by Elise DeYoung
This summer I had the honor of visiting our nation’s capital. Upon arrival, my friends and I went to Arlington National Cemetery to pay our respects to our country’s fallen soldiers. I was amazed by the scale of the cemetery and the countless rows of headstones that rest peacefully on the grounds. I saw many monuments erected to pay homage to brutal battles fought and to honor countless soldiers lost.
Recently, Arlington National Cemetery made headlines by tearing down a monument dedicated to fallen Confederate soldiers that has stood on its grounds for over a century.
Two Reasons the Statue is Being Taken Down
There are two primary reasons why they decided to tear down the statue: First, they believe it is wrong to honor soldiers who fought in defense of slavery. Second, they claim that the statue itself portrays a romanticized picture of slavery and belittles the wickedness of the institution.
Both arguments take issue with the imagined purpose and message of the monument so, it is necessary to examine the history of Arlington and the Confederate monument when considering these reasons.
Arlington National Cemetery is categorized into many sections that represent specific wars, battles, and divisions. The soldiers who are buried in each section are there due to a connection that they had with that event or station.
Additionally, each section has a monument in place to honor and respect the men buried there. There is a monument for the Battle of the Bulge, one for the Korean War, and another for the Spanish-American War nurses. And until a few days ago, there was a monument for Section 16, which holds and honors the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy.
Originally, Arlington was a Union cemetery that did not allow for Confederate soldiers to be buried there. However, as it gained prominence and included soldiers from many wars and battles, there was a debate about whether Confederate soldiers should be allowed to be buried there. The final decision was made in 1900 and soon, Confederates were being buried at the Capital. Today, over 400 Confederate soldiers are buried at Arlington.
In support of this decision, President McKinley famously said, “In the spirit of fraternity, we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers…. Sectional feeling no longer holds back the love we feel for each other. The old flag again waves over us in peace with new glories.”
Graves for Confederate Soldiers Do Not Glorify or Promote Racism
This was not out of lingering racism or traces of slavery support that these men were honored and allowed to rest at Arlington. In a stark contrast to that belief, the desire for unity and peace motivated the burial of Confederate soldiers.
If people are angry with the honoring of Confederate troops, it is foolish to believe that by removing the monument, their discontentment will be satisfied. There are still over 400 Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington. Should we dig up the graves out of protest? I argue that erasing the memory is tantamount to promoting racism and forgetting past errors.
Removing a monument stems from an ignorance of its history—not to mention that this is a petty position to hold. The men and women who saw the war and lived through the Reconstruction allowed the Confederate soldiers to rest peacefully next to their fellow Union Americans. So why should we be the ones who are outraged?
The second reason that Arlington tore down the monument is they believe the statue itself romanticizes slavery and downplays the evils of the institution.
While it is true that the monument does not portray slaves being whipped, this was never its purpose. It was to the memory and history of the Confederate soldiers, not to the slaves.
Arlington explains what the purpose of the monument is and why it has historically stood at the cemetery.
“The Confederate Memorial offers an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the history and meanings of the Civil War, slavery, and the relationship between military service, citizenship, and race in America… In such ways, the history of Arlington National Cemetery allows us to better understand the complex history of the United States.”
Even Arlington recognizes that the monument was intended to invite its viewers to reflect on the American Civil War, slavery, and the men who fought in the war. It was not intended to expand division and hatred, but to encourage both sides to remember the past while we move into the future together as fellow Americans.
The Monument is Not a Beacon of White Supremacy
It is not a beacon of white supremacy. Rather it promotes our unity as Americans. It is not a symbol of slavery. It’s a symbol to celebrate our victory over it.
Arlington’s own website contradicts its decision to destroy the statue. According to them the monument “Allows us to better understand the complex history of the United States.”
It is essential that we, as Americans, are well informed of our nation’s complex (and often ugly) history. It’s imperative we know the good and the bad. We must know the bad so that we can be sure never to repeat our past mistakes.
Monuments and statues are a way of bringing history to life and honoring those who lived it. By tearing them down, we are tearing down our past. By vandalizing them, we are shaming and disgracing those who built this nation we now have the honor of living in.
As George Orwell in his work “1984″ said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
It’s imperative we not allow our history to be distorted by those who call for the destruction of it. Arlington National Cemetery has joined with those who are insistent on forgetting, but we must not follow in their footsteps. We must stand up for history and our right to remember until “The old flag again waves over us in peace with new glories.”
Elise DeYoung is a PR & Communications Associate as well as a Classical Conversations graduate. With CC, she strives to know God and make Him known in all aspects of her life. She is a servant of Christ, an avid reader, and a professional nap-taker. As she continues her journey towards the Celestial City, she is determined to gain wisdom and understanding wherever it can be found. Soli Deo gloria!