It occurs to me that the pro- and the anti-monument removal sides are having two separate discussions.
The pro-removal side is really making some very good claims that the monuments never should have been erected in the first place, placing them in the context of Jim Crow and segregation and reinforcing white power in the early 20th century. (They are then, in some cases, destroying their case by suggesting that any honor on anyone connected with slavery, even Jefferson or Washington, and every item commemorating Confederate war dead, even a memorial to POWs who died due to inhumane conditions, should be destroyed.)
But that’s not the question we’re being asked in 2017. We can’t go back in time. We’re now being asked whether these monuments should be removed, and it seems to me that this carries with it a different set of messages, at least to the ears of (some of) those (whites) living in the South:
“Your ancestors were evil and, however they may have lived their lives, it’s all corrupted by racism and slavery, and has no redeeming value.”
“We will overrule you because we have more power than you do.”
Yes, objectively, that’s not what anyone is saying. (Well, except for Democrats who gleefully announced that all future elections were guaranteed to be in their hands because white voters would die out and be replaced by Latinos.)
And, yes, that’s not what objectors are providing as their reasons for objecting, and, no, I don’t know such individual personally; I’m just guessing that their objections are more deeply-felt than an abstract commitment to “historical preservation.”
Plus: the latest talking point is, “but the Germans didn’t erect statues to Rommel after World War II.” But they did, for many years, comfort themselves with the belief that it was only “other people” who participated in the regime’s criminality; they themselves, or their own parents were just innocent soldiers, in the same way as many of these generic “Confederate soldier” monuments are about soldiers just falling in battle no differently than if they’d been on the other side. And for years upon years Germany has struggled with this question of how far you go with asking your people to collectively atone for their ancestors; during our stay there, when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, it was considered to be the first time in generations that Germans were happy to wave their flag in a way that we Americans consider as normal. What’s more, there’s a lot of wrestling with to what degree Germans are “allowed” to discuss the ways in with Germans suffered after the war, especially those expelled from the East, and not long ago I read an article discussing the growing desire among young adults for Germany to be a “normal” country.
In most respects, I don’t have a dog in this fight. It’d be different, I suppose, if you told me that the Spirit of Detroit has to go because it’s too religious, or racist (the statue is white in its facial features), or sexist (it’s a man), or heterosexist (it depicts a nuclear family). But there you go.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARobert_E._Lee_statue_in_Charlottesville%2C_VA_IMG_4219.JPG; By photo by Billy Hathorn (Equestrian statue in downtown Charlottesville, VA) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons