In order for the nation to figure out its future, it must first figure out its past–in particular, the appropriateness of monuments to the Confederacy.
Let’s start with one authoritative source, Robert E. Lee. Lee, a top graduate of West Point who had served in the US Army for 32 years. As a commissioned officer, he had taken an oath to the US Constitution. He chose–albeit difficultly–to disregard his oath, choosing Virginia, his state, over the United States of America, his country.
After the war, “He swore allegiance to the Union and publicly decried southern separatism, whether militant or symbolic.”
“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated,” Lee wrote of an 1866 proposal, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”
Many of the Confederate monuments were not erected until the late 1800s and early 1900s. While the stated purpose was to honor those who fought, many–including myself–believe that it was a blatant trumpeting of white supremacy.
Why are the number of people who today condemn the monuments increasing? The list of reasons is long and growing, but let’s look at one–just one–reason.
In law, treason is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.
The Southern states took up arms and engaged in war against their own nation. The individuals involved were traitors–Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and all the others. They may have been brilliant, but they were still traitors. In other times or countries, such as England, traitors were subjected to the horrors of being drawn, hanged until they were almost–but not quite–dead, eviscerated while still alive, decapitated and their bodies divided into quarters.
Such is not the American way. Instead, the Southerners were welcomed back, if they chose–like Lee–to once again honor their nation.
However, there is no good, logical, rationale reason to build monuments to traitors.
(Thanks to PBS and Wikipedia for much of this material. Links are embedded for your convenience.)