July 4, 2020 | 3:27am
Monuments come in many forms; bronze statues in parks, a distinguished building, sculpted faces on a mountain side, or a military base name honoring those who were a significant part of its history. Monuments are purposefully enduring recognition of a cherished moment in time. Monuments matter.
On the eve of Independence Day, Donald Trump spoke to a (mostly unmasked) crowd in front of Mount Rushmore. During his speech, Trump took aim at the worldwide protests against racial inequity. “Make no mistake,” he said. “This left-wing, cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. Our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but were villains. That is why I’m deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”
As he spoke of deploying federal law enforcement to protect monuments, Trump continued to have a deaf ear to millions worldwide who are protesting racial inequity. If he were to take a step back he might see the simplicity of why certain military bases must be renamed and certain monuments must be removed.
The Washington Monument was built to commemorate George Washington in his fight against British tyranny. The Statue of Liberty was built to commemorate the ending of the Civil War and enslavement of black people. The Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C. was designed as an enduring tribute to an American who fought for freedom, opportunity and justice for black Americans. These particular monuments commemorate the people and moments, which helped propel the nation toward the ideals of a “more perfect Union.”
However, some monuments commemorate a completely different ideal. Throughout the nation, there are statues and monuments exalting individuals who directly fought against that union. They attempted to rip the country apart while preserving slavery and the free labor it provided. The most prominent is Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial just outside Atlanta. Larger than Mount Rushmore, this monument honors three Confederate leaders: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. All three fought to overthrow the U.S. government during the Civil War. Honoring these men who attempted to rip the country apart to champion slavery would be as if Israel chose to erect statues in Jerusalem to commemorate Hitler and his henchmen.
Men and events like these should never have been memorialized, but instead their stories should be taught to our children as a disgraceful and truly unpatriotic chapter in the American story. Our children must understand why the freedoms they enjoy have such value. Part of the price paid for those freedoms grants them the opportunity to protest the unjust, systemic mistreatment of its citizens and to demand change across the nation. That is patriotism.
Donald Trump continues to stand in defiance of removing monuments and renaming military bases that pay tribute to these villainous traitors who tried to destroy this nation from within. Trump called them heroes.
Keeping these monuments in place speaks volumes as to the things we hold dear. Allowing them to stand is equivalent to erecting statues throughout the country to commemorate every foreign adversary against whom the bravest among us fought and died. The obvious absurdity of this would never take place. I ask why then do we do the same by commemorating Confederates who were homegrown adversaries?
As things change and we gain a clearer historical perspective of past events, the things we exalt must change as well. There is nothing wrong with removing and renaming things that no longer align with evolving national values.
The goal is not to erase our history. The goal is to bring balance to our history. That means we must jettison the horrors of our past as we prepare for the history-making journey that awaits us. It is in this journey we should memorialize true heroes. Those who have and will continue to push us toward the balance and equity idealized in a “more perfect Union.”
And if renaming military bases and removing monuments are stops along the way, so be it.