Memorials In American Life

I am a bit concerned about all of the recent news reports about moving or removing Memorials. I am also empathetic with what I view as a legitimate concern about recent outbreaks of violence caused by the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups.

There may be Memorials supporting the old days of slavery, reconstruction and then the development of “Jim Crow” laws created to subjugate African Americans which need to be removed.

I remember a couple of such “removals” that occurred after the massacre of black worshippers at the Church in Charleston. I believed that they were thought out and were justified.

Yet, I believe that we should not try to rewrite American history by taking down all Memorials that someone may find objectionable. I have read from time-to-time that some find sculptures of Christopher Columbus to be objectionable.

What about President Andrew Jackson who, under federal law, created the “Trail of Tears” where Native Americans were forcibly marched from the Deep South to Oklahoma? Does that mean that we should eliminate Jackson’s visage on the twenty dollar bill?

Some of our history as Americans is not pleasant to remember. I recall a fairly recent tour that I had of Arlington Cemetery. At the time of World War I, black Americans and white Americans fought in separate combat units. Thus, when they were killed in action, they were buried in separate plots at Arlington. Their commanding General, John Pershing, wanted to be buried “with his men” at Arlington. So Pershing’s grave is located so that it looks out upon the grave plots of both white and black World War I veterans.

It is a sad yet powerful reminder of the days when we had segregated units in the U.S. military.

We can’t reinvent all of our history. As a matter of fact, we shouldn’t. Places like Arlington remind of us of that history, both good and bad.

Take all of this a step further. I was on the commission directed to find a site, design and build the National World War II Memorial. World War II was the pivotal event of the 20th century for our country. There was probably no time in our history that the nation was more united. Yet, our military still maintained segregated units including separate combat battalions for Japanese Americans. Despite that, Americans united in a common effort to defeat totalitarianism in both Germany and Japan.

The cost in human life was incredible. Over 400,000 Americans died in the war, and millions died in Asia and Europe. In that sense, the war was a great catastrophe. To end the war, America dropped the atom bomb. Could a future generation decide that the Second World War should not be memorialized? Would efforts be undertaken to take down that Memorial? I would hope not. It stands now, on the National Mall, as a testament to that time in our history.

Hate groups are always going to find a place to gather. Our focus needs to be on such groups and their threat to our freedoms and to civilized society. We shouldn’t allow their anger define or rewrite our common history as Americans.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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