The Civil War era is one of the single most important times in the history of our country and even the world. Never or since has the United States been so diametrically split and it should never be forgotten or glossed over. It should go without saying that such a bloody period in history was also one of the defining moments in the protection of freedom for all American citizens.
In the last year or so there has been a great surge in demand to have icons removed that glorify America’s confederate past. In one sense, I completely understand the idea that icons of hate and bigotry, not to mention treason, should be maintained by the public trust. For the ignorant, in this case, I’m referring to those who simply can’t accept that the war is over and the Union won.
Add to that the century and a half that has passed and that there is no one left alive who should harbor any of those feelings. But hate and bigotry seem to be inherited and I guess there will always be people who are programmed by previous generations to be despicable.
Possibly more reprehensible is that even the workers assigned to remove these monuments were receiving death threats. Those most recently assigned to the task wore masks to protect themselves and their families.
Please try to remember, the memorials being removed are not commemorating or celebrating the men who fought and died – no one should ever forget Americans who lost their lives defending their country. Nor were these markers to the confederacy and the Confederate flags flying over state houses and public buildings in the south to honor the leaders of that short-lived nation. They were originally put in place for a far more sinister purpose.
I think Isaac Bailey, a South Carolina journalist, put it best in his story from CNN last week. He wrote, “They were installed and flown as an everyday reminder to black Southerners, that their homes are not their own, that their bodies can be taken the way their ancestors were, that their voices don’t matter.”
No one is suggesting we forget the Civil War, or the part the south played, as well as those southerners who were opposed to slavery, but quite the opposite. As was once said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We shouldn’t forget the C.S.A. or the loyal Americans who lived there during such a trying time.
But, at the same time, we should also remember the reason for this most bloody of all U.S. wars, the potential, perpetual oppression of an entire race and who knows how many other races to come after them. The Civil War would have happened at some point, even if not when it did.
A great many people believe that it’s time for these memorials to come down. Not to disassociate ourselves from the war but to keep in mind that we are now one country, there is no “north and south” as it was then. Commemorating the history is one thing, perpetuating the hate is quite another.
We need also to keep in mind that, the cause of the war aside, both sides did some pretty horrific things during the Civil War; rape, murder, burning entire towns, the whole thing was a tragedy beyond imagination. Just because the north won, doesn’t mean it happened with dignity.
So what should happen to these monuments once they are removed? Should they be destroyed, never have eyes laid upon them again? Should they be preserved or sold to private owners to recover the cost of their removal?
Monuments are erected by those living in the moment or within recent memory of it, and often the memorial itself offers no context for the viewer. Preserving the markers is probably best for history’s sake, but they should reside in a museum setting for posterity, along with a full explanation and context.
People need to understand what happened, in its entirety. And, to remind those who just can’t seem to accept it that the war is over, and they lost.
Gery L. Deer is a local resident and weekly columnist.