Keep the Confederate Monument in Fort Sanders
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This Is Not About Honoring Confederate Principles
Plenty of Americans would like nothing more than to see them go. They ask, why shouldn’t we get rid of these monuments? After all, the Confederacy was a rebellion of slave states that cost the lives of some 620,000 Americans and left the country shattered. If it was right to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse in South Carolina, why not the statues and obelisks?
There is good reason to leave the monuments where they stand, but let’s be clear. The reason for keeping them has nothing to do with honoring the cause of the Confederacy or the memory of slavery. Even though many of them were erected for that purpose in the decades spanning the 1870s to the 1930s, that should not be our purpose for keeping them now.
The case for keeping our Confederate monuments has everything to do with preserving our history, the better to understand it. The history of the Civil War and the Confederacy is complicated and, even to this day, painful for some Americans. But a standing monument isn’t the same as a flag flying in a place of honor. Monuments become part of our landscape down through the decades, and their physical presence testifies to the past in a way that museums cannot.
This is especially true of our Civil War monuments. Something as central to American history as the war between North and South should impose on us and demand our attention—not so that we can honor the principles of the Confederacy, but so we can understand and remember who we were and all we suffered to survive the Civil War and remain one nation.
Progressives claim a special prerogative to purge our public spaces of disfavored symbols and monuments, whether of the Confederacy or other historical figures whose views are now offensive by contemporary standards. It’s not enough, they say, to add plaques that give greater historical context or add Unionist monuments alongside Confederate ones. That should tell you something.
The drive to erase the Confederacy from our public squares isn’t really about unity or tolerance. It’s about power and politics. Censoring historical symbols is after all the cousin of censoring speech and inquiry. Hence the spectacle of Mayor Landrieu explaining how the Confederacy was “on the wrong side of history,” even as he rips up historical monuments in the name of progress.
At a time when the divisions in our country are deepening, and Americans are sorting themselves into increasingly hostile factions, we could do worse than to gaze on Confederate statues, contemplate their reasons for fighting, and consider what it took to put the country back together.
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