In Easton, Pennsylvania stands a massive monument to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. There’s a central column seventy-five feet high surmounted by a statue of a bugler. Around the base are granite statues, plaques, plinths, and a fountained moat. It is massive, ugly, surprisingly tasteless, and dedicated to the honored dead.
And nobody is agitating to have it pulled down.
From Baltimore to Texas, all across the South, monuments to the soldiers of the Confederacy are being removed. Some have plaques listing the names of the fallen; others have only a single regiment or town on the plinth. Many are surprisingly tasteless constructions rendered in similar style to the Easton monument. –But of course nobody’s objecting on aesthetic grounds.
The Confederacy is defeated, its dead long buried, and even the survivors gone to dust. Scarce can anyone be found who even remembers meeting a veteran of that conflict, and its battlefields are now vast parklands which draw thousands of visitors every year. We memorialize there the thousands who fought and died, and following the examples set by such great men as Joshua Chamberlain and Robert E. Lee, we honor the fallen of both armies, that we may heal the wounds that still remain a century and a half later.
Forty years after that war ended, it became fashionable for towns to raise monuments to honor their fallen. In part because it would be unthinkable to ever again raise the regiments to battle our neighbors, many of these statues were planted in the middle of the town squares that had once been left clear to provide a drill ground for the local militia. Now, the time for that militia has passed, and instead of a place for mustering troops we have a patch of parkland.
Every small town in Maine has at least one of these monuments. There’s a tin soldier on a plinth, and it was raised in memory of the honored dead. Most of them date from around 1900, when some very convincing salesmen traveled North and South in search of a market for low-end foundries. They sold in large part because a lot of the boys who marched to war got buried on the battlefield, often with a marker reading “Unknown Union Infantry, Petersburg, #1028”. These are the only memorials they will ever have.
The difference between Maine and Virginia is the uniform on the tin soldier.
There is a movement afoot to pull down the old monuments — not on both sides, just those raised to the losers. The justification (as I understand it) is that the Confederacy was a government dedicated to the preservation of slavery, and that by extension every man who fought to defend it fought to enslave. The logic behind this is a bit thin; following it to its logical conclusion, we’d do as well to remove any monument to the fallen of 1812 and the Revolution, since the United States before 1861 was a nation which kept slaves. This could be stretched to some truly absurd extremes, but it’s immaterial: In any nation where the will of the many has power, there’s no requirement that this collective will must be either logical or reasonable.
Personally, I find it distasteful to remove monuments to the fallen. And yet, I know of one highway which was driven squarely through a cemetery in order to avoid expense. On Revolutionary battlefields that should properly be sacred ground, we now have cheap housing and Wal-Marts. At monuments in our nation’s capitol, protesters gather and burn flags. And much though it galls me, this is as it should be; we’re a free country, with property rights, free expression, and we’re governed by election and referendum.
But some of these monuments and some of the battlefields ought always be preserved no matter how much we need cheap housing. They’re physical representations of our history. And, while books can be burned, rewritten, erased — it’s tough to erase physical relics. This is the very reason that we established national monuments. Today we’re as deeply divided politically as at any time since the Civil War, and it’s vital that we remember its lessons now more than ever.
So far so good. But now I find myself confronted by an ugly fact: that there are those who agree with my desire to venerate history but who also hold odious views on skin color. These misguided souls are militant and organized, and they tend to collect on ground I hold sacred. They have their rallies and marches and they preach their hateful creeds, and because of them the statues I value are torn down even faster.
So now I’ve got another reason to detest the KKK. Just what I wanted.
Note: I’ve not mentioned current politics or political figures because they’re beside the point. They’re all speaking and making statements and condemning each other, and they expect our applause. They want us to direct our hate against the Other Side, as though all Republicans are Klansmen and all Democrats want to rip up gravestones. Personally, I have no wish to direct hate at anyone, and I certainly don’t condemn any one political party more than another. More to the point, at this time I refuse to enable the self-serving buggers by even mentioning their names.