It almost breaks my heart to see the monuments to Confederate soldiers being destroyed in city after city. My first thought was how much like the destruction of the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statue in Central Afghanistan by Taliban Mullah Omar in 2001. After the statue of Buddah was dynamited out of existence, the Center for Transcultural Studies in Germany described the attack as a blow against the globalizing concept of "cultural heritage." The destruction of the monument was condemned by numerous countries world wide.
Perhaps because I am not black, I can’t fully appreciate the presence of Confederate statues as being an affront to someone’s senses, but as a student of history, I can’t understand the elimination of part of our American heritage. Indeed the institution of slavery was an affront, even as it was slowly being eradicated from civilized countries. I also understand the reluctance of our southern states to surrender an institution upon which their livelihoods depended. The black man was in the middle of a terrible economic and political struggle.
It has certainly been a long road for the descendants of American slaves to gain equality, and I believe I understand their anger toward those backward and intolerant people who insist on keeping alive the hatred passed down to them by previous generations. But the Civil War is over, and has been for over 150 years. Anger toward those who perpetuate the hatred of the black man is warranted, but the destruction of Confederate monuments is not the answer.
Though the political and economical situation of the Antebellum South were leading causes of the war, the great majority of soldiers who fought in that war were motivated not by hatred, but by the idea that their states, forbidden to secede, were threatened by the promise of invasion by forces of the Federal Government. Many men joined the armies because they felt that individual states could not be dictated to by an overbearing government. Many fought because their friends had joined, or by the misguided idea that personal glory was to be had in the fighting. For whatever the reason, men of the South elected to fight. The war eventually became one of survival as thousands and thousands died on the battlefield. The war is over.
So what did the monuments stand for? I do not believe the monuments were erected to remember slavery or hatred. Those men who are represented by marble, bronze, or concrete statues were individual soldiers; men who exhibited great leadership or heroism in combat; men of specific military units; some were models simply representing male courage or leadership. The monuments were raised lest we forget the bravery and sacrifice of the men, both Federal or Confederate, who moved forward with their fellow soldiers against rifle and artillery fire as their fellows were being struck down to their left and right.
To tear down the monuments after all this time is to behave like the Taliban who were offended by a statue of Buddah erected 1,500 years in the past. I suppose that in America, allowing the monuments to stand offends some of our population, but destroying them offends others. Who wins if we remove evidence of our past? Who wins by making the decision to be offended, or the decision to be intolerant? Rather than striking down silent marble, bronze or concrete statues, we should be reaching into angry crowds and educating those living individuals who insist upon perpetuating hatred and intolerance. Tearing down monuments neither changes the past nor rights the wrongs of intolerant people today.
Philip H. Turner