Civil War symbol can’t be used to divide us again

When we opined in this space 18 days ago that South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, we knew of the potential risk.

We didn’t worry that readers would revolt though we expected some might. We welcome dissenting opinion and are always eager to share it on this page.

Our worry was that the removal of the Confederate flag, which happened on Friday, would embolden those who are always willing to uncouple context and history, and that the flag would be Domino No. 1 with others to follow. That appears to be what is happening.

There are countless efforts across the country to erase symbols that are even tenuously tied to slavery and the Civil War-era South, and some are laughable, such as renaming Washington, D.C., and removing the Jefferson Memorial, which honor our first and third presidents, both slave owners.

What isn’t funny is an emerging effort locally to rip from the county courthouse a monument of a Confederate soldier. A similar effort in the late 1990s didn’t go very far, but the nation’s mood is much darker now on such matters.

The monument honors Confederate soldiers, about 350,000 of them, who died during the Civil War. These ancestors of ours served heroically and with honor, even if the time that has passed tells us that the cause was not honorable. History must be bent hard to deny that the Civil War wasn’t the South’s attempt to protect its economy by continuing the institution of slavery, but we should remember that most of the soldiers that monument honors weren’t slave owners and died out of a sense of duty.

Their sacrifice is worthy of remembrance.

The statue at the courthouse just sits there, minding its own business, rarely provoking even a first thought from passersby. It is harmless, a visual equivalent of white noise, and it should be allowed to die a natural death. The time will come when there is sufficient sentiment locally to remove the statue, but that day is far away. Although the Civil War’s end is now 150 years old, there remain many Southerners who still revel in the rebel cause, which they don’t necessarily attach to slavery.

The reason that the monument should remain in place is that removing it will have a polarizing effect locally, and camps will be divided dreadfully, by race. Watch as those who push for the statue to come down insist that they are trying to remove a symbol of divisiveness, when in fact they know that they will be using a Confederate symbol to divide us again.

It is a good time to remember the statue rose not from public dollars, but from money raised privately a century ago. It could be that instead of one statue coming down, that another should go up.

Should that be offered as a solution, then let those whose idea it is raise the money privately.