On August 12th 2017,tensions rose in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, as two groups ofprotesters clashed. Both of these groupsrepresented different sides of an ongoing battle over what to do about statuesand other symbols of Confederate military leaders from the American CivilWar. Following these events, NationalParks, Senior Military Institutes, and other Officials began giving theiropinions on the matter.
A spokespersonfor Gettysburg National Battlefield Park, in a statement on 15 August, 2017,stated “These memorials, erected predominantly in the early and mid-20thcentury, are an important part of the cultural landscape.”1 At the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), aschool where many Civil War military leaders were educated and trained, manymonuments are scattered throughout the campus. In a meeting of board members following the events in Charlottesville itwas brought forward if something should be done about the symbols. During the meeting VMI Superintendent J.H.Binford Peay III spoke out in favor of the monuments.
In a statement following the meeting theboard of visitors announced that VMI, “endorses continui9ng to acknowledge allthose who are part of the history of the institute (…) We choose not to honortheir weaknesses, but to recognize their strengths.”2 Not only does the Institute feel that themonuments are an important in historical context, but also serve to honor theVMI Cadets who were killed during the Civil War. Even DonaldTrump, the President and Commander in Chief of the United States has given histhoughts on the matter. “Sad to see thehistory and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal ofour beautiful statues and monuments. Youcan’t change history, but you can learn from it,” tweeted the President,continuing, “Robert E Lee, StonewallJackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So Foolish! Also the beauty thatis being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed andnever able to be completely replaced!”3The United StatesMilitary is facing a conflict of interest with regard to symbols of theAmerican Confederacy on military bases and in towns across the Nation. Their options are: Remove Symbols of Confederacy, Keep Symbols, orMove Symbols. While some view thesesymbols as a mark of hatred, white supremacy, and injustice, others view themas symbols of heritage, virtuous leaders, and a military history from whichmuch can be learned. Currently in theUnited States, there are 10 Military bases which bear the names of Confederateleaders: Camp Beauregard, Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, Fort Gordon, Fort A.
P.Hill, Fort Hood, Fort Lee, Fort Pickett, Fort Polk, and Fort Rucker. Many of these bases are embellished withlarge castings and statues of the leaders after whom they were named along withother prominent military leaders from America’s past, both Confederate andUnion. When examined from differentmoral viewpoints, various arguments can be found in the situation. An ethical dilemma arises for members of themilitary where they must decide between their own personal views of what shouldbe done with the symbols and what their leaders say. TheUnited States Military should not remove symbols of the American Confederacy,unless directly ordered to do so by their command. From a relativistscope, which focuses on how different groups can have different views of whatis ethical in any situation, both groups are justified in their decision. The supporters view the symbols as a sign oftheir heritage.
They see them ashonoring great leaders and men of character. Many see the statues as works of art withtheir detailed craftsmanship. Others seethem as a remembrance of their history, similar to how the administration ofVMI has stated they view the statues. Rather than symbols of hatred, they view the monuments as a solemnremembrance of the past and those who were lost. On the other sideof the spectrum, the non-supporters are justified in their viewpoints byrelativism since many view the statues as symbols of hatred. Some of these individuals feel offended bythe symbols presence and claim that they have no place in the societal climateof today. In their view, the ethicaldecision is to remove the monuments since they consider them immoral. Froma utilitarian school of thought the monuments and symbols on military basesshould be kept as they are.
Utilitarianism focuses entirely on the numbers of a situation and whataction would be the best for the largest number of individuals. By numbers the resources required to removethe statues and other symbols in terms of protection forces and work forceswould be far greater than the amount needed if they were left in place. Efforts can be better directed to contributeto the overall good by using resources elsewhere.
For example, when the city of Louisvilledecided that it needed to dismantle and relocate a 70-foot tall confederatemonument in 2016, it cost the city more than $400,000 dollars in funding forthis single statue.4 Similarly, for the city of Dallas, Texas, theestimated cost of removing symbols of the confederacy would cost $1,800,000.5 KantianEthics would deem that the statues should be left alone. Kant’s ethical theories are considered extremelystringent and demanding in their requirements, referred to as the CategoricalImperatives (CI)6. In order for a decision to be consideredethical, each of the categorical imperatives must be met. The first of these rules specifies that anact is only justified morally if it could in itself become a universallaw.
