I know I’m not the only one who sees the irony in patriotic Americans clinging to hero-worship of the southern Confederacy. So let’s ask ourselves: should modern Americans be building memorials to Confederate soldiers and their cause? The Beaumont Enterprise reported yesterday, January 1, 2014, that the Orange City Council approved construction (which is already underway) of a Confederate memorial. The Enterprise indicated that most people were against the idea of flying a Confederate flag, a tactic that the Sons of Confederate Veterans has used in other locales as well. To make matters worse, the memorial will be off of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Really?
Sure, it’s a free country, but is it really a good idea to memorialize people who were actual real traitors to the United States of America? Or would you disagree that Confederates were traitors at all? The Sons of Confederate Veterans apparently disagree. The comparisons sometimes heard of Confederates to Nazis is a pretty thin one, but even from a strictly political standpoint, Confederates rebelled against legal authority, broke the democratic system by resorting to guns when the 1860 Presidential election went against them, and then dragged out a violent war that saw over 700,000 killed. In addition, I doubt if you asked a Confederate soldier if he considered himself an American soldier (in the U.S. sense) he’d disagree, too.
Even that is not to say that they were “evil.” But just because some of us are related to Confederates doesn’t mean we have to honor their memory. As a historian, I love monuments. I love seeing monuments on battlefields marking unit positions. I love the old monuments to both sides that add culture and local color to their communities. I’m not saying we should get rid of old monuments or that we should stop maintaining them.
But should we really be expending efforts to build new memorials to Confederates? We are not talking about markers signifying spots of historic significance. Or plaques noting that a building used to be a Confederate factory. We are talking about a new construction designed specifically to honor rebels against the legitimate government of the United States to uphold slavery. The Sons of Confederate Veterans recently tried to build a memorial in Virginia, as documented by SCV opponent Kevin Levin on his blog Civil War Memory. Instead of trying to preserve Confederate memory for historical purposes, they seem to be focused on new construction and creating new memories of the Confederate cause.
One of my ancestors served in the Confederate Army. I find that interesting and would love to learn more about his experiences. But I could never honor what he fought for, even if it was as legitimate as defending his family and hometown from invasion. When you build a monument to Confederates you honor what they did overall. You can’t build a memorial and say it memorializes those noble people who fought for family, not slavery, and pretend like the greater reason isn’t relevant. A memorial honors the whole shebang. So at the end of the day, you are indeed building a memorial to people who once fought to preserve slavery and a fairly un-democratic way of life. Ancestral family or not, we need to accept this and stop perpetuating the myth of an admirable Lost Cause.
On top of all this, the Sons of Confederate Veterans finds a fairly offensive way to go about it. For a group that insists Confederate heritage is not about racism, they seem to go out of their way to protest and build around areas linked the racial progress. Building a new memorial right next to Martin Luther King Jr Drive? Now that’s tasteless.