By Nadine Blank
*Disclaimer: I do not sympathize with the Confederacy or their racist, slavery-driven cause in any context. However, some ideologies and ideas cannot be unlearned and instead of trying hopelessly to change minds, I am simply offering a compromise between two extremely passionate sides. *
In the past year, there has been a slew of controversy over the removal of Confederate monuments across the country, and both sides are opening wounds that run deeper than the surface issue of “good versus evil.” As a country, we have failed to find common ground on what the statues are actually made to represent. Many, such as the president of the University of Texas at Austin, believe “that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” while others, particularly in the South, find the display of their Confederate heritage to be inspiring, comforting even. In order to find closure in one of our nation’s ugliest scars, our country must compromise with a balance of memorialization and criticism rather than polarizing ourselves further with glorification and condemnation of individual soldiers.
Photo of the Statue of Robert E. Lee being taken down at the University of Texas at Austin, courtesy of The New York Times
First, we must find a way to agree that Confederate memorials belong in museums and cemeteries, not town squares. The anti-Confederacy argument is centered around lack of public context of these alleged heroes who were frankly the enemy of the United States. However, there may be a pro-Confederate heritage argument here as well. According to Drew Faust in the book This Republic of Suffering, Americans of the nineteenth century believed in “sacred reverence and care” of the body as a physical and spiritual identity, and Civil War soldiers were deeply concerned for their remains once they died (62). How then, would these men feel if they knew that their sacred bodies were replicated in town squares, left to be desecrated by the elements? How would they feel, knowing that symbols of their sacrifice were being used as propaganda during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era? While racism was a deep-seeded ideal in the South during the Civil War, more eternally so was the idea of a “decent burial.” How can one’s burial be decent if his image is used endlessly to stir up controversy and fear? How can descendants of the Confederacy argue against this disrespect?
Similarly, we must realize that by publicly dragging out the legacy of the Confederate loss, we are not only fueling fear and hatred toward people of color, but we are exacerbating the devastation of both Union and Confederate soldiers that died for their cause to be settled almost two centuries ago. The “Good Death,” which Faust basically describes as the art of dying “well,” cannot be achieved as long as we are looking back and dredging up the details in a secular setting (6). The soldiers that died knew that their business was to die, and they welcomed death in order to be remembered as men who sacrificed for their country; many did not even fight for Confederate cause, per se—they fought to sacrifice their lives (5). In a cemetery or even a museum, these soldiers would be remembered not only in a fair, unbiased context, but also in a context that gives them the big-picture finality and legacy that a “Good Death” should. Instead, these statues and monuments are reminders of the losing side and the rebels that weren’t strong enough to win.
To conclude, it is essential that for all parties involved, these statues should be taken down and put somewhere more appropriate to their history. To achieve this, we must have support from all Americans, not just one side. Arlington has room, and the Smithsonian has room. What are we waiting for?
Bromwich, Jonah Engel. “University of Texas at Austin Removes Confederate Statues in Overnight Operation.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Aug. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/us/texas-austin-confederate-statues.html.