Clearly it could not be universallaw to remove symbols of history since so many groups feel so differently aboutthem. The third CI discusses that if anaction is committed, it can only be moral if it would be viewed the same fromeveryone’s point of view. To visualizethis, a courtroom scenario can be envisioned where a man is on trial. The decision of the judge is only just if he,the jury, the spectators, the man, and the man’s mother all view the decisionin the same moral way. Not every personwould view the decision to remove statues and symbols from military bases asmoral and as such it fails the third CI. As can be seen, removing symbols of the confederacy would not align withthe first and third categorical imperatives and would hence not be considered”Right” to do. The second CI is not asapplicable in this situation, yet, since at least one of the others isviolated, the action cannot be considered moral.
Aristotle’stheories of ethics focus primarily around always acting in a virtuousmanner. He believed that virtue was thegreatest trait that anyone could exhibit and it should always be exalted andcultivated.7 The theories he proposes also outline aprinciple called the Golden Mean, in which if there are two extremes to a decision,both of which a different group of people would find unfavorable, then the justthing to do is take the middle ground of the two roads. Through the principle of the Golden Mean thebest course of action would be to move the symbols to another location since itreaches the middle ground between those opposed and those in favor of them,hence being the morally correct thing to do. It satisfies all parties concerned and does not directly violate anyone’svirtues. This is a shared opinion ofmany in the discussions about what to do with monuments on public grounds andon military bases, including Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
8 McAuliffe’s view is that the monuments shouldbe moved to museums where people can continue to view them and appreciate them,while avoiding the conflict they would cause from being present in publicspaces. Anotherof Aristotle’s main points is that of habituation. Aristotle thought that in order to cultivateand sustain virtuous behavior it must be made a habit, and the best way toachieve such a thing is to learn from virtuous men of the past and surroundourselves with persons of good character. It is difficult to argue that generals from America’s military past werenot virtuous men, this country prides itself on only selecting the topindividuals to run its military forces. As put by historian and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Arthur Herman: “Onecould say that these statues and monuments were vice’s tribute to virtue, andJim Crow’s tribute to dead heroes, because even Jim Crow knew they representedhuman qualities — duty, honor, valor, sacrifice — that transcend race, color,and political ideology.”9Aristotelian ethics would be opposed to symbols being destroyed as they can beused as learning tools to breed men of even greater virtues through hisprinciples of habituation. Ascan be seen, to remove these symbols of great men from our past on military installationsshould be of the least concern for leaders and members of our militaryforces.
Such an action would not bejustified under the moral theories of Kant, Aristotle, or Utilitarianism. Rather than be an effective method of recompense,it would just lead to useless spending, neglect of virtues, and seeking to fulfillpersonal agendas rather than honor those who fought and died in this greatcountry of ours. To once again quote Peay, “Sometimes the best leaders don’tmake decisions in times of emotions. Andthese are raw emotions in (Virginia) right now. And steady, boy, steady… could be the better approach”101 www.eveningsun.com/story/news/2017/08/15/gettysburg-park-officials-confederate-monuments-here-stay/567986001/2 www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/vmi-leaders-say-military-college-will-keep-confederate-statues/article_1112d889-859c-53e5-a51b-cdcabbaa3a1d.html3 www.politico.com/story/2017/08/17/trump-confederate-monuments-tweets-2417334 www.eveningsun.com/story/news/politics/2017/05/22/confederate-monuments-new-orleans-charlottesville-removal-race-civil-war/101870418/5 www.fox4news.com/news/removal-of-confederate-monuments-expected-to-cost-18m6Ethics and the Military Profession, p.1737Ethics and the Military Profession p.1858 www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/vmi-leaders-say-military-college-will-keep-confederate-statues/article_1112d889-859c-53e5-a51b-cdcabbaa3a1d.html 9 http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450622/confederate-statues-honor-timeless-virtues-let-them-stayAristotle10 www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/vmi-leaders-say-military-college-will-keep-confederate-statues/article_1112d889-859c-53e5-a51b-cdcabbaa3a1d.html