It's past time to remove Confederate statues
I've heard it said that a Southern man tells better jokes. They can spin a yarn, no doubt. It's also a fact that, following the Civil War, Southern "historians," fable-tellers and myth-makers were better at propagating their version of the war than their compatriots up North — or maybe they were just more focused on the task.
The "Lost Cause" version of the Civil War paints the Confederacy as the great underdogs who were battling for states' rights. That tone, that story, has glamorized and softened the Confederate effort and motives.
The real impetus of the war, let it never be forgotten, was the issue of slavery, whether to limit it or, as a growing number in the North called for, eliminate it. The South was fighting to save its "way of life" and its economy and cultural structure, for sure — but at the core of all of that structure was the vile institution of slavery.
The bloody four years of the Civil War kept the nation "united" as the North was victorious. But the true inspiration for the war, the fallacy that Caucasians are superior, did not go away after Robert E. Lee capitulated. Legal lynchings, Jim Crow laws, an entrenched and powerful KKK, and segregation continued at various levels for a century, until the brutal but glorious civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Civil War wasn't about states' rights any more than World War II was about Germany's discontent over the World War I treaty. There was a deeper, evil motivation on one side of the battle.
And this brings us to the now red-hot movement to remove Confederate statues and monuments throughout the land. It's an issue the entire country has taken interest in — and for good reason. It's a question that rests at the core of our nation's soul: Who are we and what do we stand for?
The modern South has moved a thousand miles from where it was in 1865, and even 1965. Since the Civil War, the great Southern states have produced more than their share of statesmen and women, Black leaders who endured so much to move us forward, artists, athletes, writers and, yes, military leaders who weren't treasonists. Rename schools and streets after them and build new monuments to new heroes.
Through such "Lost Cause" versions of the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, who chose the rebellion over fighting for our country, became the hero general of the Civil War. Meanwhile, U.S. Grant, who turned the tide of the war with victories in the western front before being called in to defeat Lee in the East — which he did — is an afterthought compared to the glorified Lee.
Should Civil War museums exist and battle sites be honored? Absolutely. And that's where honest presentation on Lee and the Southern effort should be showcased.
A common argument against the removal of Civil War statues and monuments is that it somehow puts us on the same level as the Taliban or other rogue elements that destroy the history of regimes it replaces. That seems a hollow argument. The debate over Confederate idolatry has raged for years and is not a flippant reaction. Sure, the mood of 2020, the awakening to cultural strife, has moved it to the forefront. But that's where it belongs.
The long slog to reduce racism in this country is a day-by-day effort, and it has been since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Accepting that honoring Confederate leaders is honoring those who chose slavery over keeping our nation united is a big step forward in that effort. It's time.
This isn't a call to eliminate a statue of anyone who ever owned a slave or said racist statements. Someone else will have to take up that quest, and it's one I wouldn't support. But eliminating Confederate warriors from places of high honor, those who took up arms to destroy our country and maintain slavery, seems the correct call. Besides, since when does America honor those who committed treason and who lost?
America has more than its share of military leaders to take pride in, to celebrate, to honor. This Fourth of July season is a perfect time to reflect on that fact. But it's also a great time — here in this tumultuous 2020 when we are rapidly becoming more culturally aware — to contemplate whether or not it is indeed time to act. It's time to systematically relegate Confederate leaders to museums and to take their monuments down from community squares and other places of honor. Their cause was lost, for sure, but it was also unjust, unholy, unrighteous and thankfully, upon their defeat, then as it is now, unAmerican.
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