By Mike A. Bryan, Staff Writer
Have you ever visited Germany? It is a beautiful country, with many parks, green spaces, outdoor sculptures, and friendly cities. It can be hard to believe that just under one hundred years ago, a man named Adolf Hitler came to power.
He transformed the group of kingdoms that made up the German and Prussian empire into a full-fledged, industrialized country in a very short time. He then took that country to war; a war that left millions upon millions of people dead, including over five million Jewish people, and millions more of Russian soldiers and citizens. Today, when you visit the country, there are a few reminders of this time – certain structures, like outdoor amphitheaters, can be found in various parts of the country. You will not however, find any statues of Hitler, or paintings or drawings for that matter. The German people, or at least the majority of them, know that his legacy is not to be forgotten, and do not need graven images to remind themselves of this fact.
Just in case you do need a reminder of the numerous atrocities committed by the cruel former leader, a number of concentration camps are still able to be visited. A visit to one of these former concentration camps is a sobering reminder of the violence that occurred there – it is quite amazing what one human being can do to another in the name of a “just” and “patriotic” cause. Americans could take a lesson from the Germans in this area.
Here in our country, we have numerous statues and other memorials to a war that was fought over one hundred and fifty years ago; a war that was fought within our own country, and led to the deaths of over 600,000 Americans. This war was the bloodiest in our history, with the same total amount of lives lost as in all the other wars combined. When you look up the reasons for the war, our white-washed history books have a tendency to focus on the idea of “state’s rights.” While this most certainly played a role in the conflict, there was really only one “right” that the Southern states wanted to keep – slavery.
Although slavery occurred all over the world for much of recorded history, the Spanish, British, Dutch, and Portuguese brought it to new heights during the 1700 and 1800’s. They built a huge multi-national economy on the slave trade, which gave rise to a new country, our country, the United States of America. Our country would not have experienced the intense and fast economic growth without the work done by the African slaves who were brought here against their will. There were untold deaths, with an estimated 10 million Africans actually surviving the trip and making it to this country. It is highly probable that at least that many perished on the journey, or not long after having arrived here. Their lives, once here, were horrific, being treated like animals or pieces of property.
In 1865, a group of South Carolinians started the Civil War, also known as the War Between the States. As stated above, this was the bloodiest war in our history, with the highest body count of any conflict in American history. Again, the main reason for this war was to keep slavery legal in the Southern states; their economies were agriculture-based, with free labor provided by the slaves. The Northern states were more industrialized, relying less on agriculture, and mostly having outlawed slavery before the start of the Civil War. This bloody war lasted less than a decade, and once the dust settled, the North were the victors. After the end of the war, numerous changes occurred in our country, with equal rights for all Americans eventually being made into amendments to our U.S. Constitution.
These changes took about one hundred years, with a set of laws referred to as “Jim Crow Laws” ruling the lives of the newly freed African-Americans in the South for much of that time period. In the 1960’s, the Civil Rights Movement helped usher in more changes in equality for all Americans. These laws were not widely liked or approved of in the South. In order to maintain some semblance of independence, many Southern states incorporated the Confederate army war flag into their state flags, and erected statues and memorials to their losing military officers and leaders.
In the state of South Carolina, the Confederate army flag was placed atop the State House capitol building, along with the flags of the U.S. and South Carolina. This action was approved by the state legislature during the early 1960’s, in response to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement that was taking place all over the country. In South Carolina in particular, this decision was completely racist–the Confederate battle flag that we commonly see was the flag of the Confederate army. South Carolina had no army, only a navy–so why would that state fly this flag on top of their capitol building?
This type of activity occurred all over the South, and in other cities such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and West Point, NY as well; each statue, memorial or flag flown was in response to the changes in equality laws that our country was undergoing. In other words, those States that had already lost a war over the treatment of all citizens as equals were attempting to show that everyone was not in fact equal, and that the whites were still in power. These flags, statues, and memorials have served as a constant reminder of that terrible time period in American history, and that applies if you are not of African descent. If you happen to be an African-American, those representations of that part of our history have been a reminder that their ancestors were slaves who were killed, mistreated, and put down for hundreds of years. The atrocities committed against the African slaves brought to our country are innumerable, vast, and completely unjustifiable.
There are some scholars who would point out that certain Confederate war “heroes,” such as Robert E. Lee, also contributed greatly to the burgeoning country of the U.S. before the Civil War started. Robert E. Lee in particular was involved in other military operations before the Civil War for which he could be honored. Be that as it may, he led the Confederate armies in an attempt to secure the continuation of slavery in this country. He made his choice, to be a part of what would become the losing side. His contributions to the greatness of the U.S. are vastly overshadowed by his service in the Confederacy.
Let us follow the example that our German allies have set, and not honor this horrific time period in our history. Take down the statues, memorials, and flags, wherever they may be displayed. The majority of the monuments honor the losing side anyway, and who wants to remember such a loss? It is completely unfair to our fellow African-American citizens to have to live with these daily reminders of that terrible time in history. Now is the time for change. Now is the time to grow, evolve, and become better Americans. Take them down.