“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana in The Life of Reason.
The Civil War was an awful time of American history. It pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, and state against state. Around 620,000 Americans died in the war, more than any other conflict the U.S. has been involved in. It’s something which will hopefully never happen again. Which is why those calling for the destruction of Confederate monuments are wrong. University of Vermont Emeritus Professor of Society James Loewen wants the United States to be de-Confederatized. He writes a long list of things in The Washington Post he wants gone:
Now the dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., has noted that the cathedral needs to de-Confederatize its stained glass windows. That would be a start for D.C., which also needs to remove its statue of Albert Pike, Confederate general and leader of the Arkansas Ku Klux Klan, from Judiciary Square. The Pentagon also needs to de-Confederatize the Army. No more Fort A.P. Hill. No more Fort Bragg, named for a general who was not only Confederate but also incompetent. No more Fort Benning…De-Confederatizing the United States won’t end white supremacy, but it will be a momentous step in that direction.
Loewen and other critics of Confederate culture are forgetting what happened to Germany after World War II. The country went to extraordinary lengths to destroy any mention of its Nazi past. The government made it a crime for anyone to use writings, symbols, flags, and slogans from Adolf Hitler’s regime. Former WWE wrestler John Bradshaw Layfield escaped prosecution in 2004 after he goosestepped around the ring and used the “Heil Hitler” salute because the salute wasn’t done for political purposes. Layfield was trying to get “heat” with the German crowd so they’d cheer his opponent. Germany has done almost everything it can to make sure Nazism and the Third Reich are anathema in country, yet antisemitism is on the rise. American Jewish Committee member Deidre Berger even asked in The Times of Israel if Germany was safe for Jews to be in. Jewish cemeteries are being desecrated with Nazi symbols in Oldenburg and one man was given probation for shooting a paint ball gun at Jewish gravestones. I24 News reported 95% of antisemitic attacks in Germany were done by Neo-Nazi groups. It even surprised Green Party MP Volker Beck:
“I was a bit astonished to receive these results. The feeling in the Jewish community, as well as my feeling, was that there were more Muslim antisemitic attacks, but the statistics doesn’t support that. This just proves that we need to research the issue more and to get a better assessment of what threatens the security of Jewish people and Jewish institutions in Germany.”
The German government’s “solution” is multiple failed attempts to ban National Democratic Party of Germany because of its Neo-Nazi ties. But MINNPost noted in 2010 government intervention isn’t working:
Interestingly, it’s primarily politicians from eastern Germany, where the NPD is strongest, who have most strongly resisted calls to ban the party. They argue that the only sustainable way to combat neo-Nazi radicalism is through the normal channels of the liberal state — namely, open debate and argument. “Even if you banned the NPD party, they would just rename themselves and come back the next week,” said Andreas Adammer, a resident of Potsdam in the state of Brandenburg, where the NPD has enjoyed success in past elections.
This is why getting rid of Confederate monuments and re-naming schools is a bad idea. It’s going to make people forget how horrific the Civil War actually was. The monuments to Robert E. Lee and other Confederates and the battlefields at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Antietam are a main reason why talks of secession these days are met with scorn and derision. The monuments, statues, and school names have to stay up. There’s nothing wrong with pulling down the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina and Alabama. Those were put up in a foolish fight against segregation in the 1950s and 60s. The same with the old Georgia flag. The battle flag was added to that flag in 1956 by state Democratic Party chair John Sammons Bell to fight segregation. There’s no disputing this, it’s fact. But everything else should stay up, if only as a reminder of the past and how destructive the Civil War was. Turning the 1860s into, “the South seceded, lost the Civil War, Lincoln was assassinated, and everything went back to normal,” isn’t the right way to go. It simplifies the matter and makes us forget why things happened, and why a civil war shouldn’t happen again.