Many people have observed that Confederate memorials were mainly erected in defiance of progress towards civil rights for liberated slaves and their descendants. If so, this is exactly why they should remain. We do not build war memorials to celebrate war, but as a reminder of the tragic cost of war and a warning to future generations. Recent events make clear that we still need these warnings and reminders that violence will not heal our divisions and that silencing unpopular opinions through force will not bring peace.
The Civil War settled some things, but for a full century afterwards, Southern Democrats used political means where military means had failed to perpetuate a de facto state of bondage based on the color of people’s skin. Every monument to the vanquished military leaders is in truth also a monument to some politician who manipulated public opinion to prolong racial and sectional animosity. In this respect, I would like to believe these monuments now represent a double defeat–although perhaps, sadly, it is still too soon to say so.
By removing these memorials, we sanitize the history of the South as though the Civil War magically healed the nation, when in fact war does precisely the opposite. These memorials were built because a majority of the people in the South continued to hold racist and secessionist views–a fact which should give us pause about the wisdom of the majority. Just because something is popular does not mean it is right and just, and our Constitution provides checks on the power of the people–and of the states–for precisely this reason.
If the Republic is to persevere, we need to be reminded that oppression and persecutions are a significant and pernicious part of our history and that we must be vigilant in every generation. Democrats want to remove this history without taking the blame for it and without acknowledging the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that they perpetuate to this very day. The louder they clamor, and the more unpopular it becomes to oppose them (thanks to the despicable stunts of these hate-mongering fringe groups), the more they must be resisted.
That we are still having bloody disputes about these statues now is, to my mind, proof that they are still needed, because we still have not learned the lessons of history that they can teach us. These generals may be dead and gone, but people who share their hateful worldview are still with us. Instead of wrapping themselves in insular urban “safe spaces,” liberals need to be confronted with the reality that ugly and vile ideas still loom in plain sight, and furthermore, that violence will only perpetuate it for yet another century.
Removing statues is akin to suppressing the views of those with whom we disagree. Making ugly things go away from our immediate field of view may seem like a victory for a time, but forcing our opponents into hiding is not the same as conversion. All the memorials in the world to General Grant and General Sherman won’t change this fact, and every statue of General Lee that is destroyed will only confirm it. In a perfect world, every statue in the public square would be a saint, but we do not live in a perfect world. It is altogether fitting then that we preserve monuments to human folly and hubris, lest we think better of ourselves than we truly deserve.