Charlottesville and the Confederate Statue Debate
Unite the Right Rally (Charlottesville, VA - August 11-12, 2017) and statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Let's get a baseline
Should Confederate statues and memorials be removed?
First, there is no defensible basis for keeping Confederate statues and monuments. There was nothing noble about the Civil War or the Confederacy; both were about the enslavement of another race and the murder of hundreds of thousands of US soldiers. Thus, there is no reason to honor or celebrate Confederate individuals.
And while it should go without saying, let's say it anyway for our left side of the bell curve President and supporters; there is no equivalence between removing a Civil War statue with removing a statue of George Washington.
Second, removing Confederate statues and monuments is neither erasing history nor forgetting our heritage. We must ensure the history is never lost; we must have first rate history books and education for the difficult truths of this era. We must ensure the culture of the era is never lost. We must build museums to remember our history and heritage, especially when the history and heritage are complex and challenging.
Third, we commemorate and remember tragic events, like remembrances built for the Trail of Tears or Japanese internment camps. We don't build statues celebrating the individuals responsible for them.
Last, with the usual defenses for Confederate statues and monuments debunked, the remaining and most likely reason for keeping these monuments is (a) an implicit denial that the Confederacy was wrong, (b) a proxy for racial resentment, or (c) all of the above.
Here's a funny sidebar before we start: The Confederate flag
The defenders of the Civil War and the Confederate flag
What is the first and most important requirement of any expert? What qualifies their statements?
They demonstrate mastery of a specific body of knowledge.
What's a quick way to assess Confederate monument defenders? They don't even use the correct flag (see above).
Would you believe a single word from your optometrist if they examined your elbow? Would you take legal advice from someone who studied art history?
Let's begin: The Confederate War, public statues, and monuments
The Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, VA reminded us of something we don't like to acknowledge; not everyone believes that, "...all men are created equal." Whether it is the KKK and Confederacy defenders or Anti-semites and neo-Nazis, we were all forced to look hated in the face.
The real tragedy is what was once implicitly understood as a disgraceful display of humanity, turned into something deemed debatable. Thanks again cable news. No, really.......good job. /golf clap
Simply put. No. There is nothing redeemable about the KKK. There is nothing redeemable about neo-Nazis. There is nothing debatable about hate groups.
The next thing should also go without saying. What extremists want, is never a good thing.
So, what did they want?
The stated purpose of the Unite the Right Rally was to oppose the removal of the Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia.
So, let's evaluate whether removing Confederate monuments and statues is the right step forward or the "destruction of our heritage."
Well, to discuss the removal of monuments and statues, it cannot be done without addressing the morality of the subject matter. I wrote another article about the Civil War, and came to two very simple conclusions; (1) the Civil War was absolutely and completely about slavery and (2) the act of secession and the killing of US troops was treason.
Thus, the obvious conclusion is, to honor and celebrate Confederate monuments from the Civil War is to honor and celebrate villainy.
Lets put the Civil War into context
The Civil War had the greatest number of American casualties of any war, nearly 500,000. While Word War II was fairly close with just over 400,000 casualties, those casualties were from total service members exceeding 16 million, or approximately 2.5% of total service members. The Civil War? 15% of total service members were killed during the Civil War.
There is nothing romantic about the Civil War. It was brutal, bloody, tragic, unnecessary, and immoral.
Military deaths by war
Total Service Members
World War II
World War I
War of 1812
Desert Shield / Desert Storm
Indian Wars (VA estimate)
Statues of Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, Daniel Boone, and Commodore John Barry
Celebrating and remembering our history and heritage
Throughout history and across countless civilizations, people have built monuments and statues to honor and celebrate great people and events.
As Americans, we rightfully are proud of our country's accomplishments, the virtues they represent, and the individuals who contributed to the greatness of our country. And like every other society, we celebrate, honor, and memorialize these great individuals.
And who are some of these great individuals who have contributed to our country's greatness? Most are easily recognized, like our founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin, Some are folk heroes, like Paul Revere or Daniel Boone. Others have played pivotal roles in our country's history with less notoriety, like Commodore John Barry, who is credited as "The Father of the American Navy".
What do they all have in common? They were important contributors to our country's greatness. They achieved great things and their memorials are meant to honor and remember them.
From this standpoint, there is no argument supporting erecting and maintaining Confederate statues. Slavery isn't an accomplishment or virtuous. The individuals who killed US soldiers to protect the institution of slavery aren't heroes. The individuals who killed US soldiers for secession and treason aren't heroes. There is no equivalence to the subject matter between Confederate memorials and any other memorials.
Statue of Andrew Jackson, Boot Monument, and Mexican-American War Memorial
Well, not everything is that clear cut, we still honor imperfect heroes though, right?
Yes, yes we do. And this is a perfect way to demonstrate the issue.
Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. He is best known for two things. First, he was the Major General who defeated a much larger British force in the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812. Second, during his presidency, Jackson is most remembered for the Indian Removal Act and specifically the Trail of Tears; the forced removal of some 16,000 Cherokee and other Indian nations and deaths of some 4,000 people along the march.
So, how are these two noteworthy events commemorated? In Jackson Square in New Orleans, there is a statue of Andrew Jackson on his horse, honoring the man and his military victory. For the Trail of Tears on the other hand, there are a number of monuments acknowledging the tragedy and suffering of those who were forced from their homes.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of our most famous modern era Presidents even has a place in this discussion. He is remembered as the President who helped get the US through the Great Depression, reassured Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and guided us through World War II. Japanese Internment Camps? Not so much. We commemorate and acknowledge the suffering endured by the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned but we certainly don't honor FDR for this.
Alright. Perfect. A person with a mixed history of good and bad makes a very compelling case for what should be commemorated and what should not. Let's go a step further. Benedict Arnold. He was a traitor and defector to the British during the Revolutionary War where he was planning on surrendering the military installation at West Point, New York to the British in 1780. Despite his infamy, the Boot Monument in Saratoga, New York was constructed to honor his contribution in the Battles of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War as a Major General in the Continental Army. Granted, his name is no where on the statue itself, but even for a traitor, good acts can be honored.
Well alright, by this logic, can't Robert E. Lee be commemorated for something aside from the Civil War? Well, Lee distinguished himself as an aide to General Winfield Scott and effective reconnaissance staff officer during the Mexican-American war. Alright, but Robert E. Lee statues are of him in his Confederate uniform, not of him in his US Army Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel uniform. Also, I don't know of any other aide or reconnaissance staff officer being memorialized.
Fine, can't a statue of Lee in his Confederate statue be like a memorial for Japanese Internment Camps? Maybe...but he'd have to be surrendering his sword, certainly not riding atop a horse.
Trail of Tears Monument at New Echota and Monument Honoring Japanese Internees
Surely we can agree that Nazis are bad and that anything they want isn't a good thing.
And to those who say, "Don't be so politically correct, they just have a different opinion," tell me this; would you still feel that way if they picked up your daughter for a date. And if you're okay with that, then God help you.
It's time we stop taking a side of an issue because we dislike who is on the other side. Conservatives regularly and justifiably argue that they shouldn't be lumped in with bigots and racists just because they vote for the same candidates. I agree, but that means you shouldn't support their issues either. At that point, yes, you should be lumped in with them.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we started taking a position on the merits of the issue itself and not the political affiliation of the participants. It is a small but incredibly important step towards meaningful dialogue.