Since the terrorist attack against anti-racism counter-protesters at the Charlottesville, VA “Unite the Right” demonstration, there has been furious debate on the place of Confederate monuments in this country. Supporters of the monuments, including the president, argue that the monuments are meant to celebrate Southern pride, and that removing them is tantamount to erasing history. On the other side of the debate, activists argue that monuments place those who fought for slavery on a pedestal of honor and serve as constant reminders of racism.
Let’s examine some of these points. Are the monuments meant to celebrate Southern pride? While it is certainly true that this is how some people legitimately see them today, I would argue that history supports a different original intention. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were two periods when the erection of Confederate monuments was particularly high: the early 1900s when Jim Crow laws were being enacted and during the Civil Rights movement. People may have coincidentally felt a lot of Southern pride during these points in history, or maybe Confederate monuments served to intimidate blacks and remind them that white Southerners were in control.
There is also the idea that maybe Southerners shouldn’t feel pride for their ancestors who were traitors to the United States, both the country and its ideals. The Confederacy seceded from the Union so that they could continue enslaving a race of human beings for no better reason than their different skin color. That’s not something I personally would want to celebrate. It’s the reason there are no Nazi monuments in Germany. The Nazis fought for a hateful ideology and killed millions, so their ancestors decided not to celebrate them.
This brings us to the point about erasing history. We look at Germany and we see they don’t have monuments for Nazis. Despite this, I’m pretty sure they still remember World War II and the Holocaust.
An important distinction about monuments is that they serve to celebrate certain aspects of our history and are not necessary to remember them. Any student around the world can learn about World War II through textbooks, museums, the Internet and other resources despite the fact that there are no monuments to those who fought on the German side. Thus, the argument that taking down Confederate monuments amounts to erasing history does not hold water.
As an aside, I would like to rehash the fact that the Confederacy in essence betrayed the Union. I would go as far as to say that they were collectively worse traitors than Benedict Arnold, because he just did it for money and his wife and not so he could continue enslaving people. My point in referencing the treasonous nature of the Confederacy is that the same people who want the monuments to stay up are generally the same people who blow a fuse when a football player doesn’t stand for the national anthem. Now, this may just be me, but I think celebrating a bunch of racist traitors is a little more disrespectful to our country than sitting for the national anthem because the racism they represented is still alive and well.
The question is what to do with the monuments. At the very least, it seems reasonable to remove them from prominent display, especially in places of importance like courthouses, the U.S. Capitol, or Mississippi’s state flag. No matter the individual opinions of the people or symbols the monuments celebrate, they are irrevocably tied to the stain of slavery and racism and do not deserve places of honor in any community.
I do not think we necessarily must destroy the monuments, however. To paraphrase Indiana Jones, “They belong in a museum!” Put them somewhere that they can serve as an aid to learning about the Confederacy and American Civil War, not where they serve as a public celebration of racism and intolerance. There are better ways to honor one’s heritage and better ways to remember history.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.