Following the violence in Charlottesville there has been a renewed push to take down statues of Confederate leaders. Most comments have been from the Left or the Right. As a centrist, I have a different perspective.
Governments have long memorialized those it deemed worthy. Naming something after them is by far the most common way. Erecting statues used to be quite popular. Future generations may see things differently and may want to take a different course. If so, it should be done thoughtfully and with a good understanding of history. What we are seeing now is a knee jerk reaction by those with little knowledge of the person’s life. We are also seeing some silliness on the Right. Some have talked about history being erased. A person doesn’t learn history by looking at a carved piece of stone.
Robert E. Lee was a great man that deserves to be memorialized. He lived in an era when many identified themselves as residents of a state first and Americans second. He was strongly opposed to secession. He was offered the position of major general in the Union army. His reply was “I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”. Anyone who believes he went to war solely to preserve slavery is obviously ignorant of the facts.
I am especially concerned with the idea that anyone who lived in the 18th or 19th century and didn’t have 21st century values should be condemned. If we are to obliterate the memory of anyone who owned a slave, does that include Washington and Jefferson? Should we blow up their monuments, blast their faces off Mount Rushmore, rename our capital and everything else bearing their name? Should someone who opposed women’s suffrage meet the same fate? If we discover something bad about Italian explorer and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci, do we rename our country and two continents? I realize I am being ridiculous but we don’t know how far these people will go. Many are calling for the destruction of the incredible Stone Mountain sculpture. It reminds me of the Taliban blowing up a similar sculpture they didn’t like.
Obviously we don’t want to restore the old values that are now abhorrent. However, we shouldn’t condemn great people that happened to live back then.