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Confederate Monuments Dishonor Our Heritage - September 2017

posted Sep 27, 2017, 5:57 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By James Garry '20

The United States, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, is at a major political crossroads. The polarization within our ideological landscape has reached a nearly unsustainable level, and communication between Left and Right has all but ceased to exist. Whether it be the soft socialism of Bernie Sanders or right wing populism, political possibilities once thought unpalatable in the United States now present themselves as forces sufficient to motivate large portions of the electorate. Although destabilizing, political turmoil such as the one we find ourselves in now distances us from the status quo and allows us to more objectively examine the political world in which we live. It can push us to question our beliefs and values more deeply and accelerate social change like nothing else. One of the key questions that have been explored is the place Confederate monuments in public life. An honest examination of this issue leaves one inescapable conclusion; that they must be removed from public places of celebration and reverence.
Key to one’s take on the issue is one’s interpretation of the events of the Civil War. Apologists frequently claim that slavery was a minor issue, tangential to the conflict between the Union and Confederacy. The Sons of the Confederacy, an organization of men descended from Confederate veterans, claims that “The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.” Before any productive conversation on the issue can take place, this grave misconception and historical inaccuracy must be succinctly and thoroughly dispelled. The Confederate States rebelled against the Federal government to preserve their ability to maintain slavery. As Ty Seidule, a professor of history at West Point points out, “slavery was, by a large margin, the single most important cause of the Civil War”, adding that “the secession documents of every Southern state made clear, crystal clear that they were leaving the Union in order to protect their ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery.” Even a casual survey of first hand documents of the time reveals a patent and unobscured motivation on the part of Southern states to fight for the preservation of slavery.
To display Confederates monuments in prominent, public positions of honor is thus at odds with our values as both patriots and people of good conscience. In honoring the Confederate military, we honor an institution that sought to tear apart the political order of our country and caused a staggering loss of human life, all in the service of a deeply unethical practice. In memorializing “the Cause”, a term used by the Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization that played the largest role in the establishment of such monuments, we pay honor to a depraved and horrendous worldview; one based in the inhumane subjugation of our fellow Americans. This is not merely a theoretical critique of Confederate memorials, or an assignment of intentionality, motive, or symbolic significance without evidence. An examination of the history of such memorials reveals a clear pattern to their construction. A modern study of the establishment of such monuments by the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals “huge spikes in construction twice during the 20th century: in the early 1900s, and then again in the 1950s and 60s.” The study also notes that these trends came as a reaction to attempts at establishing robust civil rights for black Americans. Jane Dailey, a professor of history at the University of Chicago concludes that “the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past”, but in fact were established with an eye toward “a white supremacist future.” It is thus clear that monuments to the Confederacy were not erected as a simply acknowledgement of history; they were built to perpetuate the legacy of one of the darkest moments in our country’s history and in furtherance of a twisted ideology. This trend indeed continues to this very day, as evidenced by the white nationalist protesters who gathered in Charlottesville in defense of
one such memorial.
Many claim that the removal of Confederate monuments constitutes an “erasing of history.” The memorials to the Confederacy that sit in the parks and public squares of our nation are not archaeological objects, placed long ago in abandoned cities by long dead cultures and people. They do not need to be preserved as though they were windows to a lost world, because they are very much living objects that speak for our own living world. Lt. Stephen Dill Lee, in a speech to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, claimed that his organization was charged with the “guardianship of history.” The notion that history needs to be guarded is a valuable one; we must learn from our history and shape our worldview from accurate historical accounts. In allowing Confederate memorials to remain in places of honor, we allow our history to fall into the hands of treacherous guardians; of those who wish to distort it and expunge from it the lessons that we all must heed.