Although the Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, the fallout continues. Numerous cities, including Alexandria, have statues or other monuments honoring the Confederacy. Some citizens insist on these displays, but others are offended by them.
Fortunately, there are ways to give both sides to these disputes a victory. We can use Alexandria as an example.
As a tribute to deceased Confederate veterans, a statue of a young Rebel soldier stands in the middle of an Alexandria street. Some people love him, and some people hate him. The sculpture, called “Appomattox” (the area where General Robert E. Lee surrendered), does more than memorialize Rebel warriors. It also embodies sorrow for the defeat of the Confederacy, including slavery. As such, it is an outdated symbol of what Alexandria should stand for today.
The city did consider moving Appomattox. According to Alexandria’s website, in 2016 the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names concluded that the statue “should remain in place, with additional efforts made to add context to its story.” Subsequently, the General Assembly of Virginia declined the City Council’s request to change the state law forbidding removal of the statue.
Therefore, I propose two solutions for putting the Rebel soldier in context. These alternatives would also work for other cities wrestling with the problem of memorials to the Confederacy. Both of my solutions would allow fans of a statue to keep it and opponents to take pleasure in an addition to the sculpture.
The first solution for Alexandria would be to erect a second statue a block or so further. This sculpture would stand back-to-back with the statue of the Rebel soldier.
The new statue would represent a Union soldier about to head home from the war. (Like for many combatants, his home could be a farm, which required an able-bodied man to work the land.) This soldier would be the same height and age as the Rebel. He would be dressed in a Union army uniform. The man would not be in a triumphant pose. He would be missing a limb, as shown by a rolled-up sleeve where an arm should be or by a broomstick-style wooden leg.
Together the statues would symbolize the horrific price paid by both camps in a civil war. The back-to-back position of the men would reflect the refusal to compromise that resulted in Americans being pitted against each other in a bloody conflict. The two-statue alternative would shift the focus from mourning fallen Rebels and the loss of the war to honoring the pain and casualties of both sides. Together the statues would show that Americans of different beliefs must unite and work together.
Some citizens balk at spending tax money on art. They may prefer my second solution for placing a statue of a Confederate soldier in context. This alternative is quick and dirt cheap — and blunt. It only requires adding to the site a big sign saying “Traitor.”
On balance, I recommend that Alexandria (and any city that chooses to keep its Confederate monument on public land) implement the first solution.
The writer is an attorney and an international author.