I came across an interesting challenge a couple months ago.
It said every writer should try working in six different writing forms. The idea was that we should challenge ourselves.
To stretch creatively by stepping outside of our usual forms.
If memory serves it showed up in a forum that focused mostly on long-form writing, which would explain the choices. They are:
- Six Word Story
- Flash Fiction (50-1k words)
- Short Story
- News Article
- Opinion Piece
I’m always up for a creative challenge, so let’s give it a try.
This month’s challenge was the Opinion Piece. It’s not really that novel an experience for me since I’ve been doing commentary (which is just opinion) for my radio program (The View From The Phlipside) for nine years now. I could have taken the easy way out and just re-used one of those pieces. But I wanted to be fair to the challenge, so I wrote something brand new.
Here’s the other thing about opinions – if you don’t have the courage to take a stand, you should just shut up. What I’ve chosen to opine upon is very controversial at the moment. It also felt right for the day after Independence Day.
My goal was to offer a possible solution along with the opinion. So I ask that you read the whole way through to the end.
On History and Monuments
Over 150 years separate us from the national trauma of the American Civil War. Long enough that the anguish of the attempted rending of the nation can be treated in mythic and symbolic terms. At this distance, we can pretend that human suffering played a lesser role than high flown philosophical issues. It is only through such a pretense that anyone could suggest that others should “get past” the issues of that part of our history.
Sadly, I do not believe that the United States ever healed from the wounds created by the Civil War. Lincoln’s assassination allowed Reconstruction to be steered away from healing and reconciliation. The process was soon subverted to lock freed slaves out of their rightful place in our national family. The “Lost Cause” was allowed to persist, which perpetuated the division of the nation. Out of that rose veneration of the heroes of the rebellion against the Union. Today, the question of that veneration is the focal point of national strife again.
I live just outside Richmond, Virginia, the historic capital of the Confederate States of America. Drive in any direction from that city and you will quickly find many if the important battlefields of the war. Petersburg, Chancellorsville, Manassas, the Wilderness, Appomattox. You will also discover many parks and monuments to the men who led the fight to dissolve the United States of America.
Running down the middle of the grandest street in Richmond is a series of five monuments to such men. Monument Avenue features statues dedicated to the memories of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and with the grandest monument of them all, Robert E. Lee. Like many cities with such monuments (there are others as well, elsewhere in Richmond), there is a growing discussion of what to do about them. The conversation in Richmond has been calm so far. But there are fundamental questions that must be answered if we are to put the war behind us and heal as a nation.
The central question concerns the role of monuments and our history. Those who would preserve these objects are quick to claim that the effort to remove them is an attempt to “erase history”. Using the Richmond monuments as an example, let’s examine that argument.
Are these monuments memorials? In other words, do they recall to mind some event in the place where they reside? Alternatively, do they memorialize a native son/daughter associated with that place, like the sixth monument dedicated to tennis star Arthur Ashe?
The answer is no. None of the five are natives here and there is no particular historical event associated with the statues or their locations. So, they are not so much historic memorials as monuments. They are intended, including the Ashe statue, to aggrandize the memory of the men represented. Ashe is remembered for his dedication to sports and the young people of his hometown. What memory is attached to the other five?
They rose in rebellion against our nation, led a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, in large part to defend the pernicious institution of slavery. And they lost.
So, what then are these statues intended to aggrandize? History, like elections, has consequences. These men chose their cause and failed. There is no part of American culture that offers glory to failures.
So, is this than an attempt to erase history? Shall we make this chapter of our history “vanish from the earth”? Certainly not. Just a couple miles from the statue of the President of the Confederacy stands the house from which he performed that office. Known as “The White House of the Confederacy”, the building is an important piece of American history. Should the suggestion be made that this edifice be destroyed, I would stand shoulder to shoulder with many of the people who would oppose my stand on these monuments.
Because I believe these monuments should come down. They venerate men and ideas that our nation defeated and rejected. They serve as focal points for the ongoing division within our national psyche. Their time, if it ever existed, is over.
Rather than simply calling for their removal, let us use the opportunity to make a positive contribution to healing. Take the locations and erect new monuments. Monuments to American ideals like the five freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Richmond has a deep association with the freedom of religion and conscience, the “First Freedom”. By choosing five concepts on which we agree, these monuments become symbols of our ideals and our culture at its best.
If monuments intended to glorify leaders of a failed rebellion were to be replaced by those that remind us of our shared goals, we may finally begin the process of healing. A process too long delayed.
As before, you are invited to play along. Either here in the comments on your own somewhere.