Our Confederate Soldiers

Note: Here is a quick essay I wrote for my ethics class today…not polished and not sure I completely agree with all these points, but wanted to throw it out there. The point was to model a short essay…particularly one that touches on a subject in a way that Aristotle might (for you nerds, think ‘telos’ for ‘purpose’ below).

The confederate soldier monument on the Denton courthouse square should be removed and placed in a museum. Now, that may prove to be a political impossibility or perhaps a practical impossibility (i.e., it may crumble into pieces with an attempted move). If that is the case, then a compensatory monument should be erected on the north side of the square. It should celebrate the progress of civil rights and racial justice in this country, even though that is a halting and incomplete journey.

Either way, we can no longer steer the path of the status quo. The reasons have to do with both purpose and place.

First, the purpose of a monument is not just for remembering and educating but also for honoring. In this case, the remembering is all well and good. The civil war is indeed part of our history, and such a vital part that we should never forget it or the people who died in it and lived through it. Doubtlessly, many of those people displayed virtues that are worthy of honor as well as remembrance.

But I don’t think this is so in the case of “our confederate soldiers.” Their courage and sacrifice were in defense of a way of life centered on dehumanizing, oppressing, and plundering an entire race of people. The cause, in this case, infects the virtues and renders them into vices. There is no honor in fighting bravely for the supposed right to rob others of their freedom. To honor them with a monument is to honor the brutality that was slavery. We should remember our shameful past – in textbooks and museums – but we should not glorify it.

The second reason to remove the monument has to do with the character of the downtown square. This is the heart of Denton, the focal point that gathers us as a people. It is where we come together in celebration with music and ritual. It is the symbol of who we are as a community.

The confederate statue is the only monument on the square other than a veterans memorial (and John B. Denton’s grave, though that is not as visually prominent). It gives the false impression that somehow the confederacy is of such defining importance to our identity that it should be the one of only two monuments thrusting above the heads in the crowds at twilight tunes, at the 4th of July Parade, or at the holiday tree lighting festival. But it does not represent us – certainly not the best that is in us or that has come from this place. It is not so singularly defining as to merit its unique prominence at the very hearth of our community.

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8 thoughts on “Our Confederate Soldiers

  1. The statue is a vivid reminder of the past. If we forget, or otherwise choose to ignore our past, then we may be doomed to repeat it. So to remove the statue entirely would be a foolish gesture; but to relocate it to a museum would preserve the historical memory without leaving the impression of honor on confederate soldiers. However, because of my experience in studying the justice system and the law, the statue speaks to me on a deeper level; I see the statue as a representation of the deep-seated feelings of racism that still permeate through society. I see the statue as a reminder that there are people out there who relate to that confederate soldier, who walk the streets just like any other person.

    It is inherently wrong to honor those who fought to oppress and discriminate, regardless of any “redeemable” qualities they may have exhibited. If we honor those whose ultimate aim is to wield power or control over another, then that decision reflects onto us as a society and shows that we approve of those actions and/or the motivations behind them.

  2. I broadly agree with Caitlin with respect to the hazards of historical erasure, but I wonder if removal to a museum would be much different. It makes sense to remove symbols of an ideology (say, National Socialism) from a place of power, yes. But once we begin to remove all symbols of “those who fought to oppress and discriminate,” then where can we stop? Can we validly exclude any symbol of the United States? From some perspectives, anyone who fought for the US *at any time* did so for exploitative reasons. Do we remove the Vietnam Wall and Arlington National Cemetery, as well? How can we claim that the Confederate soldiers’ memorial is a symbol of racism, while neglecting the courthouse itself as a monument to colonialism? When can we stop destroying in an attempt to sanitize our public facade?

    To my mind, removal would actually be a moral problem–a denial of the past, by removing the evidence from public view. It seems to me that the memorial is material history–our past inscribed in stone. As such, it is part of our evolving national conversation about who it is we’re talking about when we say “we”. From this perspective, the intentions of the dead are less relevant than a continuing engagement with racism as an obstacle to prosocial living. It seems to me that that conversation should not be removed to a museum, but kept in the eternal present. I strongly believe that pairing this memorial with a monument to overcoming racism would be a more philosophic–as well as a more honest–choice.

  3. “If we forget, or otherwise choose to ignore our past, then we may be doomed to repeat it.” Is this statement really trying to make the point that we could mistakenly fall back into slavery without a loud reminder telling people we’re proud of the soldiers that fought for slavery? If not, please clarify how we may be doomed to repeat ‘it’ if the horrible statute is removed, but if your statement is making that point, then your experience studying law obviously fell well short of logic. We don’t need a glorifying statute to remember that slavery happened in this country. We don’t need a glorifying statute to remember that the confederate soldiers fought to keep slavery in this country. Nobody needs a glorifying statute to ensure we never ignore those facts. Taking down this glorifying statute will not bring back slavery. Keeping the glorifying statute, however, does perpetuate the hatred those soldiers fought to keep. If you are worried about not repeating the past, then we should have a Civil War memorial, which would be similarly fashioned like the Vietnam Wall and Arlington National Cemetery. We are not remembering the war or slavery, the glorifying statute only serves to remember the soldiers that defended slavery. Why is anyone still defending that position?

  4. Leave the statue and dispense with the discussion. There are much too many more important issues to be concerned with. The statue is a part of history. It doesn’t bother me at all. What does bother me is the senseless rhetoric of a few radicals who are wasting their time arguing as malcontents.

  5. Good points, Adam. If you were to expand on this essay, you might include the context and time in history when the memorial was erected. That point would strengthen the second part of your first reason for removal. I believe many people honor the cause more than honoring those who gave their life for it. “Our” is such a vital word on the memorial. “Our” doesn’t include me nor does it include so many people who pass the site daily. In fact, the word and the memorial itself are an affront to those whose families were most effected by the oppression that the memorial implies. Thanks for keeping this topic alive. This is a major theme of the novel I’m currently working on. Can you imagine how important an issue it would be if it was accidently knocked down and the debate became: should it be built back? or in the same place?

  6. Adam, I love this discussion and the civil approach by you and the commentators. Two points; I agree with a couple of the comments that any monument, whether you agree with its sentiment or not, is an opportunity to debate it’s part in history and how that fits into our current beliefs. Next, not all soldiers of the confederacy wanted to serve in its army or believed in slavery. Many just wanted to protect their farms and states. Thus was recently reinforced to me at the German cemetery in Normandy.

    Finally, the war was fought over a divided path between an industrialized north and agrarian south with slavery as a centerpoint of that economy (federal rights v. state rights). The monument should also remind us that the 13th amendment was passed with the support of the states with the 15th amendment soon to follow which guaranteed voting rights regardless of race or color (left out gender). See what good discussion can come from a contoversial monument? Much better than censorship.

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