By Amber Moser
A&F Staff Writer
There are hundreds of Civil War monuments honoring both the Union and the Confederacy spread out across more than 30 different states in the United States, and after a series of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, many citizens are calling for their removal.
On Aug. 11, white nationalists and supremacists gathered outside of the University of Virginia to partake in a “Unite the Right” march which appeared to mimic ultra-right marches of the past such as Hitler’s Youth. Organizers of the march belonged to the National Socialist Movement which is rooted in the American Nazi Party and thus explains the similarities to Hitler Youth marches and the use of common nazi phrases as rallying chants, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. What was supposed to be a peaceful march quickly turned into a weekend from hell for many, leaving 3 dead and many more injured.
These events struck a chord with many Americans and raised the question of the place of Civil War monuments and other reminders of slavery, or inherently racist ideals, in modern America.
When it comes to handling difficult and haunting pasts, no one knows better than Germany. I argue President Trump and other political leaders responsible for deciding the fate of Civil War memorabilia should look to the Germans, and learn from their treatment of World War II and Holocaust items. The Washington Post reported the German government spent immense amounts of money on preserving historical landmarks with the potential to teach the general public or make a difference, but has called little attention to those that might become a negative rallying point. Author and military historian Mark Felton said the World War II bunker in which Hitler committed suicide was blown up in 1947, but no effort was ever made to restore it. Its remnants are now buried beneath a parking lot which remained unmarked for many years, so as to eliminate the risk of providing a gathering ground for Nazi-sympathizers.
“I do a lot of thinking about history, seeing as I teach it,” said Leigh Humphrey, a high school AP history and civil liberties teacher in Winston Salem, North Carolina. “I used to believe… History can’t be erased and the statues should remind us not to ever do it again. However, after some conversation with others, I now believe they should be removed and placed in or around a museum, or at the number of Civil War battlefields.”
Many Americans, including myself, think similarly to Humphrey. While these monuments do indeed stand for old ideals which have changed with the passage of time, they remain important as a reminder of what has changed and how far our nation has come. These statues and monuments stand for many different things, and not all of them good, but if we erase them then we are risking erasing token pieces of our nation’s history. While I do not necessarily believe these monuments should be left as everyday reminders, I would like to see them moved safely to museums or, as proposed by Humphrey, battle grounds where citizens have the freedom to chose whether or not they want to see these things.
Hopefully, an educated decision will soon be made by elected officials, lest these monuments are left to illegal defamation and destruction.