The people arguing against removing statues to Confederate leaders insist "We’re just defending history," adding, "We’re just preserving the memory of the Civil War."
Hogwash. Do those defending the statues believe we’re in any danger of forgetting about the Civil War? And does anyone think a statue of Robert E. Lee in the town square is all that keeps us from total amnesia about the bloodiest chapter in American history, one that divides us to the present day? The clear answer to both questions is "no."
Hiding behind defending history is a poor cover for wanting to continue to lionize Confederate icons. Those rallying in defense of the statues should stop lying to themselves and to everyone else.
Let’s start with the obvious — America is in no danger of forgetting about the Civil War. Roughly 50,000 books have been written on the subject. More books have been written about the Civil War than any event in American history. Virtually every college in the nation has a course on the Civil War and it’s part of almost every public high school’s history curriculum.
1.2 million people visit the Gettysburg battlefield alone each year, not to mention the roughly 130 other preserved battlefields. Americans even do Civil War reenactments. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people watch them every year. These are not people who are going to forget the war.
And what of the monuments serving as a reminder that many people still revere the Confederacy and its generals and leaders? As the events in Charlottesville proved, we’re in no danger of forgetting that, either. The Confederate Battle Flag was on full display among the white nationalists and neo Nazis who brought so much discord. Indeed, the given reason for the "Unite the Right" protest was the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
So if these statues aren’t all that’s keeping us from forgetting our history, do they at least remind us of some aspect of the Civil War that we would otherwise not consider? Again, the answer is "no." Whether or not General Lee was a tactical genius or a flawed leader is already one of the most hotly debated topics in military history.
Those interested in the military tactics and underlying forces determining the war’s outcome are already deeply familiar with the strategies of Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis. Those who want to learn more can read one of the thousands of books about these men. No statue is required.
Those defending the statues should admit what they are — attempts to make Confederate soldiers and leaders into heroes. Their plaques honor the "patriotism, valor, and devotion to duty" of the men who fought for the Confederacy. The statues show General Lee riding valiantly on his famous war horse "Traveler."
They show Jefferson Davis boldly standing and speaking. They don’t show, for instance, General Lee looking over a map and deciding over the advice of his aides and simple common sense to demand the ill-fated and ultimately decisive Pickett’s Charge, arguably the greatest blunder of the Civil War.
It’s no secret why those against removing the Confederate statues argue they’re just "preserving history." The alternative explanation for what they are doing is morally indefensible. They want to make sure that Confederate leaders — men who fought to preserve slavery, men who picked a fight that lead to 600,000 deaths, men who were unapologetically racist — remain revered.
Needless to say, I don’t believe Confederate leaders deserve such respect. But those who do should stop hiding behind the lie that they’re preserving history. They’re not. Let’s have the real debate about the Confederate statues, not the phony one they’d rather have. To the statues’ defenders, I say argue what you actually believe or else let those statues come down.
Neal Urwitz is the Director of External Relations at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a defense and national security think tank in Washington, D.C. He is an expert in media and congressional relations, having also worked for Fortune 500 companies on crisis communications and policy matters. He writes regular commentaries on the state of media in America. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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