The American civil war of 1862 saw the nation torn by conflict as the people fought to decide what sort of county they would be – a confederation of sovereign states, or a single united America (McPherson 2018). While the conflict may have ended 153 years ago, it left the roots of key cultural identities strewn deep within the individuals of the USA. Now, following the death of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church shooting the heritage of this monumental historic is under threat – or at least part of it is (Suerth, 2017).

charlottesville
Figure 1 – The Charlottesville Riot

With race-orientated violence increasing in the US, the Charleston shooting led to the Virginian city of Charlottesville choosing to remove their statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee – a decision which incited white nationalist protests and subsequent counter protests which led to violent clashes and the death of one individual (Suerth, 2017). Following the Charlottesville clash, it is now a subject of consideration for many local governments, each ‘weighing whether to keep Confederate memorials’ in their towns or cities (Suerth, 2017).

It is a struggle to look at the southern cause in a good light, as despite rallying cries about states’ rights and ‘independent governments’ a number of they key legislative arguments were in regards to slavery (Kershner, 2018). Slavery was an immoral and dark time in human history, one which the west is still evidently reeling from today if the events of Charleston are anything to go by, yet the argument remains should the events of this war be forgotten? Despite it all, confederate figures such as Robert E Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson achieved great military feats during the conflict a number of which are considered today as military genius. Should the men be celebrated for their achievements, or forgotten because of the moral standpoint they fought for? Each year, the United States celebrates the fourth of July, yet George Washington himself was a slaveholder (Ambrose, 2002). Should statues and heritage concerned with the first president also be removed? The morals of the whole situation remain definitively grey.

Yet even Robert E Lee himself opposed the building of confederate statues as they would ‘just keep open the wars many wounds’ (Romero, 2017). Considering this, especially after the events of Charleston, it is perhaps a viable point to remove these public statues, as the culture and heritage they portray is manipulated into a rallying point for the darkest parts of western culture. The nature of a civil was is difficult, because the victors and losers must always rebuild together and it is often tempting to sweep the negative cultural implications under the rug. Yet the events should not be forgotten, and actions such as the toppling of the ‘Silent Sam’ confederate statue at the University of North Carolina should be treated with condemnation (Theobald, 2018).

A Sheriff's deputy stands near the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier in front of the old Durham County Courthouse in Durham
Figure 2 – A Destroyed Confederate Statue

In conclusion, the current political and social climate, public statues are perhaps not the best way to inspire the remembrance of history and the celebration of the strong nation which has built itself together after this devastating conflict. Yet there is no excuse for the reckless destruction of these statues, and if public display is not acceptable, they deserve a place in museums to be preserved and remembered properly. American as a nation has had a much shorter lifespan that other western countries and it is important to remember all of the history and resulting heritage that has shaped the nation, even if it comes from a darker moral area.

By Stuart Johnstone

 

References

Ambrose, Stephen. (2002). Founding Fathers and Slaveholders. Available: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/founding-fathers-and-slaveholders-72262393/. Last accessed 11/10/2018.

Kershner, Ashlyn . (2018). States’ Rights & the Civil War. Available: https://study.com/academy/lesson/states-rights-the-civil-war.html. Last accessed 11/10/2018.

McPherson, James. (2018 ). A Brief Overview of the American Civil War. Available: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/brief-overview-american-civil-war. Last accessed 11/10/2018.

Romero, Simon. (2017). ‘The Lees Are Complex’: Descendants Grapple With a Rebel General’s Legacy. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/us/lee-family-confederate-monuments-legacy.html. Last accessed 11/10/2018.

Suerth, Jessica. (2017). Here are the Confederate memorials that will be removed after Charlottesville. Available: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/15/us/confederate-memorial-removal-us-trnd/index.html. Last accessed 11/10/2018.

Images

Features Image – https://cele.sog.unc.edu/the-danger-of-confederate-statues-and-the-danger-of-removing-them/

Image 1 – https://nypost.com/2018/08/08/emergency-declared-ahead-of-charlottesville-anniversary/

Image 2 –  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-virginia-protests-statues-idUSKCN1AV0XE

 

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