In light of the renewed debate over the removal of Confederate statues and Baltimore’s recent decision to remove four of its Confederate monuments, a number of very specious arguments have appeared in opposition to the removal of these statues and monuments.
Invariably, anybody with an opinion on this issue, especially those in support of removing any statue or monument, will have come across a slew of different arguments against removal.
With that in mind, it is important to illustrate why these arguments are so wrong, insidious and, ultimately, immoral.
Argument #1: Removing Confederate statues is an erasure of history.
The most common argument in defense of Confederate statues is perhaps the most insidious misrepresentation of the movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy.
Statues and monuments in themselves are not history.
Statues and monuments exists to honor specific individuals and events from history, and are closely related to the values a society claims to uphold.
In the case of Confederate monuments, they came into existence solely to glorify the Lost Cause movement during the height of segregation. These statues and monuments closely mirror a society that valued the oppression of African-Americans.
These are not values that any society that claims to value freedom and equality can remotely rationalize.
This argument intentionally destroys the distinction between honoring history and remembering it.
These monuments belong in museums dedicated to the Civil War — an event that will forever resonate in American history.
It is disingenuous to claim that moving monuments from public display to museums is remotely akin to erasing history.
Nobody is arguing that we should delete the Confederacy from the history books and from history curriculum — just that we should no longer honor them.
Argument #2: We can at least honor the Confederate dead.
Of all arguments against removing Confederate monuments, this one at least has some merit to it. I can certainly understand honoring the Confederate soldiers that died in the Civil War, especially as many did not have a choice not to fight for the Confederacy.
Even so, those soldiers were still enlisted to defend a government fighting in defense of slavery. Continuing to honor those soldiers is still a de facto endorsement of the cause of the Confederacy. You are not going to find many monuments honoring German soldiers that fought for the Third Reich during World War II, even if many of those soldiers did not specifically support the Nazi cause.
Argument #3: What about removing statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington?
Oh, yes, the famous slippery slope argument; so common that the President of the United States made it yesterday in a press conference, thinking it was a genius response. Not only is this argument a blatant enough rhetorical fallacy of false equivalence and whataboutism that it should be entirely discounted but it intentionally makes a mockery of American history.
To be sure, Jefferson and Washington have incredibly complicated historical legacies, especially in regards to owning slaves, but we as a society must reckon with. The argument, though, is especially problematic as it wrongfully makes a direct comparison between the founders of the country and the important leaders of the Confederacy. Washington and Jefferson, despite their many flaws, were integral in the establishment of the United States.
Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and many others do not exist in the same moral universe as Jefferson and Washington. Those men fought for a rogue nation that came into existence specifically in defense of the “peculiar institution of slavery.” Unlike many of the founding fathers, the historical legacies of Confederate politicians and generals are hardly complicated; they defended perhaps the most morally reprehensible economic and political institution in American and world history.
Intentionally muddling American history and making a backward false equivalence for mere rhetorical sleight-of-hand to defend the continued existence of monuments to slavery and the oppression of black people is at best historical endurance and at worst apologia for white supremacy.
Argument #4: ISIS destroyed historical monuments, too.
This argument is too specious and insulting to legitimize by even attempting to debunk. Not only does this wrongly and immorally compare those pushing to remove Confederate statues to perhaps the most sociopathic terrorist group in existence today, it is insulting to those that have suffered in Iraq and Syria under ISIS rule. ISIS has destroyed ruins of ancient civilizations, in addition to destroying countless churches, Shia mosques and other religious symbols as a way to oppress already marginalized religious minorities. Comparing that to taking down monuments that were only built to support the oppressive political project of Jim Crow is downright offensive.
Again, I hate to legitimize an argument so incorrect and morally dubious but one cannot let it slide.
Argument #5: Removing Confederate monuments and statutes will not defeat racism.
No reasonable person will remotely argue that removing these monuments and statues will defeat racism once and for all. That is a complete strawman.
Ironically, many of the people making this argument are probably not doing much themselves to defeat racism and white supremacy.
The truth is the following: if we truly want to build an equitable and just society for individuals of all races, especially African-Americans, we cannot continue to glorify historical individuals that literally fought to oppress and enslave the ancestors of millions of Americans.
Removing these monuments and statues will never be the final answer to ending every form of racism. Nonetheless, that ideal can never be reached as long as those monuments continue to stand.
The one question I would like to ask any individual supporting the continued public display of Confederate statues is the following:
Would you support removing Confederate monuments and statues, and replacing them with monuments and statues to abolitionist and civil rights icons?
To me, the answer to such a question would be quite revealing. It would unveil the true motivations of those not wanting to take them down.
If we truly want to advance as a nation, we must put monuments that serve to uphold a societal order that reminds black people of their inferiority where they belong: in museums.
More importantly, it is not enough to simply remove Confederate statues and monuments; it is imperative to replace them with the monuments that honor the heroes of both the abolitionist and the civil rights movement — individuals that fought for the true ideals of this country, and represent the continuing struggle toward freedom, equality and justice.
We must build statues for Nat Turner, John Brown, Harriet Tubman and William Lloyd Garrison.
We must build statues for Medgar Evers, Stokely Carmichael, Fannie Lou Hamer and James Baldwin.
These individuals, among many others, did more to improve the United States than any general or leader of the Confederacy — traitors who sought to destroy the Union.
Communities across the country must begin this work, or people will take matters into their own hands.
To be blunt: I have no opposition to Americans taking down the statues themselves. Mere order is not the most important value for a society — justice is.
Laws against destruction of property do not trump public property that honors the biggest villains of American history.
Those brave citizens that took down the Berlin Wall were surely breaking the law, but none cared. Reuniting a divided nation and divided families took moral precedence over laws that supported order above freedom.
It is a moral imperative: all Confederate statues must come down.