Full of rage, grief, and devastation, I’ve read and watched news reports of the barbaric destruction of statues across America, beginning in 2015 and accelerating disturbingly over the past few months. Despite the senseless removal of statue after statue from our city streets and parks, there was one thing that I thought would always be safe: monuments at battlefields. But sadly, in this era of political correctness run amok, even that is no longer the case.
Last month, for example, someone vandalized the statue of Robert E. Lee at the Antietam battlefield in Maryland, writing messages such as “BLM,” “racist,” and “You lost the war.” (What do the results of a war have to do with the moral worth of a cause or the individuals associated with it?) Fortunately, the National Park Service, which manages the battlefield, cleaned off the graffiti.
More recently, two pieces of legislation were introduced that would – and it hurts to even type these words – order the removal of all Confederate monuments from the Gettysburg battlefield. The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1-3, 1863, was the deadliest battle in U.S. history. Approximately 50,000 people lost their lives in the brutal fighting between the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, and the Army of the Potomac, led by General George Meade. Today 1,328 statues and plaques commemorate the individuals, regiments, and brigades who fought there.
Commemorating history being a foreign concept to many people today, the House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior, called HR-7608, on July 24. It would require the National Park Service, which manages dozens of battlefields and historical sites across the country, including Gettysburg and Antietam, to “remove from display all physical Confederate commemorative works, such as statues, monuments, sculptures, memorials, and plaques” within 180 days. Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), who authored this provision, said in a press release that “our public spaces must be open and inviting to all,” which is interesting because honoring only one side of a war does the exact opposite of this. Fortunately, according to the blog Emerging Civil War, this bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee in the Senate and is considered “dead on arrival.”
Sadly, there was also a resolution introduced in the General Assembly of Pennsylvania on August 6 calling for the removal of all Confederate statues and monuments in the state. Known as Resolution 954, it does not specifically mention Gettysburg, but given that Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, its monuments presumably would be included. The resolution, which alleges that Confederate ideals “were on the wrong side of history” and “comprise treason and traitors to this nation,” was referred to the Committee on Rules.
Making things even worse, just this week, Representative Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) introduced a bill calling for the removal of Confederate monuments across the country, not-so-cleverly called the Rejecting and Eliminating the Foul Use of Symbols Exulting (REFUSE) Confederate Principles Act. This bill would create a grant program called the Emancipation Historic Preservation Program to pay for the removal of the statues. “It’s past time that we eradicate these totems of treason and replace them with symbols that represent the true promise of America, such as the emancipation of Black Americans,” Rush said. He also called Confederate statues “abhorrent” and demanded that they be replaced with art that “we can actually be proud of.”
Like so many people associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and its accompanying cult of political correctness, Rush demonstrates no acknowledgement of, or consideration for, opinions that differ from his own. News flash: some people are actually proud of Confederate statues. Just because you are not proud of something does not mean that no one is. And even those who do not admire the Confederacy or its leaders must acknowledge that monuments at battlefields are priceless historical artifacts and crucial parts of what makes these sites so important.
To its credit, the National Park Service has stood up for statues, calling those at Gettysburg “an important part of the cultural landscape.” On a webpage about Confederate monuments, the NPS writes:
Across the country, the National Park Service maintains and interprets monuments, markers, and plaques that commemorate and memorialize those who fought during the Civil War. These memorials represent an important, if controversial, chapter in our Nation’s history. The National Park Service is committed to preserving these memorials while simultaneously educating visitors holistically about the actions, motivations, and causes of the soldiers and states they commemorate. A hallmark of American progress is our ability to learn from our history….
Still other monuments, while lacking legislative authorization, may have existed in parks long enough to qualify as historic features. A key aspect of their historical interest is that they reflect the knowledge, attitudes, and tastes of the people who designed and placed them. Unless directed by legislation, it is the policy of the National Park Service that these works and their inscriptions will not be altered, relocated, obscured, or removed, even when they are deemed inaccurate or incompatible with prevailing present-day values… The NPS will continue to provide historical context and interpretation for all of our sites and monuments in order to reflect a fuller view of past events and the values under which they occurred.
Additionally, the NPS reiterated their support for preserving statues in a statement to Newsweek. They correctly called the removal attempts “part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct.”
Guides who work at Gettysburg and other battlefields have also expressed opposition to the attempts to remove the monuments. “We urge the U.S. Senate to strip out this provision that would destroy the unequaled collection of monuments, Union and Confederate, that set Gettysburg apart as a great battlefield park and a top visitor destination,” Les Fowler, the president of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, said in a press release in response to HR-7608. “The monuments representing all of the soldiers who fought here are a critical component of interpreting these sacred grounds.”
Fowler also wrote an excellent opinion piece for the York Daily Record in which he explains exactly what the legislation would do:
If enacted into law, the House bill would mean a visit to any of these battlefield parks would be immeasurably diminished… It would mean removing the five-figure sculpture group at Gettysburg’s North Carolina Memorial, a masterpiece that depicts the emotions of men facing a desperate attack. It would mean the loss of the emotional “Angel of Marye’s Heights” sculpture at Fredericksburg depicting Confederate Richard Kirkland coming to the aid of a fallen Union soldier. It would mean taking down Shiloh’s Mississippi Memorial just five years after it was put up.
Gary Gallagher also wrote an editorial in defense of Gettysburg’s monuments for the Civil War Times. “No education of any value depends on selective erasure of troubling dimensions of America’s story,” he writes. “History should not be turned into a simplistic morality play juxtaposing good and evil, heroes and villains, and contrived to serve current political goals.”
The fact that opinion pieces would even need to be written in defense of Gettysburg’s monuments is heartbreaking. This issue should not even be up for debate. To say that I oppose these bills that would order the removal of Confederate statues from battlefields and national parks is a gross understatement. Every single person on earth should be against these pieces of legislation, and there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to support them. The fact that members of the House of Representatives actually voted in favor of requiring battlefield monuments to be removed is disgusting. What makes Gettysburg an important historic site is the fact that it was the location of a momentous battle fought by two sides. Soldiers on both sides bravely fought, and in many cases sacrificed their lives, for what they believed in. To remove the monuments to the losing side of this battle and war is not only bigoted, intolerant, and authoritarian; it also completely defeats the entire purpose of the Gettysburg battlefield.