Americans decried Arlington National Cemetery’s (ANC) plans to remove the Confederate Memorial as an affront to the unity and reconciliation it symbolizes at a public comment session Wednesday evening.
The Army solicited feedback from the public as part of a legal process determining the memorial’s historic significance and how to best carry out the dismantling after a congressionally-mandated study found the structure troublesome, according to the removal page. Dozens of respondents — many identifying as veterans and claiming both Union and Confederate veterans in their heritage — offered feedback in a session Wednesday that ran three hours, making the case for saving the memorial because of its artistic value and function as a symbol of restoration.
“With the monument’s destruction the reconciliation message that Lincoln, Grant, McKinley Taft and Roosevelt advocated will be lost,” Brett Gregory, one commenter, said. Removing it “will not unite, but only divide,” he said. (RELATED: ‘Covers Up History’: Retired Army Rangers Hammer The Pentagon For Purging Confederates From The Ranger Memorial)
Congress created the Naming Commission in 2021 tasked with identifying and removing names, bases and other Department of Defense assets honoring the Confederate States of America “or any person who served voluntarily” for the Confederacy. The Pentagon’s final report recommended removing the bronze upper and leaving the granite base intact to avoid disturbing graves.
But, commenters said the memorial does not so much honor the Confederacy as commemorate a movement toward reunification after the Union’s victory.
They worried about the precedent set by dismantling the memorial, creating, as commenter Joseph Judson Smith III described, the “paradox of destruction of a monument to peace, harmony and reconciliation.”
One participant, Bob Heister, disagreed.
“There should be no memorials to those who took up arms against the United States. Reconciliation this way? No thanks,” he said.
Former President William McKinley, a Union veteran, commissioned the memorial in 1898, according to the memorial’s webpage on the ANC site. Congress allowed for more than 400 Confederate veterans to be reinterred in graves forming concentric circles around the memorial in a bid to foster healing from the Civil War half a century prior.
“The elaborately designed monument offers a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery,” ANC wrote.
A statue of a woman representing the “American South” holds a laurel wreath, plow stock and pruning hook encircled by 14 shields representing the 11 Confederate states and border states Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. Of the the 32 figures engraved into the pedestal, two appear as slaves and an inscription pays tribute to the idea of the Southern states’ war as a “lost cause.”
ANC will host a virtual public scoping meeting on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. EST to solicit comments from the public on the congressionally mandated removal and relocation of the statue and bronze elements associated with the Confederate Memorial. Learn more ⬇️ https://t.co/tSZYMCyjBk
— Arlington National Cemetery (@ArlingtonNatl) August 16, 2023
ANC sought “alternatives that will avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects of the monument’s removal” but unsuccessfully instructed commenters to avoid calling for no action.
The memorial also serves as a grave marker, and removing it would be both illegal and an affront to those buried at Arlington, many commenters argued.
Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish-American Confederate veteran and Virginia Military Institute cadet, is buried at the base, according to a the cemetery’s page for the structure. A few commenters lobbied accusations of antisemitism based on Ezekiel’s Jewish roots.
‘We should memorialize the country we are today by reflecting this reality and leave the monuments of the past to tell the story of the past following the Civil War,” Jennifer London said.
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