Confederate Statues, History, and Conflict

Confederate statue, Durham SC, toppled Confederate soldier

Toppled statue in Durham SC

One of the issues raised by the recent—and appalling—neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, is whether taking down Confederate statues of generals and soldiers constitutes erasing history.

Some folks contend that we need to keep these Confederate statues so as to remember the Civil War and the part these men played in it. They claim that removing the statues violates that history.

I disagree completely for three reasons.

Confederate Statues Memorialize Treason

First, the part these men played in American history was to execute a dedicated and violent attempt to destroy the Union so they could maintain an economy and lifestyle that was based on slavery. That constitutes high treason.

Yes, I know that Southerners prefer to the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression but that is just putting lipstick on a pig. Confederate Alexander H. Stephens said in his “cornerstone speech” of 1861 that:

“Our new government is founded upon . . . the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

That seems pretty clear to me. Also, Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3 of Confederate States Constitution, protected slavery in all territories that the Confederacy might conquer or acquire in the future.

Confederate Statues Revise History

Second, leaving the statues up constitutes revisionist history. The monuments glorify these men both generally and specifically. A society raises memorials to men of whom it is proud, not men who perpetrated horrific acts and who tried to destroy their own country. Remember, at the time the Civil War began, the United States had been a nation for only 88 years.

(Yes, I know about Elihu Yale, Lord Jeffery Amherst, John

C. Calhoun and many other slave owners who have been honored with statues for their other achievements. I don’t defend their ownership of human beings but they were not engaged in open, armed rebellion against the Union. There’s a difference.)

We Have Libraries

The Civil War, a Film by Ken BurnsThird, we can remember the Civil War without Confederate statues dominating the very people these men sought to keep in chains. We have books, maps, movies, an amazing film and TV series, and a plethora of documents that detail the history of our great national conflict.

We don’t need huge bronze and stone statues of the men who led their side to an ignominious defeat that left the South impoverished and in ashes for nearly 15 years. This is not a history of which to be proud, regardless of the romantic aura that the Jim Crow South succeeded in creating.

The German Approach

Sometimes it helps to see things from the outside. We spent several days in Germany this year on our Viking River Cruise and saw several ways they address their sordid Nazi history differently.

Germany has no statues of the Nazi (National Socialist Workers Party) leaders who led their entire country to defeat and devastation. We walked through small towns like Wertheim and big cities like Nuremberg and saw no “heroes of the lost cause” standing large and in bronze.

We drove through the enormous, and crumbling, stadium Hitler was building in Nuremberg, past the huge SS barracks, and alongside the parade ground. There were no monuments, no statues, no flags, no rolls of the dead.  We saw pictures of cities that Allied air strikes had bombed into rubble. I read signs that depicted how a cathedral was reconstructed from the few walls left standing. Having to rebuild entire cities constitutes monument enough for them.

The Stolpersteine Project

Stumblestones, Frankfurt, Stolperstein Project, Gunther Demnig

5 Stumblestones in Frankfurt

In several cities, we came upon the Stumble Stones (stolpersteine), that memorialize those people who were murdered or suffered persecution by the Nazis.

These square concrete cubes are being placed at the doorsteps of the last residence or workplace people inhabited before they fell victim to Nazi terror. Each cube is covered with a brass plate bearing their names and life dates of individuals. German artist Gunter Demnig began the Stolpersteine Project in 1992 and it is ongoing.

The Stolperstein Project offers a stark contrast to monuments that glorify Confederate military leaders: they are small, unobtrusive and dedicated to individual victims—not perpetrators—of violence. These victims included Jews, Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, black people, the mentally disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian opposition, Freemasons, and resisters.

He Who Shall Not Be Named

Germans don’t mention their names. Our tour guides never used Hitler’s name. They called him things like, “the short man with the funny mustache.” By turning him into He Who Shall Not Be Named, they take away his influence and his power. The south does the opposite when it puts men on pedestals with messages like,

“The world shall yet decide, in truth’s clear, far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray, and died with Lee, were in the right.”
Monument in Anderson County, South Carolina

Lenin, Statue of Lenin,

Statue of Lenin Topples

On this issue, I side with those who want the statues removed. It’s no coincidence that people pulled down statues of Stalin and Lenin after the Soviet Union fell.

