The Confederate Monuments Erase History

The large majority of Confederate monuments in the United States appeared decades after the conclusion of the Civil War. Even if we grant the genteel lie that the Civil War was about state’s rights rather than preserving the ability of some human beings to own other human beings, these monuments are not actually about valor in battle.

Most of these monuments were built between the 1890’s and 1950’s, the period of Jim Crow segregation and the rising Civil Rights movement. They are tools of intimidation and white supremacy, not symbols of respect for the past or for the dignity of all people.

This is obvious, even if is it painful. Our racial fault line has defined America from the beginning. A comforting mythology that claims otherwise, especially if it is abetted by the President, is a lie.

This does not mean the monuments should be pulverized and ground to smithereens. As several art historians observed recently, this would be a precipitous mistake. If the monuments are going to stay exactly where they are, erect a plaque to explain how they got there. Or move them to museums and historical societies. Anything but leaving them up in the ahistorical and cruel manner in which they exist today. That is the real insult to history.

The President’s words in recent weeks gave comfort to haters, to his everlasting discredit. But they also stimulated this long-overdue reckoning with our past. That, at least, is a good outcome.