As such, I’ve been frustrated by a number of what I will call “hold up!” articles, several from historians, because of a flawed line of alarmist-slippery-slope-questioning made explicit in this recent HNN piece: “So one question we should be asking is if we should be contemplating erasing history by deleting monuments from the landscape? Does that set a bad precedent? Where does it lead?”Since when does the act of reducing the number of monuments celebrating bad history constitute “erasing history”? How is correcting the record a “bad precedent”? Where does it lead, he asks? I would hope to better monuments that don’t insult broad segments of the American public. Until those are constructed, however, let’s reduce or be rid of the terrible ones.
If we actually do learn a lot of our history from monuments (a dubious proposition worth questioning), what precisely are people gaining, knowledge-wise, from the massive numbers of Confederate ones, deliberately placed among the descendants of slaves and slave owners? What ideals and ideas are being conveyed by heroic renditions of Generals Lee and Stonewall Jackson, as well as other Confederate politicians and generals? The value of rebellion, treason, and war? The nobility of slave production? Freedom? Who’s freedom?The removal of these monuments is, again, not about some insidious cleansing of history. It is rather a necessary revising of our shared history, much as postwar Germans and former Soviet citizens corrected their own public memory by toppling monuments to hate. So I’ll cast my lot with people like James W. Loewen, who is now taking stock (again), to paraphrase his most famous work, of the Lies America and its Monument Makers Keep Telling us. I’ll continue to annoy my friends and colleagues with calls for reframing, removing, defacement, and, yes, occasionally destroying the bad public art that keeps some of us in chains. – TL