Why the Civil War must be explained in greater depth rather than just removing statues

By Joao Cunha

At the heart of the debate of whether Confederate statues should stay or be taken down, there is a misunderstanding of what these statues actually signify. Those who want to maintain these statues argue that they are not only a part of American history, but that these statues celebrate the soldiers who died in the war. While there are some statues that were erected at the end of the war, the vast majority weren’t. In fact according to the Southern Poverty Law Center the majority of these statues were erected after 1900, peaking in 2 specific time periods. Between 1900 and 1920, when Jim Crow laws were implemented in the south, and 1950-1960 during the Civil Rights movement. Instead of honoring the fallen victims of the Civil War, these statues were created to intimidate African-Americans. These statues were not even thought of in the 1860’s as a way to honor the dead.

As Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering” highlights, the idea f a “good death” was prevent throughout North and South.  (22) The “Good Death” consisted of people dying with their bodies intact, so their spirit in their afterlife would reflect their physical bodies. However the sheer carnage of the war made the task of keeping the bodies intact bodies almost impossible. So many Americans mourned and were concerned with the fates of the fallen soldiers. To help the grieving process and use it for a patriotic purpose, the fallen soldiers became a symbol for making sure that their lives weren’t lost in vain. (269-270) :Lincoln even used the Gettysburg address as a way to rally mourning Americans to remember the noble cause of the war which was to free the enslaved. The commemoration in this sense should be to honor those who fought in the war but those who fought to free slaves. As the Civil War was a war, primarily about slavery. The war wasn’t as much about states’s rights as it was for the maintenance of the institution of slavery. However many Americans don’t know that slavery was the main reason for the Civil War, as many attribute the war to states’ rights. According to the Pew Research Center only about 38 percent of Americans think the Civil war is about while Slavery, while 48 percent believe the war was about States’s rights. Which is a problem because without this knowledge, it is hard to convince people that these statues aren’t appropriate ways to honor the lives lost during the war. So how do we solve this problem?

I think it starts with educating people about what really happened in the Civil War, that it isn’t a mere rivalry between the North and the South. That this a war that liberated millions of enslaved individuals into freedom and those brave people should be commentated just as much as the soldiers. There should be more statues of brave African-Americans who fought fir their freedom. There should be an acknowledgement that the enslaved played a crucial role in their own freedom and to teach people about that history. However I don’t think it’s practical to take down the monuments that are already in place. Instead there should be additional information or plaques put on those monuments to explain what those statues represent. It is vital to explain these confederate statues and what the men fighting for the South actually fought for. That the confederate soldiers even if they believed that they fought for states’s rights, the reality is that they fought for the preservation of slavery. This additional information would be a far more effective way to inform people about the Civil War. There are unintended consequences to removing the statues as some of the people who would disagree with the move would just be more entrenched in their beliefs.


This statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia caused so much furor when it was debated whether or not to take down the monument that far-right agitators caused mob violence and led to the eventually death of Heather Heyer. The resulting media firestorm did little to actually resolve the issue as both sides became entrenched in their beliefs. Based on this example I don’t think that merely taking down statues will actually be enough to change people’s minds about venerating the Confederacy.  Robert E :Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia courtesy of Newsweek

The goal should be teach as many people as possible about how to honor those who died in the war and for the cause that many of those men fought for. So in the future many of the people who commentate the memorials and statues of the confederates can understand that they should honor something else. That way they can properly honor the fallen and celebrate the freedom that this war gave to many millions of Americans.

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