Arlington’s Confederate Memorial Under Attack

Under directives from the Naming Commission, the Pentagon has set its sights on the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, sparking a contentious debate. This move is part of an agenda to expunge all Confederate references from military installations nationwide. While some argue it’s time to distance the nation from divisive symbols, others, including the National Sons of Confederate Veterans, are fighting to keep the memorial intact.

James Ronald Kennedy, the chief of heritage operations at the National Sons of Confederate Veterans, outlined the monument’s importance during a virtual hearing held by Arlington National Cemetery. “It had to do with memorializing veterans–giving family members whose sons, brothers, husbands did not return, buried in unmarked graves all across the south, give them a place to remember their loved ones that did not return,” Kennedy explained.

Despite the Pentagon’s focus on the memorial, the urgency to address more pressing issues, such as declining recruitment, remains. The commission’s decision to concentrate on historical monuments diverts attention from crucial challenges facing our military today.

This effort to dismantle the memorial would involve stripping it of its intricate bronze work, leaving just the granite base. A key figure in this campaign is Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who declared his commitment to implementing the commission’s recommendations “as soon as possible, within legal constraints.” Yet, these moves counter the initial intent of the memorial as a symbol of reconciliation between the North and the South.

This memorial has its roots in a bipartisan spirit. President William McKinley, moved by the sacrifices of Southerners in the Spanish-American War, first authorized Confederate soldiers to rest at Arlington. Secretary of War William Howard Taft later approved fundraising for the memorial, which was dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Wilson emphasized that the monument represented a chapter in U.S. history that should be acknowledged, not eradicated. “We now face and admire one another,” he said.

Furthermore, Kennedy highlighted that one of the signals that a war is over and peace is achieved is when the defeated enemy is allowed to honor their war dead. “If the victorious side starts to desecrate their enemies’ war memorials, it means the war is back on,” Kennedy warned. Such a precedent could be seen as a divisive and troubling development.

The intentional destruction of history in the name of progress is a slippery slope. Erasing the memorial does not erase our nation’s past’s complex and challenging chapters. Rather than bowing to the winds of popular political ideology, the conversation should be about preserving history, honoring all who fought for their beliefs, and learning from our past to foster true unity.

Dismantling the Confederate Memorial at Arlington is not just to disavow a part of American history; it also disrespects those who gave their lives in service to their country. Stripping away monuments may serve a short-term political aim, but it threatens to leave future generations with a sanitized and unrecognizable past.