In a recent interview with Fox News White House Chief of Staff John Kelly commented on the Civil War and attributed the cause of the war to a "lack of ability to compromise." Some expressed surprise and condemned the fact that Kelly did not mention slavery as the root cause of the conflict. The comments have reignited the debate over the many Confederate monuments found throughout the southern United States.
The Great Monuments Debate stems from the events of the Civil War when 11 Southern States initially seceded from the United States after Republican Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln won the general election becoming President of the United States. President Lincoln condoned the future expansion of slavery to the West and may have wanted to end the institution altogether. The confederacy was born from 11 States and eventually enveloping four more States with Virginia as its most Northern border. The debate today surrounds the since erected monuments commemorating soldiers, generals, battles and leaders from the Confederate side and their roles in the Civil War whom Americans against these monuments say only commemorates slavery, and provides a platform for hate and racism in the South and across the country.
Do Confederate Monuments deserve to remain erected on public land?
The Great Monuments Debate from the Left
The recent debates and controversy surrounding Civil War statues and monuments in the Southern United States have made one thing abundantly clear: the symbolic meaning of these monuments differs greatly depending on one's ethnic background and political persuasion.
For many liberals and African-Americans the monuments represent a glorification of the antebellum south and the fight to preserve slavery which has no place in the modern United States. For those on the political right, the statues commemorate people who, despite fighting on the side which sought to uphold slavery, nonetheless fought with courage and honour. To those on the right the suggestion that the monuments be removed represents an attack on history, culture, and the ability of white people in the South to be proud of their past. Then, of course, there are those in the middle who are so often over-looked by the media in polarizing debates such as this one. These people wonder if there might be some middle ground whereby we can remember this contentious period and the associated historical figures without appearing to celebrate slavery and racism.
When considering how to proceed with such a polarizing issue we should remember that the situation is not without precedent. In the aftermath of WWII in Germany most reminders of the Nazi regime were removed or destroyed although it became evident over time that not all traces could be removed. Even today Nazi-era buildings remain, many with large information boards (not small plaques) prominently displayed explaining the history of the building. Other sites associated with Nazi Germany have been converted into, or replaced with, museums. In Budapest, statues from Hungary's Soviet Era have been moved to Memento Park - a sort of open-air museum where the statues are given a proper historical context.
Obviously, no two histories are alike; Robert E. Lee was no Adolf Hitler by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless, the experience in other countries shows both that the status quo is not an option, and that solutions can be found. If these Confederate monuments are to remain displayed, in any venue, then it will have to be done in a way that acknowledges the historical wrong of slavery. Unfortunately, John Kelly's comments earlier this week once again displays that the current U.S. administration is more interested in glossing over or rewriting history than in properly confronting it. The Germans, as they often do, have a unique word for the problem facing Americans -Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. In German it means "the enduring confrontation with the past." Perhaps, the political right in America should familiarise themselves with this concept because no matter how hard they try to hide from the past, it will always come back to haunt us.
The Great Monuments Debate from the Right
Arguing that confederate monuments not be dismantled is not the same as supporting the confederate’s ideology of white supremacy and condoning the confederate rebellion which led to the Civil War. Further, after the collapse of the Confederacy those Americans rejoined the union and have been patriots ever since. These were brethren fighting brethren not brethren fighting foreign armies where in victory commemorating the enemy has no post-war sentimental value nor reconciliation purpose, although perhaps it should. Both Confederates and Unionists would trudge on in the aftermath to forge the country to how it is today. Both sides should not let some of this history, especially of the losing side, fade away. Notwithstanding the slavery-perpetuating purpose of the Confederacy, the creation, defense and administration of the Confederacy involved many acts of human courage, intelligence, loyalty, steadfastness and other generally-recognized human virtues. It is these virtues and not the perpetuation of slavery that are commemorated by the monuments in question.
During the acceleration of Christianization of the Eastern Roman Empire in the seventh and eighth centuries, Emperors had to deal with the debate over the destruction of Great Monuments of the Old Roman Gods. The old Roman Gods were seen as symbols of paganism and represented a Godless nation of sinners whose ideals and values no longer resonated with modern Christian Roman culture. Emperors were conflicted with their great past and beginnings and what it meant to be a Roman, yet they also had to balance their past with what protected Rome now, the Christian God as they knew it, which meant a lot during these tumultuous days as the rise of Islam nearly collapsed the Eastern Roman Empire.
While the parallel is not perfect, the similarities with the Confederate Monument debate are clear. Do Americans turn their back on who they were, and how they came to be, by destroying these monuments, even if a some of them have a dark meaning to some people? In our article, http://theleftyrightyshow.com/nfl-anthem-protests/ the right argued that the Civil war birthed what would become modern American Patriotism draped in flags and song. Robert E. Lee resigned from the Union Army siding with the Confederacy after Virginia seceded. If he had not, perhaps he would have been a Union hero, his statutes adorning the countryside. Lee was well-respected by his adversaries and should be considered a “Great American Leader”. History has dubbed him one of the greatest generals of all time. Shouldn’t the civil war, arguably the second most important event in American history behind Independence, be commemorated in ways representing both Confederates and Unionists in some fashion?
Final thoughts. We should remember that when people take extreme measures to prevent things they fear most from happening, sometimes they only succeed in bringing them about. Is it not better to remember this struggle to help invigorate people to never forget the moral, constitutional and political crises of the time? The right believes so now, and as history will show, future Americans will believe so also.