Honor the Dead, Not the War

TO THE EDITORS

If the issue surrounding the erection of a memorial to Harvard's Confederate war dead is the committee's lack of consultation of the student body on the matter, then that is something the committee itself would have to address. However, if the controversy is created by the implied insult to blacks and Harvard's dead Union soldiers by the commemoration of Confederate alumni, then I suggest that insult is largely imaginary and based on a misunderstanding of the real purpose of a war memorial.

Whether this confusion is on the part of those protesting the monument or those proposing it, I do not know; if the concept of the memorial was a romanticized eulogy to those who died attempting to artificially resuscitate the antiquated and cruel feudal system of the Old South, objectors have excellent grounds for opposition. However, a simple recognition that some of Harvard's sons died wearing grey does not seem to me (and admittedly I am a white Southerner with Confederate ancestors) particularly offensive.

Confederate war memorials are, to me, reminiscent of German World War II memorials; that the cause was undoubtedly wrong does not mean that the young men who died at the front for what they believed was their patriotic duty were immoral or, for their part, doing "the Devil's work." They were doing what they thought was their duty, and they had the courage--as many of us do not--to fight and die for it.

The Civil War was not fought by angels and demons, but by men. I think it is no great stretch of the imagination or degradation of the soul to believe that most Confederates were decent and honorable, though mistaken, men whose deaths in combat for something they though right is deserving of our respect, though not our emulation.

A war memorial is not an endorsement. It is a collective tombstone; it says, "These shall not be forgotten." And, though I certainly think it both right and inevitable that the Confederate cause lost, I think it's also important to remember that it was not so terribly long ago that Harvard classmates faced each other on the battlefield. A Confederate war memorial is not a reinforcement of slavery or white supremacy; it is a testimony to the fact that thousands of people--intelligent, brave and moral people--can be terribly, tragically wrong and die before they find that out.

I think this point is something important to remember especially in this decade and especially in this University. We are all of us too prone to thinking we are infallible. Those men were not, and we need more than a history book and old enrollment records to remind us of that. --Emily V. Thornbury '99