Here’s something unexpected. We in the newsroom witnessed a remarkably civil discourse online the other day.
With all the hubbub about the removal of Confederate statues and monuments as of late, it was easy for some to get their feathers in a bunch over the issue. Some feel removing the statues is an attempt to erase history. Others feel the removal is a long overdue response. Some have correctly noted Confederate Generals weren’t the only ones to own slaves and were doing what they felt was right.
In my opinion, keeping a statue of someone in the middle of a town square because they felt they were doing the right thing at the time is inadequate. It takes motivation out of the equation. The human beast is capable of committing atrocities believing them to be right, as history has shown. History has also shown we tear down statues commemorating lost causes and former leaders quite often. No one threw their arms up and said history was being destroyed when the statue of Sadam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad. Rather the opposite. No one said the Continental soldiers should leave the statue of King George standing in Bowling Green, New York, for the sake of posterity. They pulled it down. The allies certainly didn’t question whether the swastika capping the Zeppelintribune near Nuremberg, Germany, should be kept for future generations to understand both sides of the conflict. They blew it to smithereens.
In each case, some artist or architect worked diligently to craft a symbol that would later become a sore spot on the collective conscience of future generations. In each case, destruction was deemed appropriate. However, a counter example does come to mind.
In some former Soviet countries, sculptures have been moved to parks created specifically to house the works for posterity. Rather than leave the statues in their intended state of prominence, the people saw fit to make them what they are: relics in a menagerie of a by-gone system.
Believe it or not, that’s actually the same idea we saw come across some social media feeds this week. People on both sides of the issue actually reached a general consensus on the idea of creating parks or museums to house the Confederate statues. I'm in that camp myself. We can admit the war took place, without forgetting the famous generals or elevating their cause. And, in some ways, we can leave the divisive nature of the issue behind by the very creation of such parks.
In the case of Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary, a similar idea from the site’s designer Akos Eleod has become the park’s motto:
“This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described and built up, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide an opportunity to think freely about dictatorship. Or about democracy, come to that! Or about anything!”
I admit the slavery associated with the Confederacy isn’t quite the same as communist dictatorship. But I will parallel Eleod and say we can only debate the virtue of Confederate icons because we are free to do so. If we put the statues in a park, they become an issue more than an object of affection. It dials down the emotion. It draws a clear delineation between then and now.
And now is the time.