Editor’s Note: a guest post by W. Geary Mason, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), who helped to lead the fight against the monument removals in New Orleans.
On the weekend of Memorial Day, it seems timely to address an issue regarding memorials to American veterans. I am a 28 year U.S Army veteran and am saddened to see the recent wave of removals of historic monuments that started in New Orleans and has spread across the country.
While I may not speak for all veterans, I have spoken to over 100 of my veteran brothers and sisters over the past few years about this issue and the vast majority (probably 98%) of us believe that removing military memorials and monuments is unjust and wrong. I would like to set the record straight about military memorials and monuments.
The majority of monuments at issue honor soldiers, not politicians. Politicians decide who goes to war and what for. Soldiers fulfill their duty by fighting the wars the politicians order them to fight. The ultimate duty of a soldier is to defend his homeland. Whether you agree or not with their reason to fight, the soldiers who gave their lives to defend their homeland deserve the same honor we extend to soldiers who sacrifice to defend our country today. It is wrong to dishonor the memory of soldiers who bravely carried out a soldier’s duty to protect his homeland, regardless about how one feels about the war itself.
In today’s world, many people had problems with the recent Iraq war, but patriotic Americans distinguished between their dislike of the war and the treatment of soldiers. The general sentiment today, which is quite different than during the Vietnam war, is appropriately “I thank you for your service.” As citizens, it is appropriate to honor those who put themselves in peril for us regardless of how history judges the war. Memorials and monuments to soldiers do not honor the cause for which they fought, they honor the soldiers’ service, sacrifice and valor.
Judging yesterday’s heroes and events by today’s standards is a slippery slope that has no logical conclusion. No figure in history is without sins for which they would now be condemned if they are judged by today’s standards. If we strain hard enough, we can always find a statue or monument that offends someone for some reason.
Does that mean that a monument should be removed? Of course not!
A larger issue that has been awakened here is the building of any new memorials and monuments to honor those who sacrificed and died in the Global War on Terrorism since 9/11. Most of us know someone who has deployed overseas to Afghanistan and/or Iraq over the last two decades. Many young Americans gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting terrorism overseas. Most Americans would agree that a new memorial or monument to these recent fallen heroes would be a worthy project. But, why would one want to spend the time, energy and money to erect a new monument today, if a future politician can randomly decide that they reason they fought is unjust and then remove the monument years from now?
Monuments should be permanent and reflect important times in history. They should be treated with tolerance and respect and kept in historical context. Removing them to satisfy today’s self-serving political agenda destroys the character of our community and country. Our history is sometimes painful but it makes us who we are and serves to educate in order to build a better future.
Today’s justification for monument removal is the “Cult of the Lost Cause” narrative and that the monuments are a lie. This narrative is biased and misleading propaganda designed to promote an emotional rather than a rational response. Military memorials and monuments are built to reconcile and heal the wounds of war. They memorialize historic contributions that should not be forgotten over time and serve to educate future generations of important people and events in history. In this case, the widows and orphans of men who died fighting in the Civil War spent years, even decades raising funds to erect monuments to leaders of the time.
When the Lee Circle monument was dedicated in 1884, leaders and soldiers from the victorious Union army attended and supported the dedication ceremonies. This helped reconcile and heal the scars of war and bring the country together. It is offensive to suggest that any American who gave their life in service to his country, in any conflict since America’s inception, is a “lost cause.”