Just writing the title of this blog I know some folks will want to label me a racist. I’m not. That’s a ploy done by people of lesser minds so they don’t have to confront logic or facts. As communities in Virginia are questioning the removal of Confederate statues and renaming institutions and roads because of their links to the Confederacy – it is important we put these things in perspective. As an author and published historian, I feel empowered to offer my two cents on this topic.
I am not going to crawl through the “debate” about what the war was about. We all know what it was about. The issue is simple, should we expunge such memorials in a fit of political correctness, because some people are offended?
I say no. Hell no. You don’t have a right in this country to not be offended by things. Offending people is one of the few things we Americans do well collectively and individually. I practice this skill to the point where it is an art form. For every person that is offended by such memorials to fallen soldiers, there are others that are equally offended they are being removed. They may not be as vocal or get the media coverage, but people here in Virginia (outside of Northern Virginia, which is a state in itself) are disturbed at the thoughts of tearing down statues of historic figures.
By the 1930’s, during the reunions of the Civil War veterans, both sides had long buried their grudges and had ended the animosity between each other. Oddly enough this issue was not part of the Civil Rights movement but is a recent issue. It began with attempts to purge the Confederate flag two years ago. Now a few loud voices, filled with anger and bitterness, want to remove historical markers because they believe them to be offensive. Loud, however, does not mean correct.
I saw one news report where a protestor that said that Robert E. Lee didn’t deserve a statue, that he was a traitor. Such ignorance is embarrassing. Let me approach this to say that Confederate soldiers have been treated, at some levels, by the government for some time as American veterans. Several hundred are buried in Arlington National Cemetery and in countless national cemeteries around the country. Congress did grant Confederate veterans the same benefits as US veterans, of course they did this in 1958. While they are not seen 100% as equivalent to other US war veterans, it was not seen as an issue until recently.
Robert E. Lee’s father, “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, was one of Washington’s best field commanders. His son was a hero of the US Army in the Mexican War, before the Civil War. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox, the Federal soldiers began to cheer. General Grant ordered a stop to the jubilation. “The war is over,” he told his staff. “The rebels are our countrymen again.” Solidifying this further, President Gerald Ford restored Robert E. Lee’s citizenship. Lee was an American citizen…plain and simple. Removing his statue or those of other Confederate leaders or regiments demeans their sacrifice, even if they were on the losing side of the conflict.
Cries for renaming high schools like Stonewall Jackson have emerged in the media who loves to feed on divisiveness. There are moves to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway, Route 1, to anything else, simply because it bears his name. Why? Because a handful of malcontents wail that the names are offensive and racist.
One has to wonder where does this kind of thinking end? Will we tear down Mount Vernon because George Washington owned slaves? Don’t disregard that. If we concede on this simple non-issue, it will set precedent that will be difficult, if not impossible to reverse. The people doing this are not just removing statues and changing names, they are altering our very history of our communities and our nation. It is a slippery slope we tread when we decided to rewrite our past because it doesn’t fit someone’s individual current political narrative. It is a slope I refuse to concede to.