It is impossible to separate the death of George Floyd from the cries for justice in America over the last few weeks. The push against monuments dedicated to Confederate generals and soldiers isn’t new, but it has resurfaced at a time when the debate over racism is at a peak in America, arising from Floyd’s death at the hands of an overly aggressive police officer. While some Confederate statues have been removed over the years, the focus then was on taking the monuments down through legislative and executive action. Now, statues dedicated to Confederate figures and some that had nothing to do with the Confederacy have been toppled by angry mobs.
The Argument to Remove Statues
Talk about the legacy of Confederate statues in America did not begin in 2020. Black Lives Matter has pushed for the erasure of all references to the Confederacy in public spaces for years, akin to Germany’s public shame of its Nazi past. The claim is that the history of slavery in America is shameful and that its legacy lives on today, so to have statues commemorating these historical events is to continue in the tradition of racial discrimination.
The Argument to Keep Statues
There are various positions held by those who support the existence of these monuments. These individuals often suggest that to remove the statues would be an attempt to disguise America’s past and erase a significant aspect of Southern people’s history and ancestry. There are also those who believe the Lost Cause of the Confederacy theory, the idea that the Civil War was fought to preserve the South’s way of life, to defend states’ rights, and was not primarily about protecting the institution of slavery.
More broadly, a common argument against removing historical monuments is that they do not necessarily honor the figures, but simply help us to remember them. Some claim that by keeping the past alive around us, we can better recognize the lessons that history teaches, and avoid making the same mistakes again. For example, prominent sections of the Berlin Wall remain standing as a reminder of the past and a warning of what could again happen if we are not careful.
It’s No Longer Just About the Confederacy
Some also argue that it’s a slippery slope from tearing down Confederate statues to destroying other monuments. This has proven true, as monuments of 18th president Ulysses S. Grant, renowned Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, and even America’s founding president, George Washington, have all been torn down or vandalized within 24 hours of each other. Even the Washington, D.C. monument to Abraham Lincoln – the president who ended slavery in the U.S. – was vandalized during recent protests.
Some also question what this does to achieve justice for the victims of racial injustice, such as Floyd.
A fight for America’s soul that has long been in the making has finally come to the forefront of our national discourse.
It’s certainly valid to argue that America has a police problem, but is the effort to remove historical statues going to bring positive change in this field? Perhaps the protesters seeking to remove these pieces of American history are instead looking to effectively delete the past, to gain restorative justice and ultimately cosmic justice as defined by economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell:
“Crusaders for social justice seek to correct not merely the sins of man but the oversights of God or the accidents of history. What they are really seeking is a universe tailor-made to their vision of equality. They are seeking cosmic justice.”