With the recent spate of calls to remove monuments and statues dedicated to the Confederacy and Confederate officers, certain individuals/presidents in this country have taken the stance that we shouldn't remove these monuments honoring the most treasonous, hateful event in our country's history - and for a variety of reasons.
The problem, however, is that all of the reasons are bullshit. Here's why:
1. "It's erasing history!"
To say removing monuments is the equivalent of "erasing history" means one of two things:
- You don't know a lot about history if all of your knowledge about history comes from statues
- You have never heard of books, museums, documentaries, or any written record of past events
Monuments do not serve to teach history - they are representative iconography meant to elicit an emotional response. The emotional response of things like the Vietnam War Memorial are to remember those who died and sacrificed themselves in the name of their country, while also not celebrating the war itself. It's without heroic statues or anything like that - it's a somber reminder of those we lost. The emotional response offered by Confederate statues of generals and officers is one of honor and respect - General Robert E. Lee looking brave and powerful riding atop his horse, for example. It's not a somber reflection on the horrors of the war fought by the Confederacy in the name of slavery. It offers no critical view of Lee's actions or the men who died fighting for a traitorous rebellion. It's meant to say "Robert E. Lee sure was a noble, great man." And the reality is that THAT view is closer to erasing history than removing the statue.
The history of the Civil War and the Confederacy is well-preserved - there are countless books, memoirs, histories, and letters that offer a full view of the time period, and in much more detail than you would get from a statue. There are museums filled with information, documentaries (notably an extensive, incredible one by Ken Burns), and more. Taking down a statue does nothing but get rid of an eyesore that lionizes a traitor.
2. "It's about heritage, not hate!"
The "heritage" represented by Confederate monuments and statues falls into two categories:
The Confederacy was built on the idea that people had the right to own slaves, that people could be property. You can argue "states' rights" forever, but the context you're leaving out is the right that was at the center of everything was the RIGHT TO OWN SLAVES.
The crux of the Confederacy was treating African-Americans as subhuman - tormenting and torturing them, levels of cruelty that knew no bounds. And celebrating the ones who fought to keep that status quo is not the kind of heritage that should be celebrated. Look to Germany - there's no question that the Third Reich is technically part of the "heritage" of many Germans, but they have the wherewithal to understand it's part of their heritage that they should be ASHAMED of, not something they should take pride in. Not all parts of our past are proud ones, and understanding that should be inherent in the WAY we look back on our heritage.
There are no grand statues of Hitler or Goering in Germany for that very reason - hell, Germany went so far as to ban ALL Nazi symbols (along with any other symbols dedicated to hate groups) and it's mandatory for schools to teach children about the horrors and crimes of the Third Reich. They do not paint a rosy picture of their past, but rather accept it for what it was - a dark, shameful chapter in history.
3. "George Washington was just as bad!"
President Trump: "George Washington was a slave owner... Are we gonna take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?" pic.twitter.com/bUJnbaniwL-- NBC News (@NBCNews) August 15, 2017
Agreed! George Washington was a slave owner - to say "well, he was good, other than owning human beings" is a pretty grim moral position to take (even considering he DID emancipate them upon his death). And it's not like "times were different back then" - plenty of people knew slavery was wrong back then. There were abolitionists abound in Washington's day, and countries were working to ban the slave trade (those that ever had it to begin with, that is) as early as 1792. To portray him as a grand hero fighting for the maxim of "all men are created equal" is pretty disingenuous considering he only truly fought for the rights of white land owners.
And still, removing statues of Washington (or whomever else) won't do a thing to erase their legacy or the good deeds they were involved in. Taking down a statue is nothing more than getting rid of one, individual symbol designed to honor that person and brush aside their negative qualities. If anything, taking down statues might help us all appreciate the truth of these flawed individuals in a clearer light.
If the thing giving you the most trouble in life is that people want to take down statues of people who have been dead for several hundred years, you've got a pretty easy life.
4. "They're pretty!"
Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You.....-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
...can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also...-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
...the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
This one's subjective, but it's not hard to imagine being able to replace statues lionizing individuals who fought for treason and slavery with something pretty that....doesn't have racism inextricably linked? Just a suggestion.
Then again, some of them ARE truly beautiful and could not be replicated in any meaningful sense. So again, I compel this country and its people to leave this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest alone: