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Differentiating memory and honor

<ff the bat I will establish that I am not a history major. The skills history majors have in being able to remember key dates in a huge textbook of history are something I as an IR major can only admire. However, I am still able to determine whether an item preserved from history is presented for contemporary honor or mere memory.

Right after the efforts to remove Civil War monuments came to the public eye late this summer, conservatives freaked out and suggested that by getting rid of these monuments, liberals wanted to remove any sense of history. Conservatives extended this idea to mean the removal of monuments like the Statue of Liberty.  
While the answer may seem complicated on what to do with monuments, I truly believe there is quite a simple response formula.

People will always have differing opinions on monuments. There are the Neo-Nazis who want to proudly maintain the Robert E. Lee monuments and there are many liberals who adamantly want them down. Then there are those in the middle who are conflicted about the determination of a controversial historical figure as a positive historical figure. Since history is heavily based in one’s bias, you cannot objectively state that a figure was good or bad.

But (and I cannot overemphasize the importance of this factor), general public opinions are key. If there is suddenly a public demand to remove a monument that is deemed offensive, perhaps listen to public officials and agree to take it down. In a less dramatic sense, if there is some uncertainty about how people feel toward a monument, encourage constituents to write you letters and exercise their good old civic duties.

When I say remove a monument though, I do not mean destroy any memory. At some point in time, there was strong enough support to make that monument in the first place, a key aspect in history. Thus, the appropriate place to put it would be a museum, along with an explanation of the conditions surrounding the creation of the monument. I believe it really comes down to the location of statues. If a statue is currently in, say, a town square, it is inherently suggested by the statue’s location that the support for that figure remains.

A good example of this idea is in my hometown. In a very popular section of town there is a prominent statue of a minuteman. This minuteman intends to represents the independently organized militia who worked to fight for America in my hometown during the Revolutionary War. Anyone that I have talked to about this monument supports it, as it shows our strength as a community against any odds.

On the other hand, if a statue is in a museum (after previously being outside as a monument), there is a different king of acknowledgement of a relevant history. If we moved a Robert E. Lee statue into a museum, we could explain that this statue represented, for far too long, ideals of systematic oppression and now, with its removal, symbolizes efforts to fight this ongoing oppression in the US.

I really cannot stress enough the utmost importance of preserving history. I am thinking beyond Civil War monuments, and extending these thoughts to any token or symbol from a time in any part of the world. As I write this, I am in Nepal, the first of three countries on a comparative human rights OCS program. Earlier this week, an activist came to talk to us about photography of the Civil War that lasted from 1996 to 2006 and devastated every aspect of the nation’s morale. The pictures we viewed told many stories and from many different perspectives. I do not know enough about the Nepalese Civil War to give a valuable opinion in any direction. However, I know that these photographs have served many meaningful purposes in remembering a harsh time in the national history. The United States needs to realize this: denying our history is an injustice in itself. Thus, the issue just comes down to where to exhibit said history.

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