Confederate Memorials Must Come Down

Image via Daily Signal

There is no reason to celebrate those who fought to preserve slavery.

The Civil War was fought over slavery. More specifically, the South’s attempt to maintain it versus the North’s attempt to stop its spread. You can try to dilute the true nature of the Civil War by painting it as a battle of states’ rights, or by claiming it was about protecting the Southern economy. But when someone says that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, ask them this: States’ rights to do what? When the answer isn’t “to own black people,” I’ll re-consider my stance on what the Civil War was really fought over. And as for arguing that the Civil War was an economic fight, the livelihood of the antebellum American South depended heavily upon white southerners having the right to own black slaves. Protecting the economy meant protecting slavery, and vice versa.

Over one-hundred and fifty years later, the debate over whether or not Confederate memorials should remain standing on U.S. soil continues. Proponents of preserving the memorials talk about honoring their Southern heritage and those who died to protect it, but you can’t argue “heritage not hate” when your heritage is firmly rooted in hate. Obviously, not every Confederate soldier was a racist or hateful person. There were surely plenty of soldiers on both sides who didn’t really know what they were fighting for, or who were fighting only to avoid being disowned by their families. However, the benefit of the doubt that we may give the average Confederate soldier is undeserved by Confederate war generals who were at the very forefront of the battle to preserve slavery.

Honoring the legacies of men who knowingly fought to enslave the ancestors of American citizens is an abhorrent and hateful practice. The Confederacy is not something that deserves honor or commemoration. It deserves only solemn remembrance so that we can ensure an abomination like slavery and the Civil War never repeats itself.

The Confederacy was based on immoral, cruel and racist principles. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Confederacy was also the product of treason. When the rebel states attempted to secede from the nation beginning in 1860, they were committing what many consider to be the highest crime that can be perpetrated against one’s country. Yet the very same people who today say they support Donald Trump and his “America first” immigration policies because they love and are loyal to the United States see no irony in proudly supporting the Confederacy, a group of rebels who hated their President and what he stood for so much they tried to up and leave America. Celebrating the efforts of Confederate soldiers is about as un-American as it gets.

But even if you don’t care about patriotism or treason, there is still a fundamental issue with supporting a group like the Confederacy. We’ve established that the main focus of the Confederacy was to uphold slavery. If you care more about expressing your pride for your Southern roots than you do about the devastating impact slavery had on a great number of human lives, there is an issue. Furthermore, although supporting the Confederacy to any capacity is hateful and tasteless, this is a discussion over the public display of Confederate memorials that are government owned, not an attempt to stifle your freedom of expression. Removing public memorials that stand for bigotry is a step in the right direction for a country that badly needs to work to resolve the many racial issues it continues to face. It’s one thing to feel loyalty to your home state of Alabama or South Carolina, or to be interested in Southern history. It’s quite another to decide that because your great-great-great-grandfather died fighting for the Confederacy, or because you’re racist, or both, you want to advocate for the maintenance of memorials that are a painful reminder of the bigotry and cruelty that has always been a part of the American political and social landscape. It requires a great deal of selfishness to not be able to see past your own agenda when the issue at stake involves the systematic marginalization of African-Americans in the United States.

Finally, many proponents of keeping the memorials as they argue that it’s important to remember our history so that we don’t repeat it. This would be perfectly acceptable if our Confederate memorials were a means of condemning the actions taken by the Confederacy. For reference, here is a link to a website that provides information on a Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Whereas Confederate memorials in America depict war generals as these incredibly powerful and brave heroes, Holocaust memorials like this one are a somber acknowledgment of atrocities committed by a government against its people. The celebration of those who fought to keep slavery alive is not even close to the careful preservation of our history so that we avoid repeating past mistakes.

As an American, you are free to believe whatever you want. However, you are not entitled to a government that caters to your personal beliefs. If the idea of the government choosing not to endorse the glorification of hate and racism is upsetting to you, it probably isn’t because you are a passionate defender of American freedoms. The American government has not only the right but an obligation to make the judgment call that Confederate memorials should be removed because of the bigotry they stand for.

Cassie Kuhn is a student at the University of Alabama. She has written for the university's paper, The Crimson White.

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