Home Base: Monuments to not so lovable losers

 

Zack Plair

 

 

As a senior in high school, I sat in English class watching the news with my classmates when the second plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. We knew at that point the plane that hit the north tower 15 minutes earlier -- the reason the TV was on in the first place -- was no accident.

 

To varying degrees for all Americans alive at the time, nothing was ever quite the same after that. As of this year, I've lived more of my life in the "Post-9/11 World" than before it, and that moment still resonates as "defining." For one, it completely turned upside down the adult world my graduating class had been groomed to become a member.

 

So many left their planned paths to join the military and fight Al Quaeda. Others, like me, stayed the courses they were already plotting. But everyone embraced the understanding 9/11 would be a poignant, irreversible part of American society's history and heritage moving forward --even as we grappled with the details of what that meant.

 

 

Even children born after 9/11 are taught about that history and heritage. It would be irresponsible to ignore it, to deny them exposure to what the world was like before and how those attacks reverberated in ways that will continue to affect future generations.

 

Few will ever argue that an accurate, complex study of this history and heritage should be denied or erased. But if anyone was to propose erecting statues in American cities commemorating the man who orchestrated, or the men who carried out, the 9/11 attacks on America, we would all consider that person either a traitor or completely outside of his mind.

 

You're probably getting angry even considering that possibility. But, by now, you've probably also figured out where this trip is headed.

 

From a purely practical standpoint, Confederate statues and monuments displayed on public property are honoring men who attacked America, just like the man whose face we see when we think of 9/11. The difference, some claim, is that technically Robert E. Lee and Co. were Americans fighting what they saw to be injustices heaped upon them by the federal government.

 

Firstly, then am I to expect a statue of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City soon? No? I certainly hope not.

 

Second, this argument only holds water because the Abraham Lincoln administration's political policy not to recognize secession as valid -- to recognize the Civil War as a rebellion of Americans against other Americans. This was the Union view of things.

 

The member states of the Confederacy, and by extension the armies that bore its many flags, are well-documented as considering themselves a separate country (see, Articles of Secession and definition of secession). Moreover, they -- while not seeing themselves as Americans -- killed Union soldiers and openly attacked both military and civilian populations in the North. The North did the same in the South, obviously, in the name of putting down the armed rebellion.

 

But Southerners, or anyone really, who give wink-and-nod arguments about states' rights, history or heritage to continue displaying Confederate monuments at courthouses, including the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi state flag, really know what everyone else knows. These symbols, and their auspicious display, are inextricably linked to racial discrimination.

 

There's a reason the Ku Klux Klan, and other groups like them, co-opt Confederate imagery. It's the same reason that's driving the people who want to "keep the flag" or "leave our history alone." For all of them, though for some they may not fully realize it, it's an attempt to keep a social order alive where whites are the bosses and everyone else works in the field.

 

And moreover, most of these monuments aren't even really connected to the Civil War. They were cheap, mass produced pieces placed after Reconstruction -- many in the early 20th century -- dedicated as symbols to Jim Crow. The 1894 adoption of the current state flag tells us as much.

 

This imagery deliberately harkens to a time of lynchings. For many, it helps angrily memorialize segregation as an ideal that was ripped away from law abiding Christians by a meddling federal government. It lauds as a hero -- though by using some Southern general's face instead -- the former governor who once went into a Greenwood courtroom during a criminal trial to shake hands with the man who assassinated Medgar Evers.

 

It's a way for states and communities that erect such monuments to say to their target audience, "Know your place."

 

Whether you're hiding behind states' rights, some false idea of Christianity, or if you're not hiding at all and openly believe you have a birthright to be belligerent because you're white, you're wrong. And we see you.

 

It's time Confederate symbolism is put in the same place the Confederate Army found itself in April 1865 -- on the losing side.

 

 

 

Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.

 

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