I have watched the hate in the last few days in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am having a hard time seeing all of the hatred, the violence, and the disregard for human life. I have been heartened by some words from our government leaders down to the people on social media hiding behind screen names. I have been equally or more dismayed by some words from our government leaders down to the people on social media hiding behind screen names. I know what I believe about hatred, racism, and violence. But I have a problem because I can understand several points of view on the monuments to Confederate soldiers.
- They are offensive to many of our fellow Americans. I get it. When a country, state, county, or community erects monuments and memorials on public ground, it should be something that doesn’t glorify the oppression of, the mistreatment of, the murders of our fellow citizens. Public monuments should not represent the people, organizations, or events that were aimed at obliterating, killing, harming, or enslaving our fellow citizens. Members of the community should not be faced with the glorification of their oppressors, made to pay for the maintenance of the monuments, or see these objects as representative of their elected leaders. I can understand that when you live with the realities of racism every single day of your life, you will be much more aware and impacted by these images – by the Confederate flag flying over the same building where you come for justice, by Robert E. Lee perched atop a horse watching you and your children at play in a city park, or Stonewall Jackson atop his mount looming over the mounted police officer surveying the traffic as you make your way to work.
- They are history and we must remember and learn from it. I get it. The Civil War is a part of our history. If we forget our history, we are doomed to repeat it. We cannot sweep slavery, a union torn asunder, and the people who died in the pursuit of their cause under the rug and pretend they didn’t happen. Much of history is ugly. History involves learning about how people lived their daily lives. It means learning about the people who lead, those who made a difference, those who were innovative. Unfortunately history is as much about war, genocide, uprisings, ethnic cleansing, prejudices and hatred. History is messy. It gets ugly. But it is important for us to learn what happened, why it happened, and how it influenced how we live today. Many travelers to Germany today can visit Auschwitz today. While the Germans cannot be proud of that element of their history, they have let it stand as a testimony to what happened and as a warning of the ugliness that can be perpetrated by human beings agains other humans. The history of the Civil War is the history of brother against brother – in most cases figuratively as soldiers fought and killed his own countryman. In some cases literally as family members fought and killed their own kin. If we look at dystopian books, they have often altered history to fit a narrative or to excuse the discomforting effects of the truth. We cannot allow that to happen.
- These monuments honor traitors. Having said that I understand historical relevance, I also get that the Confederate States of America lost. They separated themselves from the United States of America and fought against their former country. They declared and waged war against our government and our citizens. That makes them traitors. Why do we honor traitors? Why do we honor those who attacked and killed Americans? Certainly England didn’t erect statues to honor George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others. We built those monuments here because they were on our side and we won. Had we lost, I’m pretty sure that we would be reading about the evil rebels who tried to overthrow the crown, but we wouldn’t be visiting the monuments and memorials that surround the National Mall in Washington. We don’t have statues glorifying Benedict Arnold or signs saying “Benedict Arnold slept here.” Likewise we did not erect statues honoring Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo, or other leaders who waged war against the USA. Those too are our history. We can learn about them, study the effects of their actions, and remember them without idolizing them and certainly without erecting monuments in their honor. I also know that some of those who claim to be honoring their history are merely using that as an excuse to bolster their prejudices. I had students who wanted to fly the Confederate flag because it was their “heritage” and their “history” – except they lived in the north and I had seen their grades and knew they didn’t give a flying flip about history!
- There are places that seem to be worth discussing under a separate set of criteria. Living near Gettysburg shines a different kind of light on Confederate vs Union monuments and even the stars and bars flag. The battlefield at Gettysburg is the cite of an actual battle of the Civil War. People come there to learn about the battle and the war. To scrub any evidence of the Confederacy from the site would be wrong because it would not be an accurate, historical picture. The statue of Lee upon his horse is on the battlefield and is positioned where the man watched his troops fighting the battle. I see this monument within the scope of telling the story of the battle rather than glorifying the man. He led CSA troops. He was right there. He was part of the story. People who come to this site come there to learn about the battle. This is different that a regular town park, a government building, or town square.
So what is the answer?
I don’t know.
Here is what I do know.
- None of the emotional response, the fear, the anger, etc will be assuaged by violence.
- Angry words and name calling will do nothing.
- Taking the law into your own hands and defacing public monuments makes you a criminal and escalates the angry rhetoric.
- PEACEFUL protests to make your opinions known are probably necessary. This does not mean coming to the protest armed, carrying signs and wearing t-shirts designed to incite violence, and screaming hate rhetoric.
- Demonizing the other side does nothing to change minds or make anyone see the rationale of your point of view. I will listen to someone trying to explain what they believe or think. However, if you call the opposition vile names, make sweeping generalizations about “all those _______,” or get defensive and talk over my questions, then I am never going to hear you. (Have you noticed how willing people are to tell us why they are AGAINST the other side – because the other side is stupid, evil, ignorant, un-American etc. – but not real good at explaining what they are FOR?)
- We need to really pay attention to the people who are running for office. We need to look at each candidate as an individual. We need to get away from voting on just one issue, by political party only, or by listening to what they say instead of looking at what they have done so far.
- I know we need to pray for our country. Pray for our leaders. Pray for those who suffer, who live in fear, who are being eaten away by anger. Pray for our neighbors – no matter where they are, what they believe, or who they are. (Read Luke 10:25-37 if you aren’t sure of who your “neighbor” is.) Pray for peace and understanding. Pray for real leaders and heroes to come forward.