Confederate Statues: Should They Have Been Taken Down?
In the past few weeks there has been much debate on statues of Confederate soldiers, most notably of General Robert E. Lee. Should these statues stay, or be taken down?
History is important to learn and remember—and often, not to repeat. I understand the idea of celebrating and honoring those in our history who stood for our principles—and not to honor those who did not, even when they were good people with bad ideas.
Robert E. Lee was a great general, and a companionate man. However, he chose to defend the confederacy and slavery. That alone puts him into an entirely different category than someone like Ulysses Grant, who was also once a great general who fought during the late years of the Civil War, and then later became the 18th President of the United States. He was also allegedly a drunk. But, whatever his imperfections may have been, Grant never supported slavery.
But where do we draw the line of what statues or paintings can and cannot be taken down? While it may be acceptable to take down statues of Confederate heroes—those who fought for slavery —my question is: Why would we stop there?
Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren supported the Indian Removal Act of 1830, where the U.S. systematically evicted thousands of Native Americans from their lands, and relocated them elsewhere—denying them their homes and heritage. Many died in the so-called “Trail of Tears.” Jackson and Van Buren supported something that today is viewed by most as reprehensible. Should their statues be torn down? Should Jackson, who was a general in the U.S. Army and annexed Texas, be removed from the $20 bill?
At the outset of WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States. The forced relocation and incarceration in camps dislocated more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, more than 60% of whom were U.S. citizens. Virtually none of them had done anything wrong. History teaches us that what Roosevelt ordered was a gross violation of civil rights and a cruel indictment of innocent people without any due process. He essentially trashed the Constitution. However, he guided the country through most of the Great Depression and World War II, and is considered by many as one of the greatest U.S. presidents. But his behavior towards thousands of innocent people begs the question: should we tear down the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington?
Regardless of where you fall in this debate, the next question is who should be empowered to make the judgment on what stays up, and what gets torn down? I suggest that debate belongs in our local town halls and municipalities —they are the ones who will know that is the best for their communities. Instead of making it a federal or statewide issue, let us leave the decisions to the towns that built the statues for their residents.
In the end, the problem with tearing down statues – Confederate or otherwise – is that it creates a collision between raw emotions and deep, philosophical issues worthy of intelligent debate. The two never mix well and more often than not present the proverbial Hobson’s Choice where the conclusions by both sides do more to feed the controversy and the divisive (and sometimes violent) discourse that follows.