I understand perfectly well the propriety of honoring our troops — and especially the fallen. But I never understood the impulse to glamorize war. War, after all, seems to run counter to survival and well-being, so I’d have thought we would characterize it as the madness that it is rather than as the apex of human achievement. Maybe World War II seemed glamorous on the newsreels one could view from the safety of a bucket seat at the drive-in, but I imagine that the soldier on Omaha Beach trying to stuff his guts back into his torso was having a rather less romantic experience of things. I’m not a peacenik, by the way, so I’m not saying that war-fighting is never necessary or heroic; I’m just saying that it’s never appealing.
This impulse to glamorize the ugliness of warfare is even more inexplicable in the context of the Civil War — a war started by treasonous racists more inclined to kill their own brothers than give up their slaves. Yet monuments were erected to such figures, and Donald Trump was right to say that many of the monuments are, as monuments go, “beautiful.” And that would be the problem: that such ugliness should be depicted as beauty.
Those of us who advocate for the lawful removal of these Confederate monuments (I think I’ll call them monustrosities from now on) stand accused of trying to wash away real people and events as though they never existed or happened — or trying to “sanitize” our history.
That’s an ironic charge to make against people who want to take these things down so we can get real about the Civil War. Who is sanitizing what?
Is this what the Civil War looked like:
Or did it look like this:
Was the South fighting for this ideal . . .
Or was it this?
It’s hard to look at, isn’t it? The real ones, that is. If we want to fashion monuments that preserve our Civil-War history as it really was, rather than as it manifests in the daydreams of Twenty-First Century racists longing for “simpler times,” then we should take our children to expansive fields full of rotting, stinking entrails (after all, that’s what humans look like after being blown all to pieces), telling them, “This is what it was really like. Isn’t it just glorious?”
The “PC police” in this case are not those agitating for the removal of Confederate monustrosities, but those agitating to keep them. These advocates for an imagined Civil War pitting noble generals against one another in a contest between Yankees and an idyllic South just holding on to its sovereignty and its agrarian way of life — they are the ones sanitizing and bastardizing our history.
It’s time for the magical thinkers to relent, to acknowledge our history as it really was, and to remove fake symbols that distort and obscure that history.