Monuments to the Confederates: cannot be demolished
Is this the end for public monuments to the Confederacy?
Fitz Brandage: &# 171; Monuments to the Confederates turned out to be not a fragment of the past, but a symbol of the current generation&# 187;
In the United States, another war with monuments began – their main target was the monuments of the Confederation. Fitz Brundage, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discusses whether it is right or wrong to demolish monuments of the past..
Margot Gontard: Why the movement to demolish monuments to the Confederates has intensified right now?
Fitz Brandage: I thought for a long time how to explain this better. Three years ago, following the events in Charlottesville, the pace of this discussion accelerated incredibly. 2017 saw the first wave of the demolition movement. Defenders of the monuments continued to argue that these monuments should be preserved because they were erected in honor of soldiers who participated in the war, but were not related to the ideology of white supremacy and the issue of slavery. The activists spent three years to convey to people that this is not so, that most of the monuments carry a very definite political message. Now there was an understanding that it was time to act. In addition, in many states, especially in the South, laws did not allow this. But now Virginia lawmakers have repealed a law that prevented or made it difficult to demolish monuments. Virginia can be called a concentration of Confederate memorials, so the demolition of monuments in its capital, Richmond, is a watershed moment..
In the 1970s and early 1980s, little was said about the demolition of Confederate monuments in the South of the United States. Part of the reason was that there were very few segregated schools in the South at the time. Governors with moderate, centrist and progressive views emerged in many southern states – it seemed that the society of the American South was becoming more committed to equality, more pluralistic, more open. Therefore, the monuments to the Confederates looked like archaism, a remnant of the past..
But in the past 30 years, we have seen the opposite process in the South: a return to the old. Many communities have definitely moved away from the progressive politics of the 70s and 80s. Ideas of white supremacy and slavery were not a thing of the past, it became clear that this legacy had not gone anywhere. The 2015 Charleston massacre and the 2017 Charlostville white supremacist march involved white youths born after the end of racial segregation but demonstrating a commitment to the values we would expect to find in someone born in 1920. Monuments to the Confederates turned out to be not a fragment of the past, not archaism, but a symbol of the present generation. This, in my opinion, forced to continue the discussion about the fate of these monuments..
M.G .: That is, in your opinion, these monuments are dangerous?
FB: Exactly. And this is one of the reasons why in Germany, for example, they wanted to demolish as many monuments to the Nazis as possible, so as not to leave the fascists and neo-fascists places where they could gather for rallies and demonstrations. Across the South of the United States, defenders of the old way of life and southern heritage gather at the Confederate monuments. So these monuments don’t just take up space, they act.
M.G. : Can the demolition of monuments be considered the destruction of history??
FB: I do not think that the demolition of monuments destroys history in a serious sense of this concept. It only removes one form of memory reading and allows another to be created. I do not believe that we must necessarily preserve every monument simply because someone once installed it. I will add that there are monuments, for example, to General Robert Lee in Richmond, with which I have no problem. But if the people of Richmond want to take it out, let them do it. I hope the statue will not be damaged, because it has historical and cultural value. It would be nice to preserve it, not as a memorial, but as a historical artifact..
To be honest, many of the monuments dedicated to the Civil War are not works of art, but a product of mass production. So, I think that it will not be difficult for a group of historians, art historians or just the public to understand and decide whether a particular monument is of historical or cultural value, and whether it is worth preserving it as a historical artifact..
There is a park in Budapest, where demolished monuments of the communist era are exhibited. I would not be surprised if someday in the future someone will create such a park with various monuments to the Confederates. Others can take organizations like the Sons of the Veterans of the Confederation and the United Daughters of the Confederation and let them do whatever they want with them. There are thousands of such monuments in the South, so I suspect that only a small part of them, most likely the most conspicuous ones, will be removed in the near future. But there are hundreds of monuments that people would not even suspect about..
As a society, we have the right to have a discussion about this. Transforming a monumental landscape will take as much time and money as it took to create, if not more. This does not mean that we should not do this. It is important that city dwellers have the right to decide whose memory they want to honor and what their cities should look like..
M.G .: Why does it seem important to you now to talk about the fate of the monuments to the Confederates??
FB: I’ll use North Carolina as an example. There are about a thousand large monuments here. Of these, about 225 are dedicated to the Civil War – more than any other historical event the state has been associated with. In turn, about 215 of them are dedicated to the Confederates. But during the Civil War, more than a quarter of North Carolina residents opposed the Confederates, tens of thousands of North Carolina residents fought in the Army of the North. That is, the history of their participation in the Civil War is ignored..
North Carolina has less than 30 monuments to African Americans, less than 30 monuments to women. The result is a landscape full of Monuments to the Confederates, and completely naked in terms of honoring the memory of women, African Americans, or, for that matter, Native Americans. You can say: why not add more monuments? But where do we put them? This can be solved by demolishing monuments to the Confederates and creating monuments that better reflect modern society..
M.G .: That is, you propose to look at monuments in the city space not as something static, but rather as an interactive landscape that can be changed if necessary.?
FB: Yes, you can think of it this way: when people erected these memorials in honor of the Confederation about a century ago, they wanted to capture the past in the present and pass it on to future generations. Why can’t we do the same now? I would like to think that we now have a different idea of how the society, of which we want to be a part, should look like, what we want to capture in monuments and see in the future. To use public space, we need access to it. And the most popular public spaces in many regions of the South are occupied by monuments to the Confederates..
Some monuments are incredibly effective and powerful. For example, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC has become the sanctuary of American democracy. He has powerful influence over generations of Americans. The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, too, has stood the test of time, even though it was once considered controversial. At the same time, there is a monument to General Grant in front of the Capitol, which people constantly pass by, not knowing that he is standing there: this monument does not touch them, it is just a sculpture.
There are many other monuments that are inert: they just stand and take up space. I am not saying that we should destroy them. But it would be honest to say: this monument has been there for 75 years, it doesn’t mean anything to us anymore, let’s replace it with another one that will mean something not only for us, but also for future generations – like the Lincoln Memorial.