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You Can’t Erase History

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

I recall from my childhood often times being told by my parents about why America was such a great country, such a wonderful place to grow up and live.  A country that we should protect and defend with all of our might from all of those other people who wanted to take away the freedoms our United States Constitution guarantees.

I was privileged and lucky to grow up in a family of patriots.  Folks who believed in the ideals of America and loved her in spite of some of the mistakes made over the years.  Mistakes mind you that were made by men, not the result of the ideals that America stood for.

And the lessons from my parents were well-learned and taken to heart by me since I’ve devoted forty years of my life to doing the best I could to protect and defend the United States of America against all of our enemies, both foreign and domestic.  

I also recall being admonished by my parents that America would never be destroyed by outside forces, we were much too strong militarily.  But that America would only succumb to our enemies from within.

I came of age during the fractious Sixties, a time of great upheaval in American culture.  “Make love not war”, “Peace”, and “Black Power” became the battle cries of many who had become disillusioned with what our government promised, and what it actually delivered.

Our citizens of African descent, many the generational progeny of slaves that were brought against their will to this country during our nation’s early years had begun to finally assert themselves.  Demanding an end to segregation, an end to racism, and the fulfillment of the promise of equal opportunity for all.

Peaceful marches through the streets of our cities were often met with violence.  Firehoses and police dogs were turned loose against black citizens who only sought their God-given, and Constitutional rights as Americans.  It was indeed a sad time in our nation’s history, as were the years of racism and discrimination that preceded the Sixties and tarnished our nation for many years.

But it arguably is a tarnish that we have overcome for the most part, despite the fact that there are a few individuals who continue to hold outdated and racist beliefs.  The overwhelming vast majority of all Americans simply pay no attention to the color of one’s skin anymore.

Which brings me to the recent effort to remove Confederate war memorials and statues of Confederate ‘heroes’ from around our country.  There is a case to be made that these statues memorialize traitors, men who committed treason by taking up arms against the United States of America.  After all, the actions taken by the states that seceded from the Union preceding the War of the Rebellion were indeed treasonous.

Yet as a nation, following the war we chose to honor and memorialize those treasonous individuals who fought for the Confederacy.  We erected larger-than-life statues and monuments to Americans who took up arms against their own country, and who killed countless of their fellow citizens.

It was only through the compassion of our later martyred President Abraham Lincoln that the rebel leaders weren’t all arrested and hanged after the surrender of the Confederacy.  President Lincoln chose mercy over retribution, and showed wisdom by choosing to try to help heal the wounds of war by forgiving our enemies.

During the following years monuments and statues began to spring up primarily in the South, but in other cities around the country as well honoring those who fought for the Confederacy.

Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee had statues erected in many southern communities, and even had a University partially named after him, Washington and Lee University in Virginia.  

Following his death in 1870 in order to honor Virginia’s native son Lee’s name was added to the institution that until then had been known as Washington College.  A curious bit of irony, a university named after our first president George Washington, a Virginia and slave owner, and Virginian and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

For me personally it really doesn’t matter too awful much about the statues of Confederates, I had a great-grandfather who fought for the Union and one who fought  for the Confederacy, and though both served honorably and were both wounded during the war neither has a statue memorializing their service.

The fact of the matter is that many fighting for the South weren’t fighting to preserve slavery any more than many fighting for the North were fighting to free the slaves.  Slavery simply didn’t enter into the equation for many of them.  And while the war ultimately brought slavery to an end, it took well over one hundred years for black Americans to finally achieve some sense of equality.

I understand that there are conflicting opinions on whether these memorials and statues should be removed.  Some people view them as memorials honoring those who fought to preserve America’s racist past, while many others view them simply as monuments preserving the historical record and the valor of their ancestors who fought.

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to just settle down and recognize the fact that our nation has had a sometimes tortured past, but a past that should be preserved nonetheless.  Removing the monuments of the past won’t remove the historical record.  And leaving them intact might just help us to remember the mistakes of the past, and to prevent treasonous behavior from ever gaining a foothold in our nation again.

After all, our nation will only be defeated by enemies from within.

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