Honoring the Past, or Ignoring the Reality?

Removing monuments is a sticky situation any way you look at it. This is also a very broad issue. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on statues pertaining to American wars. On one side, people feel the need to keep a physical testament to the, what they would call, proud, heritage of their forefathers. On the other side, people look at said symbols and it brings to mind horrible memories and stories of that same heritage oppressing people groups in violent, inhumane ways. Removing these monuments is an increasingly large topic of conversation in the United States. I, for one, advocate for the removal of all public monuments pertaining to American wars. I believe that they should be placed in museums. Those museums, no matter what they represent, should be respected by all people. Putting any and all monuments in museums solves the problem that people are forced to see offensive statues in their daily life. If one wants to “remember their heritage,” feel free to go into the museum. If one wants to honor the sacrifices made by people who faced horrible oppression, go into that museum. One case in Mobile, Alabama, displayed this idea perfectly. A statue of a confederate navy officer in downtown Mobile was moved to a local museum, and the Mayor of Mobile stated that she had no doubt that this was the right move. This allows people who want to honor that specific area of history to be able to do so, without shoving it in the face of everyone in the city. The article containing this story had many other stories in which removing offensive monuments and relocating them to museums has been a great success. I think this is a good way to compromise. Unfortunately, history is offensive, whether one likes it or not.


“Where Have Statues of Confederates, and Other Historical Figures, Been Removed?” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-06-16/confederate-statues-removed.


  1. I don’t think we can make a blanket statement calling for the removal of “all public monuments pertaining to American wars.” First, I will concede that placing in a museum with additional context is appropriate for some monuments. However, there are many monuments it would not be effective or practical to place in a museum. For example think of the Vietnam War Memorial. This monument to American dead of the Vietnam War is massive and its removal would certainly cause outrage to living veterans as well as the families of veterans living and dead. For good reason too, the Vietnam War Memorial is simply a chronological list of names of the war dead on long series of black stone. There is nothing about the monument pushing a political agenda about the war, it simply presents the dead for us to memorialize. Many monuments serve similar functions throughout the country and their removal would warrant similar criticism.
    My point is that this issue is much too complicated to simply call for the removal of all monuments about American wars. The solutions to the issues in our memorial landscape are much more nuanced and need to evaluated in a slow, deliberate manner.


  2. You’ve both made some good points here. One other thing I’d add: how do we ensure that the different roles of memorial and museum don’t get elided with one another? If you take memorials to be a necessary or at least sometimes useful form of commemoration, you have to realize as well that museums serve a very different function, namely, to interpret the past. Interpretation and commemoration are very different things.


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