Opinion: We shouldn’t be destroying national monuments


Photo courtesy of Rochelle Berman

The Washington Monument, located in Washington, D.C.

Max Schwartz, Reporter

Growing unrest and racial tensions have awoken the U.S. to the unfortunate truths that exist in this country. In seeking racial equality and change, the Black Lives Matter movement has reopened a wound that many wished to keep patched up: slavery, America’s original sin. 

The statues of historical figures who previously owned slaves have come under attack, ranging from Confederate leaders to our founding fathers. While I agree Robert E. Lee should be removed, I worry that George Washington will be next to fall. 

Over the last couple of months, the idea of what statues represent has been put into question. As the death of George Floyd made people confront the inequalities that exist in this country, controversial monuments have faced intense scrutiny.

Since George Floyd’s death, approximately 30 statues of Confederate leaders have been vandalized and destroyed throughout the U.S. However, general public opinion regarding these statues hasn’t changed much. A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll showed that only 42% of Americans wish for these statues to be taken down. 

I’m perplexed as to why so many Americans wish to preserve these monuments. Statues aren’t built exclusively to help us remember our history, but are built to honor those who stood up for a just and noble cause. However, these statues glorify figures who fought to preserve slavery and attempted to secede from the Union.

Do these people really represent the values we stand for as a nation? What purpose do these statues have other than perpetuating white supremacy?

When defending the existence of Confederate statues, many argue that removing statues of Confederate leaders leads to a slippery slope of removing the statues of any problematic figure. While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, there is some truth to that. 

Many American heroes such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses S. Grant have come under attack recently for previously owning slaves, which was a common practice during their times. 

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both played crucial roles in the foundation of our country. Ulysses S. Grant was the commander in the Union army and played an essential part in defeating the Confederacy. That’s what their statues are meant to commemorate. 

Those who wish to destroy these statues aren’t looking at these figures with complexity or nuance. Toppling these monuments does a disservice to all the work these men did in creating a society in which people have the right to express themselves and their beliefs. Choosing to discredit their redeeming qualities only pushes us back as a society.

If we choose to censor George Washington, all other statues will come into question, as no historical leader was perfect. Women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both excluded black women from their movements. Martin Luther King Jr. often cheated on his wife. 

Should their statues be destroyed as well?

We need to approach this issue and issues similar to this with a proper balance and understanding. By erasing our history and delegitimizing our core American values, we will lose in our struggle to become a more perfect union.