Touch not the ancient monuments: An appeal to honor on erasing history
There is no higher camaraderie than reconciled brothers. There is no lower connivance than reconciliation revoked. Yet, memorials, naming events, and great halls of learning erected by generations past to seek reconciliation among brothers formerly entangled in war are being systematically destroyed.
Reading Scripture, the better word may be “desecrated,” for we read, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28). The verse comes from the wisdom literature of the Bible, Proverbs, and wisdom is just what we need in this hour. To cavalierly dismantle the signs of solidarity fiercely won after so bitter and costly a contest is a shameful act of unprecedented disrespect to the gallant who died, the widows and orphans who remained, those soldiers who sought peace and union, and those families that remain.
My great-grandfather, Joseph A. Milton, along with cousins from North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida, served alongside my great-grandmother’s brother, John B. Vining, who was killed in action in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. My great-uncle is buried at the Confederate Cemetery in Charlottesville. My wife’s forefathers fought for the Union in the Civil War. On this side of history, we should show honor to all and malice towards none.
These men were sons of the War of 1812, veterans and grandsons of Revolutionary War veterans. My point in raising a personal history is that such family ties to monuments desecrated or memorials nullified exist across the country and on both sides of that national tragedy. For the sake of unity, cease the desecration of monuments consecrated in loving memory and dedicated to patriotic hope. It is chronological arrogance to denounce the prayerful consecration of earlier generations. It is also a blatant repudiation of an earlier national resolve to seek peace among families and to create a united country.
The recommendations to rename bases, destroy monuments, and disavow earlier promises are wrong. You cannot erase the names of the dead without impugning the names of the living. You cannot dismantle a memorial to the fallen without denying the memory of the surviving. To dismantle our history is to dishonor our people.
The mistaken actions to discredit America’s heritage by destroying select dedicated artifacts of, in this case, the South, are not only wrong but unwise. How extreme such needless disruption is from Lincoln’s vision: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds” (March, 4 1865).
Indeed, the activities to show benevolence to Southern states in memorials, naming installations, and giving Confederate veterans, widows, and orphans support from the Department of U. S. Veterans Affairs functioned very well, indeed. Today, the demographics of our military reflect an overwhelming majority of service members are recruited from the former Confederate states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are the leaders).
Let me be clear: There is no sense in reviving sectionalism by promoting such a statistic, but the present reckless decisions about nullifying the covenants made by our great-grandparents require a blunt reply.
So, what is the answer? We can turn to one recent president who became an improbable model for practical wisdom. No president demonstrated more wisdom in the face of rising tensions than when President Barack Obama placed a wreath of honor at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington, as well as a wreath at the African American Civil War Memorial. This is the right response: the President honored the past to build for the future.
The lesson is clear: Instead of removing monuments that previous generations dedicated to fulfilling the dream of national unity, erect other statues, name different installations, christen new ships and set a standard for this generation that future Americans can say, “These things mattered to them. Therefore, touch not these stones of remembrance.”
No less than Ronald Reagan offers wisdom for the ages, as we hold the ambiguity of history on one hand and seek immovable values on the other. Consider Reagan’s words:
“Robert E. Lee, this Southerner who criticized secession and called slavery a great moral wrong, would become himself an American legend . . . After the dissolution of his cause, he would work to bind up the Nation’s wounds. And to those pessimistic about the Nation’s future, he once said, ‘The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. ‘It is history,’ he said, ‘that teaches us to hope.’”
One need not seek to erase the past to dream for the future. Recognize the memorials that we inherited. “Touch not the ancient marker” is a sign of respect for those who helped shape our lives today. Don’t destroy. Build. Christen new ships, name new installations, erect new memorials and seek to outdo each other in showing honor to the other. Such selfless acts build spiritual and familial unity. Indeed, such a new movement of honoring the diverse populations among us will work towards our vision of E pluribus Unum, “out of many, one.”
That is really the strength of diversity: when the gifts and wisdom of many unite to form one. That is, also, called “family.” If we follow this path to mutual understanding, it just may be that generations yet unborn will one day erect a statue of the generation that refused to give in to divisiveness and chose, instead, to honor God and encourage each other. I ask you: What force can dismantle such honor? What enemy can defeat such unity? What foe can depose such strength?