Question Of The Week: 8/21-8/27/17
There have been a lot of hot tempers because of the Confederate monument debate, but we hope we’ve been able to add some thoughtful perspective to the overall discussion. What insights have you gained over the course of the past week or so?
8 Responses to Question Of The Week: 8/21-8/27/17
One of the best pieces I’ve read on the subject was a recent column written by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. He compares the way Germans remember the Nazis with the way most Southerners remember the Civil War. While the Nazi’s Holocaust was worse than Southern slavery, both were detestable and unspeakably cruel – a blight on both nations, Cohen notes. With slavery, families were ripped apart, slave women raped and slaves who didn’t work fast enough were tortured.
Germans have come to grips with the evil of Nazism, Cohen writes. Instead of honoring Nazis and the fine generals, like Erwin Rommel, who enabled them, Germans have erected monuments to those who suffered from the Holocaust and those few Germans who opposed the Nazis, Cohen writes. (FYI: Unlike Lee and other Confederate generals, Rommel eventually opposed the evil of Nazism and was forced to commit suicide when his opposition was discovered. Now that’s what I call real bravery.)
Conversely, Southerners – especially the historically challenged Lost Causers – have erected monuments to the defenders of America’s greatest sin, Cohen notes.
Bob: Good points (and the only one I’d disagree with is that about Rommel – he may not have been SS but his forces facilitated the conquests by an evil regime and its “policy” in those lands – he decided to take action only when he figured out that Hitler’s war was doomed – where was he in 1940 in France or 1941-42 in the Desert?). Germans haven’t tried to look at what happened in the 1930’s through the lens of their own gripes about government, etc. in 2017. Far too many of the Lost Cause crowd has no real understanding of what went down in 1860 or why because they’re too busy yammering about modern political issues.
One thing that was positive about this – mostly reasoned discussion in the comments and only a little of the resort to ridiculous labels and threats to unsubscribe because an opposing view was posted.
Thanks to ECW for providing the forum on Confederate Monuments. As you note, tempers did flare as they do around discussion of a hot button issue and in the shadow of an event as dramatic and tragic as the one occurring Charlottesville last Saturday. I found both the articles and the discussion– as well as the flare ups– informative, (in a good way) challenging and transformative.
A former teacher and now a National Park Service education consultant and park volunteer, I was smug in my conviction that the importance of historic preservation and the opportunities for teachable moments the monuments offer about the Civil War, slavery and reconstruction should override removal. Period. As did several of the ECW blog authors and commenters, however, I now find my monumental assumptions challenged and my position has changed.
While the teacher in me has not yet abandoned the hope that some pubic monuments might stay where they stand to be preserved and contextualized in ways that help viewers interpret the realities of the Civil War and the Lost Cause(1), I now am amenable to removal, but only after the kind of community/civic process some ECW authors advocated in their articles. If monuments remain, I would advocate for interpretation that places them in a historical context, as opposed to simply glorifying the individuals and events they represent. I’d definitely fight against taking monuments off national or state battlefield parks. And both the preservationist and the teacher in me feels public monuments should not be destroyed if removed, but placed in a museum or other institution, to preserve American history (and American art) and, hopefully, to be reinterpreted and used as tools for teaching future generations Civil War history.
One could argue that one of the groups that rallied in Charlottesville to fight against removal of Lee’s statue might obtain some monuments and erect a kind of right wing or Lost Cause theme park. That might happen. But no matter how this Monumental Discussion evolves, Confederate monuments— just like Confederate flags— will continue to act as lightning rods for the kind of racists and hate mongers who assembled in Charlottesville last week, partly under the subterfuge of protecting Southern Heritage. As will the voids and memories those monuments will leave behind when and if they are removed. The best we can do, I believe, is to reinterpret or remove/relocate the monuments and use them, to the best of our ability, to examine and interpret our past.
(1) For a look outside of the ECW blogosphere on this issue, review the news on Richmond’s Monument Ave. Commission and the leadership on the issue by the city’s African American mayor, Levar Stoney. Prior to Charlottesville, the commission and the mayor appeared headed towards a proposal to let the monuments stand, but to contextualize them with signage, additional monuments, etc. (https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/mayor-stoney-announces-a-commission-on-monument-avenue-statues/Content?oid=3720059) Post-Charlottesville, as many of you already know, the mayor and some on the commission now lean towards removal. (http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-richmond-confederate-monuments-08182017-story.html)
That many people believe if you take down the statues and other symbols of the Confederacy that it never happened. Probably one of the most quoted phrases I’ve heard in my 40 years of life is if you forget the past you’re doomed to repeat it, so why don’t we care down all the statues flags and everything that reminds us of the Civil War, pretend it never happened, and all those that perished can be completely forgotten forgiving the ultimate sacrifice and then people will slowly stop touring the battlefields which will just be Hills with trees no markers no statues no anything commemorating what happened and that should fix all of America’s problems. At least according to those that have the least understanding of the Civil War because I have found through social media and network news it is the least educated most ignorant people knowledge wise on the Civil War that want to tear everything down. Political correctness to steal a phrase from the many civil war books I’ve read has hopefully I pray reached its high-water mark because if it hasn’t this country is going to lose everything it stands for.
You could think of the statues as poor branding of American ideals, and that taking them and putting them in museums or cemeteries will make people feel better about America.
Personally, I hope some of the statues stay up for posterity’s sake. Lost Cause monuments are a part of our history and can teach posterity about our past.
Also my own sentiment, probably the most well written article on the subject so far has been one by a student at Washington & Lee university.
Sadly many students will not approach the issue with the same degree of maturity this individual did, as they have been taught that if it offends, it must be made to disappear.
Graham, thanks so much for sharing the W&L student newspaper editorial. It was very well written and very informative to get his first-person experiences on the complexities of the monument issue. Very relevant to out Monumental Discussion, and it has some great links to other articles related to the controversy. What I especially loved was that the author did not get on a soap box. He just told his story.