidation by Paragraph II of this Directive.


Moreover, should those responsible German officials consider that in any particular case concerning an object of exceptional artistic value, an exception to the general rule above should be made, it will be up to them to submit such a request to the appropriate military authorities for forwarding to the Zone Commander for consideration.


On or after 1 January 1947, the retention or display knowingly, of any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, military museum or exhibition, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia, of a type the planning, designing, erection, installation, or posting or other display of which is prohibited by Paragraph I and the destruction of which is required by Paragraph II of this Directive will be prohibited and declared illegal.


Responsibility under Paragraph III of this directive shall be upon the owner or owners of the property unlawfully retained or, in the case of a violation involving public property for which no owner can be found, upon the public official or officials responsible for such property.



The following are not subject to destruction and liquidation:

  1. Monuments erected solely in memory of deceased members of regular military organizations, with the exception of paramilitary organizations, the SS and Waffen SS.

  2. Individual tombstones existing at present or to be erected in the future, providing the architectural designs, decorations, or inscriptions of the monuments, mentioned in paragraphs I and II do not recall militarism or commemorate the Nazi party.

With a view to the preservation of the monuments indicated in paragraphs I and II, alterations may be made in the architectural designs, decorations, or inscriptions which would remove objectionable characteristics.



For the purposes of this Directive:

  1. The terms “military” and “militarism” and the phrase “incidents of war” refer to warlike activities subsequent to 1 August 1914, whether of land, sea or in the air, and to persons, organizations, and institutions directly associated with such activities; and

  2. The term “Nazi Party” refers to the former Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei and to persons, organizations, and institutions directly associated therewith.


This Directive is effective upon the date of publication.

Done at Berlin on the 13th day of May, 1946.

B.H. ROBERTSON, Lieutenant General.
L. KOELTZ, General de Corps d’Armee.
M.I. DRATVIN, Lieutenant General.
Lucius D. CLAY, Lieutenant General.