By: Clayton Lewis
In recent weeks, the United States has faced a difficult issue: whether or not it should rid itself of monuments dedicated to the would-be Confederate States of America. Like any argument, there are two sides to this dilemma: those who advocate for the removal of these monuments, and those who don’t. Both sides have presented their reasoning behind their stance: those who wish for the monuments to be removed claim that the preservation of Confederate monuments is active promotion of racism within the United States, while those who wish for the monuments to stay argue that attempting to remove the monuments is effectively an attempt to erase American history. The entire argument began in Charlottesville, Virginia, where it was announced to residents that the proposal to remove the town’s monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee had been brought to the city council’s attention. In response to this announcement, a group of white supremacist protesters took to the streets of Charlottesville in opposition to this decision; they hid their true intentions behind the claim the removal Robert E. Lee’s monument would effectively be an attempt at censoring the history of the United States. Protests began on the night of August thirteenth with white supremacists carrying lit torches and symbols of white supremacy across the college campuses in Charlottesville. On the morning of August fourteenth the white supremacist protestors were met with opposition from counter protestors, and as we all know the tension between the two groups would soon boil over into acts of violence.
In the month following the protests and violence in Charlottesville, it’s quite clear to see which side of the argument has taken more favor with the American public. To most Americans it’s common sense to question the commemoration of traitors to the Union, after all what seems so commendable about a group of racists and enemies of the Union? So far over twenty Confederate monuments have been removed across the United States, with proposals of removal pending over another twenty.
New York Times reporter Holland Cotter has said: “The citizen in me – daily witness, like every other American, to viral racism, the national disease – embraces the possibility of unloading traces of its history.” Personally, I find this notion to be absurd; simply because certain sections of a nation’s history are questionable does not mean that we can simply discard them in the hopes that they are forgotten. In the words of George Santayana, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” This same belief is what was used as an excuse by the white supremacists of Charlottesville, and while this belief was most certainly presented in vain by this group, I myself think that it’s fair to say that they did, albeit unintentionally, present an interesting point: that we should not censor or discard portions of our nation’s history. I myself am not a white supremacist, but I do find that it’s crucial for a nation or even people in general to be aware of and learn from their past mistakes.To exemplify my point I’d like to make reference to the current education system of Germany. In Germany it is required that all students are taught extensively on the topics of human rights and the holocaust. Or; these requirements were put in place in the hopes that teaching younger generations about the horrors enacted upon the Jews of Europe from the perspective of modern-day Germany would discourage the potential for another holocaust, whether it be enacted against the Jews or any number of other ethnic groups throughout the world. And while it could be argued that this feature in the German education system is effectively brainwashing, I don’t think that anyone would argue that what it’s hoping to accomplish could possibly be negative.
Currently the United States does not have such a drastic system in place in relation to racism or the Civil War, but I feel that these Confederate monuments could be used to accomplish a similar goal to that of Germany’s education system. On the surface level, Confederate monuments could be placed in museums simply to give a better visual of the Confederates and their leaders, but I feel that using them for this simple purpose would be a waste of much of their potential. Many of the Confederate monuments that stand in the United States today were constructed long after the conclusion of the Civil War, some of them even being constructed several decades into the twentieth century; this fact could be used to exemplify the key failure of the Civil War. While the Civil War did effectively bring an end to slavery in the United States, it did not bring an end to racism in the United States. This point is exemplified in the construction of these monuments all the way into the twentieth century and could be an interesting segue into discussing the evolution and progression of racism in the US by means of the systematic racism of the Jim Crow Laws and the faux-slavery of sharecropping. The United States has made many mistakes in its time on this earth and we cannot become ignorant to that fact, while none of us enjoy the remembrance of our wrongdoings we must do our best to accept and learn from them; the issue surrounding these Confederate monuments is no different. We must learn from the mistakes of our nation’s past so that we might progress forward.