Memory  /  Argument

Mistaken Ruling over Lee and Jackson Statues Extends Charlottesville Harm

The Lee and Jackson statues were erected not to mourn their deaths, but to glorify their character.
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The unveiling and dedication of a memorial may also reveal its meaning. Ceremonies for war memorials are somber events in keeping with the remembrance of the sacrifices and losses of those injured or killed or missing.

Although occasionally a war memorial may include a figure, that is uncommon. In a review titled “Moving War Memorials to Visit Around the World” from Architectural Digest(May 25, 2017), no military leaders are featured. In fact, the only figurative statue among the 13 is the iconic memorial of Marines at Iwo Jima.

Instead, war memorials are markers and plaques, engraved walls, obelisks, crosses, artifacts, entire ships (USS Arizona), gravestones and cemeteries. These memorials invite us to remember sacrifice and loss and the terrible cost of war.

The Lee and Jackson statues do not meet the criteria above. The dedications of both the Jackson and Lee statues, in 1921 and 1924 respectively, were pageantry and celebration. They were erected not to mourn their deaths, but to glorify their character. Neither man had any affiliation with Charlottesville either before or during the Civil War. No battle took place in Charlottesville.

If the Lee and Jackson statues are not war memorials, then what are they?

I argue that these two statues belong to the category of monuments to heroic figures—or more accurately, people whom those erecting such monuments consider heroic—that may be seen worldwide. These heroic figure monuments are intended to honor and call attention to people who embody the best of human character, as determined by those erecting the monuments.
The celebrants at the installations of the statues to Jackson and Lee were claiming the two men as heroic figures. They were not mourning their loss.

The fact that both Lee and Jackson are in military uniform, or even that Jackson died in battle, is irrelevant. There are many other such statues of military figures, including those who died in battle, that do not meet those three qualifications — location, inscription, and dedication — and that no reasonable person would consider to be war memorials.