Free speech is a thing in this country. It has been since our constitution was written and throughout our sad and bloody history, it’s been championed by both sides of the argument. Those who wish to include and those who wish to exclude have both claimed protection under the first amendment. In local news here in my neck of the woods some people are up in arms over the removal of confederate monuments at government sites. This is an open letter to both sides.
Stop it. Just listen to one another for a minute or two. I don’t mean let the other side talk while you consider your next retort. I mean really listen.
To the opponents of removing the confederate monuments I say that your symbol, one you might believe to be of history and heritage is no longer viewed by the wider world as what you think it means. That sucks. I’m sorry that’s happened to a symbol you hold dear. You have something in common with the Navajo, the Norse, the Chinese, and a hundred other cultures who for 12000 years used the swastika as a symbol of the pursuit of knowledge, peace, and a symbol of the sun. It is now almost universally seen as a symbol of hate and intolerance, and fear. If you had a symbol that you viewed as something you found hideous, heinous, emblematic of injustice and embracing everything you see as wrong with the world, would you shrug and say, “Oh well, it’s history.” or would you fight to have it removed. The proponents of removing these monuments are doing just that. They see your symbol of heritage as much of the rest of the civilized world does. They see it as hate. They see it as ignorance. They see it as fear. If you could put yourself in their position, if you could think selflessly and see the pain that your symbols of heritage and history can cause another human being, you might find a compromise somewhere. There is always a compromise.
To the proponents of removing these symbols, think again about the history of the symbol. We could let these symbols go the way of the swastika, a symbol once revered by hundreds of cultures. We could see them as hateful and ignorant and intolerant and let the world view them as an empty hate image or we could try to see them as something else. Try to understand that the opponents of removal don’t all see this the way you do. Many of them don’t think they’re hateful or ignorant. They see the history of the south depicted in these monuments and flags. They’re not trying to bring back a society that marginalized a people but they want to remember that the confederate states existed and fought for what they believed to be right. In their view, the national government was oppressive and was taking away the rights of the people and so they fought. Maybe how you’re fighting now against a regime, or reality tv president, you disagree with. Just because you don’t share the views of the people who wore confederate gray, doesn’t mean we need to erase them from history. Were they wrong? Probably, but none of those issues of slavery and property exist now and will never again. Political motivation and “rights” are still hotly debated topics regardless of what those rights might be. These people, your neighbors who want to keep these monuments, don’t want to go back to those days, but want to remember that a part of history happened here; Maybe to avoid repeating the worst parts. There has to be a way to compromise.
To both sides I say this: None of this really matters. A wise friend of mine used to say, “No one will remember this in 200 years.” What he means is that this conflict doesn’t matter. How do you know what your great great great grandchildren will think about this argument. The world is becoming more and more inclusive and rejecting anything that keeps us apart. If we come together over the monument issue and they become symbols we can all embrace or if we come together and take each other’s views and pains into account, it doesn’t really matter. We will eventually tear down all barriers when we realize we’re all one people. We don’t have to forget our history if we remove a flag, we don’t have to have a statue to remember who we are, we don’t have to hate each other because we have differing opinions and it is never alright to make one person feel afraid to make your point. If there is a lesson to be taken from the Civil War and the fall of the Confederacy, it is this:
Be Better. That’s all the monument we really need.