Monuments Men: The Case For Removal

[Note:  Although I had not planned to originally talk about this issue, the proliferation of vandalism of various monuments to Confederate war heroes of the American Civil War has prompted me to add my own thoughts to the matter.  As my own thoughts on the issue are somewhat complicated, I have chosen to approach this issue as something like what one would have read from a medieval theologian like Thomas Aquinas.  This particular post gives the case for removal of the statutes on a widespread scale.]

Growing up as a Northern-born and pro-Union child in rural Central Florida, I was reminded from my youth that in many ways, the Civil War has not ended yet.  My own treatment at the hands of unreconstructed neo-Confederates convinced me that the cause of the Confederacy was among the worst in human history.  Rather than accept the legitimacy of an election of a candidate whose worldview they despised, seven states rebelled before Lincoln was inaugurated, and four more joined them after Lincoln called for troops to suppress the rebellion by force.  Four years later, after the deaths of more than half a million–estimates go considerably higher–the nation was reunified in a fragile peace and since then, no secession movement has been seriously attempted within the United States.

As a student of military history, I was very forthright in defending the behavior of Sherman, Sheridan, and others in seeking to end the Civil War through logistical warfare [1].  This forthrightness led to a great deal of conflict between me and those who viewed the Confederacy with more fondness.  So when I speak about the Civil War and its role in memory, I speak as someone with a larger personal stake in the matters than might be supposed, because I have participated in the struggle over its memory and I am aware that the war and its aftermath still rankles many.  Reconstruction, and the way that the South managed to win in peace what they did not win in war, was a betrayal of the promise of civil rights for freed blacks, leaving many in a position of second class citizenship lasting for at least a century.

Without a doubt, the cause of the Confederacy was unjust.  After Communist regimes were overthrown in Eastern Europe, the monuments and statuary of Lenin, Stalin, and a great many other lesser figures were often quickly toppled and destroyed.  And just as the Soviets were oppressors to the conquered peoples of Eastern Europe–and indeed even their own people, so too the Confederate military and political leaders honored in marble and other forms were oppressors too, especially of the black population of the Confederacy.  Millions of people were held as chattel property and their labor served to benefit a corrupt and rebellious planter class who had made a mockery of the freedoms of black and white, so afraid that even rhetoric or liberty would threaten their regimes that abolitionist writings were prohibited from being sent in the mail and in ten Southern states the moderate antislavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was not even on the ballot in 1860.  When looked at from the point of view of justice alone, Confederate leaders deserve the same fate as Communist leaders regarding their statues and monuments.

This is especially true as their evil extended far after the end of the Confederacy itself.  One of the main reasons why the South was so successful in and after Reconstruction in continuing under a different name its racially oppressive policies were because the people of the North were unwilling to expend blood and treasure to force upon the South a level of racial equality and color-blind justice that they did not hold to themselves.  The racism of Jim Crow days was by no means limited to the South–the 1920’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, was quite successful in states from Oregon to Indiana that had proven themselves as Unionist during the Civil War.  Many of the same leaders who fought so bravely for the Confederacy were vital in encouraging the postwar settlement that led to a restoration of a racist legal and social order that long endured in the South especially.

Nor are the effects of this racism entirely gone.  Whether or not these concerns are just, many people feel as if they are profiled by police based on their ethnicity, and there are substantial inequalities in terms of education, imprisonment, and other factors where ethnic and racial origin plays a large role.  While many disagreements exist about how these inequalities are best to be eliminated, so that people can succeed to the level of their own God-given talents and their own hard work, clearly enshrining traitors and war criminals with public statuary and positions of honor does not aid in the ongoing process of overcoming our past.  In many ways, the United States has still yet to come to terms with the Civil War and with the massively racist aspect of many aspects of our history.  Removing these statues is one way of coming to terms with this past by letting ourselves and others know that those who fight for the oppression of other Americans will no longer be honored or held in esteem within our historical memory.  Justice demands nothing less.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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