A vast difference between memorializing the dead and memorializing the cause

Originally a comment by Patrick G on “Vandals.”


There is a vast difference between memorializing the dead and memorializing the cause. The Civil War entailed a horrific loss of life, which should be remembered. However, memorials should not celebrate the evil cause in service of which the Confederacy fought. Bridges and streets should not be named after those who sunk this nation into war to preserve slavery. Politicians and citizens should not be celebrating this Lost Cause while working to disenfranchise the descendants of people their ancestors went to war to keep enslaved.

If the Vietnam memorial said “We’d do it again, because napalm is awesome and if we’d stayed longer Vietnam wouldn’t be Communist today!”, I’d absolutely support the defacement of that memorial. But it doesn’t, it simply commemorates the dead and is rather neutral on any other topic (not least, noting that Vietnam is not Communist today). The dead matter, not the lying cause.

If a (hypothetical) Iraq memorial said “We’d do it again, because our leaders didn’t lie to us and we totally found WMDs!”, I’d absolutely support the defacement of that memorial. The dead matter, not the lying cause.

This is a memorial celebrating those who attacked first at Fort Sumter to start a civil war (or, if you want to be weaselly, died later trying to prevent it being retaken). It sits under a Confederate Flag symbolizing racial terror that continues to this day. It sits in a city bursting to the seams with celebration of crime and treason in defense of slavery. It sits in a state whose legacy of toxic racism is a matter of public record and history. It sits in a nation where so many people deny any racism exists at all (unless it’s towards white people!), while turning a blind eye to police brutality, the suppression of voting rights, and systemic economic inequality.

The dead matter, but too many Americans still believe in that lying cause. That memorial, in all the context noted above, says “Slavery and racism rule! We were right, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat!”. I don’t even have to infer this — we have politicians from multiple states who are still campaigning on racist brutality and yes, even secession!

So do try to be a bit more clear on just what this vandalism was actually trying to point out. You seem to think it’s strictly about mocking the dead of the past. If that were true, I’d feel quite differently. But clearly, it’s not about mocking the dead. It’s about drawing attention to the suffering of the present, and how the living are still deeply wedded to an evil cause.

Have a nice day.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    from Wikipedia:

    Although most Civil War soldiers were volunteers, both sides ultimately resorted to conscription.

    I do mourn those who were conscripted, and of course those who were slaves forced to aid the army of the slavers. But for the Confederate volunteers, I have nothing but contempt. Some people try to blow smoke up our asses by claiming their motivations were more about states’ rights and defending their homes, but you’d have to be dumber than Gomer Pyle and Forrest Gump combined to not understand that they were really fighting for the right to treat some human beings as if they were animals.
    Fuck the Confederate army, fuck the Confederate volunteers, fuck Southern pride!

  2. freemage says

    moarscienceplz: I’d certainly concur in the case of officers, especially the Confederate high command (Lee, et al). Those were generally wealthy (and educated) men, who were active participants in and beneficiaries of the slave economy. But I’m a bit more reluctant to make a blanket statement about the motives of the average rank-and-file soldier without some sort of proof. Propaganda was no less a thing back in those days, and no less effective at stirring up good people to do really horrible shit in the name of an atrocious cause. And once the bullets started flying, ‘defense of their homes’ really was a thing to be worried about. As necessary as it may have been, Sherman’s March and the Scorched-Earth policy, would likely be considered a war crime in the modern era.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    I’m a bit more reluctant to make a blanket statement about the motives of the average rank-and-file soldier without some sort of proof.

    Thank you, Mr. Sealion.

    If someone volunteers to join an army, they are beholden to understand why they themselves are fighting and what the motivations of that army are. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse, choosing to make war must be done with clear eyes and careful thought, or else the “soldier” is really just a mobster.
    In the case of the Confederate volunteers, they are moral monsters either way.

  4. freemage says

    The problem I have with that is that very, very few wars, from what I can see, have ever been defensible on those grounds. Even if there was a just cause wrapped up in there, or there was some positive outcome, very often the war was actually conceived of and joined in for more base political motives. We didn’t declare war on Germany in order to stop the Holocaust–we did it because we wanted to put Germany in their place (and a lot of the first wave of enlistees did it because they wanted revenge for Pearl Harbor).

    Hell, neither Lincoln nor the bulk of the Union soldiers really cared about slavery as their cause; they were out to put down a rebellion and save the Union, period. If the South had capitulated early on, it’s not improbable that we would’ve gone back to being a divided country with a slowly dwindling number of slave states well into the next century.

    How, pray tell, was the average southerner supposed to know the causes for which he was really being sent to war? Illiteracy was several times more common than in the North; likewise, newspapers and other means by which you heard anything other than the speeches of the leadership. You’re evaluating unschooled dirt farmers by the standards of a society in which Google is a thing.

    To be clear–I don’t think there was some sort of secretly noble streak in the Confederate volunteers, either. They obviously had never, for the most part, pushed to end the institution of slavery, nor could they claim to be ignorant of its horrors.

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