Confederate Monuments And Civil Discourse – OpEd

Last week the City of New Orleans removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. This was the fourth, and final, Confederate monument the city has removed since late April. As usual in modern America, civil and intelligent discourse has been lacking in the debate about Confederate monuments. The Huffington Post states the removal of Lee’s monument marks the end of a “campaign to expel symbols of white supremacy from public property.” The Daily Kos has branded the Louisiana House of Representatives an organ of “white supremacy” for passing a bill to prevent any war memorial from being removed or altered. The majority supporting the bill were called “hideously racist.”

In America today, such rhetoric makes civil discussion of issues relating to the Civil War or War Between the States impossible.

This is sad. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Union and Confederate veterans regularly met in organized reunions. These men who had seen comrades suffer and die were able to put aside such ugly memories and reminisce about the shared experiences of being a combat solider. Old Yanks and old Rebs celebrated each other’s martial valor; they believed that the Grey and the Blue fought for equally honorable causes. (A good book discussing these reunions and other issues is David Blight’s Race and Reunion.) They could believe in the righteousness of their own causes without demonizing those who disagreed.

If these former combatants could fellowship together and avoid name-calling and imputing dark motives to the other, why can’t we do that in 2017? Can’t good and reasonable people hold different views of the monument question (or a host of other matters)?

Not from the perspective of the modern political left. Increasingly, those with whom the Left disagrees with are considered “deplorables” who should not be debated, but silenced. Recent examples are Ann Coulter at Berkeley and Charles Murray at Middlebury College. The story of Chadwick Morris and the Left turning on him also makes interesting reading. (See also this NYT story on Liberal Intolerance).

I’d just suggest that on the Monument issue, or any other hotly contested matter, let’s take a lesson from the Union and Confederate Vets. One should believe in the righteousness of his own cause; but don’t assume that those on the other side act from malicious motives because they have come to a different conclusion.

This article was published at The Beacon.


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William J. Watkins, Jr.

William J. Watkins, Jr.

William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and author of the Independent books, Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution, Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, and Patent Trolls: Predatory Litigation and the Smothering of Innovation. Full Biography and Recent Publications

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