They understood the power of each monument and the implicit message it conveyed by looming over public squares. We cheered them when these monuments to Communism crumpled.

It’s about time we did the same here in the United States.

If you consider yourself an American, how can you glamorize men who did their best to destroy your country before it had reached its first century? If you believe in the romance of the Confederacy, how can you consider yourself a patriot? If you consider yourself a decent human being, how can you lionize men who thought slavery was the greater good?

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

11 thoughts on “Confederate Statues, History, and Conflict

  1. JFK – admirer of Hitler in the 1930’s.

    Margaret Sanger – sought black genocide.

    MLK Jr – Opposed gay marriage.

    • In replying to your emails, David, I have to say that you don’t get it. While the people you mention certainly held noxious beliefs and may have committed heinous acts, they never took up armed rebellion against their own country. They may have done bad things but they were not traitors. The men these statues honor committed treason. They sought to destroy the Union. That is the difference — and it is a huge difference.

      • Yes, the Confederacy sought to destroy the union.

        They were all DEMOCRATS. Just like a Democrat founded the KKK, the Democrats passed the Jim Crow laws, the Democrats passed marriage license laws to prevent interracial marriage, the Democrats passed gun control laws to keep blacks from fighting their hooded enforcement arm…

        DEMOCRATS turned hoses on civil rights protestors. DEMOCRATS posted police to keep blacks from attending schools.

        Democrats have taken the side of America’s enemies since Vietnam.

        • That’s correct as far as it goes. It all changed in 1964. That’s when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and lost the south for the Democrats. Richard Nixon followed up by implementing his Southern Strategy to get racist Democrats to join the Republican Party. They did and in droves. That’s when the Dixiecrats became Republicans and the Republicans became the party of racist bigots. Nixon et al they made a conscious effort to recruit those people into the party and changed the party by doing so. You can’t choose which part of history you want to recognize and which to ignore.

      • Don’t forget, in the infamous “Dred Scott” SCOTUS decision, the seven YES votes were… you guessed it, DEMOCRATS. The two NO votes? Republicans.

        And it was a DEMOCRAT President who passed the “great society”, bragging how he’d have the “n*ggers voting Democratic for the next two hundred years.”

        Congrats, Democrats, you’ve turned a proud, noble people into lab animals pulling the “D” lever every two years in exchange for a free cage and pellets.

  2. So let’s take down Bill Clinton’s statue – multiply-accused rapist.

    Let’s take down Wilson and Truman – openly racist.

    Let’s take down FDR – traitor to the Constitution and limited government.

    Be consistent.

    • These statues do not honor history. They promote revisionist history — one in which these men are heroes instead of traitors. Stop with the “what about-ism” and take a clear look. The southern civil war memorials are there to create a whole new brand for the south, one in which they were sinned against instead of sinning, one in which they are victims of betrayal instead of betrayers, one in which slavery is pushed to the back and ignored in favor of other causes that put them in a more favorable light. They should all come down.

      • And after the Confederacy, then Christopher Columbus. Oh, wait, that’s happened. Lincoln? Oh, wait, that’s already happened.

        And then it will be books. Your brownshirts are already after websites that have nothing to do with the Nazis but are merely to the right of Stalin.

        And then it will be people. Oh, wait, people are being stabbed because they have a “Nazi-like” haircut. People are being assaulted because they have a pro-Trump hat. People are being poisoned because they speak out against Islamic Jihad.

        Ultimately, this is about destroying America. And then Western Civilization itself.

          • Hate-filled?

            I’m not the one assaulting people walking down the street. Or gathering up urine and feces in plastic bags to hurl them. Or petitioning paypal to block accounts. Or doxing people who disagree with me. Or, or, or.

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