The Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This statement is why school curriculums mandate that their students take history courses. It is why the public frequents museums, monuments and memorials. It is why Americans celebrate Independence Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year.
The more knowledge people have of the past, the less likely they are to slip into the mistakes of those who came before them. Constant reminders of past history ensure that preventable tragedies never happen again.
In the same breath, it is essential to remember that there is a fine line between the remembrance of terrible times and the glorification of them.
On Aug. 21, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recognized this distinct difference and toppled the statue of a Confederate soldier that had been watching over their campus for years, thus reigniting the debate over Confederate relics and their place in U.S. society.
Confederate flags and statues have been pillars of Southern communities for decades now. In the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots a year ago, in which white supremacists rallied in the streets and violence ensued, people all across the nation are beginning to raise the question of whether or not Confederate monuments have a place in the United States.
Defenders of these statues argue that removing them will only prompt U.S. citizens to forget the Civil War, and also that these relics are not overtly racist but are instead symbols of Southern history.
If this argument is true, then why are there no statues of Adolf Hitler in Germany?
There are plenty of museums and memorials to remember the Holocaust, but not one symbol of any Nazi leader in the entire
By the aforementioned logic, this would mean that Germany has completely forgotten the Holocaust because there are no statues of evil people to remind them. The German people recognize that there are much more appropriate ways to honor the victims of their national embarrassment without exalting those behind it.
Statues are signs of honor. People erect statues of leaders whom they hold in the highest regard, which is why it was such a big deal in 2003 when Iraq’s former leader Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in Baghdad.
By allowing these monuments to proudly stand in America’s parks, cities and universities, a clear message is being sent to black people: These racist men, who betrayed their country and were willing to lose their lives in order to maintain the existence of slavery, deserve to be honored in public places.
Think of the message that these statues send to those people whose ancestors were slaves, furthering the negative impact on race relations today.
Other U.S. citizens who have altered the course of U.S. history are John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, yet there are no statues of them because U.S. citizens realize that these men are evil and so are Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
These monuments have no place in the public eye, but that is not to say that all of them need to be destroyed and erased from our memory. Confederate monuments do have a place in U.S. society: Civil War museums, where they can be properly put into context.
In Charlottesville, white supremacists proudly waved Confederate flags while they marched around a statue of Lee. In Germany, people of similar ilk cannot find a Hitler or Nazi Reinhard Heydrich statue to praise because none exist.
The United States, whether on purpose or inadvertently, sends a message that this type of behavior is acceptable when communities allow statues of racist men to tower over them both literally and figuratively.
All of these statues can and should be replaced with those of Civil War heroes who fought on the right side of history: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and many more.
There is a way to properly remember history without propping up traitorous racists.
The removal of these statues is long overdue. These men who fought for the Confederacy deserve to spend the rest of eternity not in parks or schools, but in enlightening infamy along with the rest of the world’s embarrassing racists.
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