Never Fading Away

On April 11, 1951, President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his command of the United Nations forces defending South Korea following a number of critical statements by MacArthur of the Commander-in-Chief’s policy decisions. Eight days later, the General addressed a joint session of Congress offering the now famous adage:

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.

Fading away is a phenomenon that appears not to have overtaken Confederate monuments, symbols, or imagery in the United States, particularly in southern states. While the Civil War officially ended in 1865, the mortal combat was replaced by a popular antecedent often called the Lost Cause. Now, the sectional struggle was a competition for political and cultural dominance.

Characterized as an ideological interpretation of the conflict, the Lost Cause furthered the concept that slavery was a just and moral practice in that it created worthwhile economic prosperity. At the same time, it promoted and perpetuated racism and white authority structures that arose in the post–Reconstruction era. Jim Crow legal barriers were erected in the American South romanticizing the supposed virtues of the antebellum period and views were popularized that the war as a struggle primarily waged in order to preserve the Southern way of life,.and to defend “states’ rights,” such as the right to secede from the Union, against the economic greed, even jealousy, on the part of northern states.

Many such Confederate testimonials were installed or erected toward the close of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th as the nation experienced rapid geographical and economic expansion in the Industrial Revolution, a moment of expanding prosperity, immigration, and dynamism.  

The force and power of the belief system sustaining the Lost Cause cannot be ignored, particularly as the removal of Confederate statues, monuments, and symbols generates strong resistance in contemporaneous times more than a century and a half after cessation of hostilities. Preservationist and heritage organizations continue to exist with some receiving public monies to pursue their activities. Although the last veterans of the war passed in the late 1950s, some organizations today have terms such as “sons” or “daughters” denoting familial or descendant connections to the two armies.

Fading away has not equated with disappearance in either the physical manifestations or the emotions that attach to retaining Confederate imagery. The Confederate flag is an especially resilient symbol. Some might observe that the opposition to removal is based more upon an intellectual or residual sense but that view fails to account for those who claim such removals represent erasure of white culture.

Fading away has not equated with disappearance in either the physical manifestations or the emotions that attach to retaining Confederate imagery. The Confederate flag is an especially resilient symbol. Some might observe that the opposition to removal is based more upon an intellectual or residual sense but that view fails to account for those who claim such removals represent erasure of white culture.

Soldiers who, in fact, die, are most often laid to perpetual rest in a military burial site commemorated on periodic occasions in an annual calendar. It is an honored tradition connected with our reverence and respect for those whose sacrifice was in behalf of a nobler cause. Recently, however, in Virginia, a number of localities have struggled with the issue of removing Confederate imagery from public locations.

Berryville in Clarke County had ceded a small strip of land near its courthouse to a now-defunct Association of Survivors of the Clarke Cavalry, a Civil War battle group, where a statue was later erected. In June, some residents objected to the monument and the Board of Supervisors commenced to discuss the matter. However, despite legislative authority from the General Assembly, the Board is stymied as to any action because it does not own the property.

In August, the City Council of Newport News voted to remove a Confederate statue that stood for 111 years on the grounds of the Warwick County Courthouse. At the same time, the Council offered the monument to five historical organizations, none of which took up the offer.

Also in August, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to remove a statue called the Silent Sentinel from the front of the Leesburg Courthouse and transfer it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a Confederate heritage organization which had voiced interest in reclaiming it.

In September, a circuit judge in Louisa County ordered a portrait of Robert E. Lee, along with a plaque installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, removed from inside the courthouse on the basis that such imagery was inimical to the interests of the administration of justice. The judge referenced the tensions that Lee invoked. Previously, the county’s board and administrator had failed to respond to demands to remove the items. Ironically, the same judge had denied a request for removal some 18 months previously.

While it appears that some Confederate imagery is impervious to fading or even removal in some cases, many appear to have lost their welcome in the Old Dominion, although they continue to demonstrate resilience. When erected or installed, these symbols were often accompanied by ceremonial celebrations of a time past. Although the passage of time may have had a brutal, caustic effect upon the spirit of those events, it is not equally true with respect to the hold the symbols and imagery have over the beliefs of the living. That old soldiers never die may be true; fading away is another matter.  

 

 

 



Categories: Issues, Local, National, politics, State

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