Leaves All Statues Where They Are


As published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sept. 19, 2017.

The current fury regarding Confederate statues fails to consider the rationale for having memorials. Statues are memorials not just representations of individuals. They are one kind of memorial. Other forms take the shape of walls, buildings, bridges, public facilities, and even military hardware.

As the name indicates, memorials are memories. They are reminders of history. They are visual representations of past accomplishments and failures. Of times when we, as a national entity, were united and when we experienced division of opinion and commitment.

The World War Two memorial in Washington, D.C. reminds us of why 400,000 citizens lost their lives and multiple numbers more suffered in other ways.  We do not celebrate their deaths but we honor them for benefitting our lives by their sacrifice.  Also in our nations’ capital is another memorial. It is a reminder of the loss of 56,000 young Americans in a war that was controversial and divisive. Americans demonstrated against participation, some leaving the country to avoid being drafted. Years later even the erection of the Vietnam Wall was criticized and opposed. Reading the names on that wall is a more recent painful reminder of the cost of physical combat.

Memorials do not approve or disapprove of past events and the people involved in them. They tell us what has been, hopefully so we will not make the same mistakes but also can be guided by our better decisions. After all, that is a value of preserving history.

Memorials do not tell the whole story of an event or of an individual. They are snapshots not a lifelong motion picture. Events are seldom simple and uncomplicated in how they begin, develop, and conclude. Life is messy. We are complex living growing organisms. We are not easily caricatured stick figures incapable of change.

For example, the day signatories showed up in Philadelphia and signed a Declaration of Independence was preceded by years of pain, suffering, debate, and obstacles. We see the picture of men around a table but we do not see what it took individually for them to be there. Some were there who wanted the document to express freedom of all slaves. Some were there as slave owners. Should we erase from the picture those who were slave owners? Should we erase those who compromised their principles in order to have a document acceptable to all who were to sign?

How perfect a life must an individual live in order to justify having their likeness preserved? Is history best served by having pictures, statues, writings on a wall and other monuments only of people with whom we agree?  In a multicultural society such as ours who should decide what is an acceptable memorial to be publicly honored?

For the betterment of the future let’s leave all statues, and other memorials, where they are. Losing memorials means losing history and what we can learn from it.

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