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Francis Wilkinson

What France Knows About Robert E. Lee

The battle over national monuments looks familiar in certain parts of Paris.
Napoleon: Down, but not out.

Napoleon: Down, but not out.

Photographer: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Symbolic struggles over the Confederacy are uniquely American. But fierce battles over public spaces and monuments, and the values they elevate and enshrine, are not.

"The French have their own versions of these battles," said Peter Brooks, a professor of literature who has taught at Yale and Princeton. In such battles for cultural and political supremacy, history is a weapon. And in France, there is plenty of history to fight over.