Confederate Monuments: History or Hate

Yes, the headline is intentionally provocative as is the issue at hand.

I am not usually one that jumps on the bandwagon for the latest cause or subject but since I have some pretty strong feelings on the subject I thought I would add my voice to the debate on the issue of the removal of the monuments to Confederates in the South and other places.

I have heard the argument that removing these monuments is denying history, but I disagree, if we needed monuments to teach history, or to even remind us of the past, we would not be able to walk around cities like Boston or Philadelphia for the sheer number of monuments that would be necessary for all of the events that happened in these two cities.

History can be taught, and remembered, in context, without any monuments or statues for the collective memory of the nation is how we learn history.  Monuments, by their very nature, are designed to glorify a particular person or event, and if that person or event should not be praised, then there should not be a monument to that person.  For example, I have searched the internet and have found no references to pictures of Adolph Hitler in Germany, but they certainly do not deny their Nazi history.  I also recall that after the fall of Communism in Russia a concerted effort was made to remove statues of Lenin and Stalin, and I do not think Russians deny their history by the removal of these monuments.

As a living historian, I will admit to a little bit of romance when it comes to the Civil War, brother against brother, and all that.  I get that there is some nobility in fighting for what one believes in, and granted by this definition the founders of the United States were traitors, which is true, the difference is self-government was granted at the close of the Revolutionary War, this was not the case at the end of the Civil War.

If we wish to be accurate about our history, then we need to call the leaders of the rebellion what they were, and that is traitors to the United States of America.  Now before you go and get all righteous about Confederate being granted veterans status and what not, I do not buy that argument for a second.  These men took up arms against their country and by that very definition are traitors, if they were not, why did President Johnson pardon those 1868?

The pardon document reads in part:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Andrew Johnson President of the United States, by virtue of the power and authority in me vested by the Constitution and in the name of the sovereign people of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare unconditionally and without reservation, to all and to every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.

A pardon does not mean that the crime was not committed, it means the guilty cannot be prosecuted for it.  Treason still happened, and we do not glorify treason.

Monuments have their proper place in the wider context of the history of the Civil War, and that begins with telling the truth about what the war was fought over.  All one needs to do is read the various Documents of Secession to realize the overarching issue was the right of white people to own black people.  I have also heard the argument that many of our founding fathers owned slaves, and this is true; however, they did not take up arms against their country to try and prevent slavery from ending as did the leaders of the Confederacy.  Sure, the Civil War is a very complicated time in our history, but if we hold to the statement that the war was not about slavery then we are not telling the truth about our history, in fact, we are rewriting it.

Shortly after the shootings at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, an effort was begun to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the North Carolina State House.  The flag was flying as part of a memorial to those who gave their lives in the war, but for many that particular flag has come to be a symbol of hatred and because of that, the time had come for it to be removed.  The meaning of symbols change over time, although in my opinion that flag has always stood for oppression, and this one certainly had changed.  When they symbol has lost its original meaning and is now being used as a symbol of hate and oppression, it just cannot be used any longer.

Our history is very complicated and the further away from the actual events the more complex it becomes.  One cannot tell the history of the Civil War without telling the story of slavery in the United States.  And one cannot memorialize the leaders of the rebellion without telling the whole story of what they were, traitors, and what they were advocating slavery.