The talk about statues dedicated to, and schools and even U.S. Army forts named after, leaders of the Confederacy, which fell more than 150 years ago, begs the question. What should be the discussion about the underlying issue?
The simple act of removing statues might be symbolically significant, but won’t change the past. Nor will renaming schools, streets and government buildings. Certainly, it would remove the day-in, day-out reminder to a large number of Americans that their ancestors, although living here, were not considered citizens of the country. In fact, in the Confederacy, many of their ancestors were slaves.
We can understand how some Americans would view statues placed prominently in public places to memorialize Confederate leaders as trivializing slavery, suggesting that slavery was only a minor footnote to the Civil War.
It was not a footnote, regardless of what any pseudo historian might claim. It was a major factor in the war.
We can also understand the feeling by some people that the statues serve to remind us of a simpler time and an idyllic notion of Southern gentlemen and belles. But that idyllic notion has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and like-minded groups.
So, what is the real issue? Race relations in the country, of course, which are getting worse, not better.
If moving the statues of Confederate leaders from public squares to a library environment, such as what the University of Texas did this summer, is a step in the direction of having a meaningful discussion, so be it.
Destroying the statues, though, would be a step in trying to erase our history, which would not help in having a meaningful discussion.
So, again, how do we get to the discussion?
“Until society, as a whole, changes and we start seeing things for what they are, I don’t think at any time we’re going to be able to sit down and reconcile,” said Thomas V. Strain Jr, the commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
To some, though, “seeing things for what they are” is having the leaders of a country at war with the United States, or leaders of rebellious states, memorialized on courthouse steps. How many other countries memorialize their enemies or failed rebel leaders in such a fashion?
On the other hand, we think most U.S. Army soldiers and veterans do not equate Fort Hood, or other similar installations, with the Confederacy, they equate those installations with the U.S. Army, despite the names. Military historians do not study Robert E. Lee’s views on slavery, they study his tactics as a part of military strategy.
Shouting matches over statues or the naming of streets and schools are, in our opinion, symptoms of the illness.
So, how do we start a meaningful discussion that does not include a marble statue? How do we begin to cure the illness?
In the future, we might consider what marble statues we put up.
• Dave Mathews