Removing all statues? Not so fast

Over the course of the dialogue surrounding Confederate monuments, the motivations of those calling for their removal have varied widely. To truly take a sober analysis of the question before us, we should differentiate between the various motives and rationale, and see which pass muster.

The most obvious, and I think legitimate, argument for removing Confederate monuments is what they represent. 

It is irrefutable that the monuments explicitly memorialize the Civil War, and the Confederacy in particular. The room for debate within this line of reasoning focuses on the difference between honoring the Confederacy and honoring the men who fought under its banner. I do not think a distinction is merited. 

Many would proffer that the men who fought for the Confederacy were hesitant or reluctant to fight, and for some, indeed this was true. North Carolina as a state had many citizens, especially in the mountains, who opposed the war. 

Though the number of slaves may have been great, many were concentrated in the hands of the wealthier plantation owners, ergo the saying “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s battle.”

But does this absolve the rebel soldier? I think not. Treason is treason, and we should not soften history by forgetting that it was the Confederacy that sought to dissolve the Union. Under these arguments, I think that the removal of Confederate monuments could be soundly defended.

I do not write this column to belittle the issue of racism, or slavery especially. It strikes me that delving into the intricacies of this debate are necessary and useful. Broad generalizations abound regarding the motives behind removal, and a nuanced defense is necessary for the camp calling for Silent Sam to come down.

What I fear as too much of a reach is the movement toward condemning Silent Sam and similar monuments as racist statuary. 

Again, circumstance is paramount. As a soldier engaged in secession and open rebellion against the United States, I think the justification is obvious. But if we try and frame its removal as a reaction to racism, specifically the defense of slavery, I find it more tenuous. 

Opponents of Confederate monument removal have made the argument that removing statues simply because of perceived racism would inevitably lead to a slippery slope. This argument clearly has merit: students at UVA covered the Thomas Jefferson statue in a black shroud amid signs calling Jefferson a racist and a rapist. 

Students of history know the context of these accusations, but it is hard to see where exactly the criticism would end. How can you quantify one person’s actions relative to their life as a whole and then decide if that justifies removal of their statue? I don’t think you can. 

All conversations are worth having, but there must be some distinction, some clear metric for this. How can we reasonably impose the morals and beliefs of a 21st century America on our forebears from a remarkably different time and place?

Thanks for reading.

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