One of the arguments I’ve read over the last week or two, is about the fight over monuments. Wait, now… let me be clear. It’s this part of that discussion…
Does encouraging discussion of monument removal open a forum that encourages monument removal. Does it, perhaps, even increase the probability that monuments WILL BE removed?
First, I need to say, it’s not that these discussions and/or suggestions of Confederate monument… or… Confederate iconography… wait, wait… slave-holder connected iconography-removal haven’t happened before (of course, I’m just providing links to a few recent examples in the greater discussion). Alright, we can see where the slippery slope can lead, so let’s focus, for now, on just Confederate iconography.
Discussions on removing Confederate iconography have happened before, and some have brought about vigorous discussions, but, as a whole, they haven’t nearly reached the current level of discussion. We’ve never seen so much talk about removing so much Confederate iconography at one time.
Certainly, I see how some see the suggestion to encourage discussion as distressing… and why they wish to avoid that discussion. I’m one who believes that avoidance isn’t the best means of facing a problem, but I also understand reasons for concern. Considering how the recent movement gained momentum, and much of the conversation that it generated (much of it actually being disconnected from the incident that sparked it all, and/or heavily filled with stereotypes and generalizations), I’d say there’s ample reason for concern. I’ve seen plenty… plenty… a scarily large abundance, in fact… of the absurd… from how one extreme claims that secession had nothing to do with slavery, and how the other extreme looks at ALL antebellum Southerners as whip-cracking, racists. I am not exaggerating, and find both hugely unsettling when I consider the failure of the education process (and this is not necessarily limited to school-based education) that brought them to these conclusions (and others).
In a more perfect world, in which civil, thoughtful, educated discussion might occur, certainly, these discussions would be an opportunity for enlightenment, and any action that would follow might be akin to a true democratic people’s movement envisioned by someone like Thomas Jefferson (yes, I know… oh irony of ironies that I bring him up in this discussion). Problem is… this isn’t the reality. The reality is that it is very messy, and whether some will actually learn or not, from the discussion, is debatable.
Whether we agree or disagree with whether these discussions should take place… it really doesn’t matter as we cannot have a hand in all areas… either for or against. I suspect there might be further changes* apart from removing Confederate flags from public spaces… and no changes at all in other areas.
No matter; the point is that the focus is on discussion, and as discussion about various monuments really is a matter for individual localities to resolve…
In our discussions, to find enlightenment within these localities… at the grass roots level, especially in order for locals to better relate, and in order to us to come to terms with our past, of course, let’s consider why there is a monument in that community in the first place. If it was a community initiative to participate as part of the Southern Confederacy, there must also be a discussion about what it meant for those in those localities to take part… and not take part… and take part only when they were told to take part… and avoid taking part… and even when they decided to take part on the other side of the argument. Again, however, reality is, the discussion probably won’t get that deep. It will, or at least it should be, about why people in that community decided to go to war… and with the understanding that it was sometimes for different reasons.
As we come to the seemingly peculiar scenarios behind why men in different communities did pick up a musket… yes, the debate about Confederate iconography can be very much about individual soldiers. In fact, the complicated story behind my home county’s Confederate monuments make this clear.
Despite what some may think… this is the reality. This is where it matters when we consider the monuments in our Southern county seats.
As we focus on this iconography within localities, sure… we can discuss why there was a war, beginning with South Carolina and the lower South… and then, when we look at the monuments within respective communities, we can begin to grasp what these monuments meant to locals… not only what they meant to them after the war, but what the war meant to the soldiers of that community as they donned gray and butternut. No matter how much some wish to focus on the over-arching meaning… that success of the Confederate government would mean the preservation of slavery (and yes, even this gets complicated)… the discussion of monuments cannot selectively evade or ignore a discussion about the people within local communities and what war meant to them.
*I’ve read some speculation about what may contribute to change in different areas. Based on those readings, I suspect changes in demographics may play a factor in some situations, but won’t necessarily be the only factor in which we see calls for removal of Confederate iconography. While I don’t presume to know all the reasons that might be at play in different areas, it would be interesting to see graphs showing shifts in demographics and what party politics dominates in the areas in which changes actually come about.