Confederate Monuments Museum: How to Avoid the Taliban Syndrome

ConfederateMonumentSmallBy Chidem Kurdas

Another piece of American history bites the dust – New Orleans dismantled another Confederate monument.

The South’s haunting mementoes of the Civil War are reminders of a past the shaped today’s United States. The country is still coming to terms with this past. The demolition of statues might not be a total waste if it makes people think about the significance of the history.

In writing the last chapter of my book, “Seven Reasons to Love the Constitution,” I sought a fresh 21st century perspective on the war and came upon “America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation.” I quoted from this study: “Thus David Goldfield argues that the ‘political system established by the Founders would have been resilient and resourceful enough’ to solve the problem of slavery.”

Recently I asked Dr. Goldfield – professor of history at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte – whether he wanted to amend or add anything. His reply is the best pocket statement of the subject that I have encountered.

He explains the basis of his reasoning: “In the U.S., policy makers have used war as one of many responses to conflicts, rather than as the very last resort.  War, in other words, has become too easy.  I felt that the Civil War fell into this category.”

War could have been averted, although “by the 1850s compromise became difficult.  But not impossible.  We needed creative leaders; we didn’t have them.

Lincoln believed war was inevitable – ‘the tug must come’, he said.  Given that frame of mind, it is not surprising that both he and his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, found armed conflict the easy way out.  The result was 750,000 young men dead.  Yes, of course, 4 million slaves were freed.  But African Americans spent the next century as second-class citizens at best.  We are still paying the price of the unintended consequences of the Civil War in our fraught race relations.” (quotes from email by David Goldfield)

The horrendously destructive war left a deep schism that can only be closed through mutual understanding and sympathy. Destroying memorials, by contrast, worsens civil antagonism. I suggest that unwanted Confederate monuments be moved to an open air museum at a location where residents do not object. This could be part of an existing museum or a new organization set up for the purpose. I’d find such a collection fascinating and I guess so would many Americans.

We still need creative thinking to bridge the chasm. Let’s build a museum of monuments. It is all too easy to destroy statues—no one does it better than the Taliban. We should not emulate them.

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