On thoughts on the matter. “Sad to see the

On August 12th 2017,
tensions rose in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, as two groups of
protesters clashed.  Both of these groups
represented different sides of an ongoing battle over what to do about statues
and other symbols of Confederate military leaders from the American Civil
War.  Following these events, National
Parks, Senior Military Institutes, and other Officials began giving their
opinions on the matter.  A spokesperson
for Gettysburg National Battlefield Park, in a statement on 15 August, 2017,
stated “These memorials, erected predominantly in the early and mid-20th
century, are an important part of the cultural landscape.”1  At the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a
school where many Civil War military leaders were educated and trained, many
monuments are scattered throughout the campus. 
In a meeting of board members following the events in Charlottesville it
was 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 the
board of visitors announced that VMI, “endorses continui9ng to acknowledge all
those who are part of the history of the institute (…) We choose not to honor
their weaknesses, but to recognize their strengths.”2  Not only does the Institute feel that the
monuments are an important in historical context, but also serve to honor the
VMI Cadets who were killed during the Civil War.   Even Donald
Trump, the President and Commander in Chief of the United States has given his
thoughts on the matter.  “Sad to see the
history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of
our beautiful statues and monuments.  You
can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” tweeted the President,
continuing,   “Robert E Lee, Stonewall
Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? 
So Foolish!  Also the beauty that
is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and
never able to be completely replaced!”3

The United States
Military is facing a conflict of interest with regard to symbols of the
American Confederacy on military bases and in towns across the Nation.  Their options are:  Remove Symbols of Confederacy, Keep Symbols, or
Move Symbols.  While some view these
symbols as a mark of hatred, white supremacy, and injustice, others view them
as symbols of heritage, virtuous leaders, and a military history from which
much can be learned.  Currently in the
United States, there are 10 Military bases which bear the names of Confederate
leaders: 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 with
large castings and statues of the leaders after whom they were named along with
other prominent military leaders from America’s past, both Confederate and
Union.  When examined from different
moral viewpoints, various arguments can be found in the situation.  An ethical dilemma arises for members of the
military where they must decide between their own personal views of what should
be done with the symbols and what their leaders say.  The
United States Military should not remove symbols of the American Confederacy,
unless directly ordered to do so by their command. 

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From a relativist
scope, which focuses on how different groups can have different views of what
is ethical in any situation, both groups are justified in their decision.  The supporters view the symbols as a sign of
their heritage.  They see them as
honoring great leaders and men of character.   Many see the statues as works of art with
their detailed craftsmanship.  Others see
them as a remembrance of their history, similar to how the administration of
VMI has stated they view the statues. 
Rather than symbols of hatred, they view the monuments as a solemn
remembrance of the past and those who were lost. 

On the other side
of the spectrum, the non-supporters are justified in their viewpoints by
relativism since many view the statues as symbols of hatred.  Some of these individuals feel offended by
the symbols presence and claim that they have no place in the societal climate
of today.  In their view, the ethical
decision is to remove the monuments since they consider them immoral.

                From
a utilitarian school of thought the monuments and symbols on military bases
should be kept as they are. 
Utilitarianism focuses entirely on the numbers of a situation and what
action would be the best for the largest number of individuals.  By numbers the resources required to remove
the statues and other symbols in terms of protection forces and work forces
would be far greater than the amount needed if they were left in place.  Efforts can be better directed to contribute
to the overall good by using resources elsewhere.  For example, when the city of Louisville
decided that it needed to dismantle and relocate a 70-foot tall confederate
monument in 2016, it cost the city more than $400,000 dollars in funding for
this single statue.4  Similarly, for the city of Dallas, Texas, the
estimated cost of removing symbols of the confederacy would cost $1,800,000.5

                Kantian
Ethics would deem that the statues should be left alone.  Kant’s ethical theories are considered extremely
stringent and demanding in their requirements, referred to as the Categorical
Imperatives (CI)6.  In order for a decision to be considered
ethical, each of the categorical imperatives must be met.  The first of these rules specifies that an
act is only justified morally if it could in itself become a universal
law.  Clearly it could not be universal
law to remove symbols of history since so many groups feel so differently about
them.  The third CI discusses that if an
action is committed, it can only be moral if it would be viewed the same from
everyone’s point of view.  To visualize
this, 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 decision
in the same moral way.  Not every person
would view the decision to remove statues and symbols from military bases as
moral and as such it fails the third CI. 
As can be seen, removing symbols of the confederacy would not align with
the first and third categorical imperatives and would hence not be considered
“Right” to do.  The second CI is not as
applicable in this situation, yet, since at least one of the others is
violated, the action cannot be considered moral.

                                Aristotle’s
theories of ethics focus primarily around always acting in a virtuous
manner.  He believed that virtue was the
greatest trait that anyone could exhibit and it should always be exalted and
cultivated.7  The theories he proposes also outline a
principle 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 just
thing to do is take the middle ground of the two roads.  Through the principle of the Golden Mean the
best course of action would be to move the symbols to another location since it
reaches 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’s
virtues.  This is a shared opinion of
many in the discussions about what to do with monuments on public grounds and
on military bases, including Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.8  McAuliffe’s view is that the monuments should
be moved to museums where people can continue to view them and appreciate them,
while avoiding the conflict they would cause from being present in public
spaces. 

                Another
of Aristotle’s main points is that of habituation.  Aristotle thought that in order to cultivate
and sustain virtuous behavior it must be made a habit, and the best way to
achieve such a thing is to learn from virtuous men of the past and surround
ourselves with persons of good character. 
It is difficult to argue that generals from America’s military past were
not virtuous men, this country prides itself on only selecting the top
individuals to run its military forces. 
As put by historian and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Arthur Herman: “One
could say that these statues and monuments were vice’s tribute to virtue, and
Jim Crow’s tribute to dead heroes, because even Jim Crow knew they represented
human qualities — duty, honor, valor, sacrifice — that transcend race, color,
and political ideology.”9
Aristotelian ethics would be opposed to symbols being destroyed as they can be
used as learning tools to breed men of even greater virtues through his
principles of habituation. 

                As
can be seen, to remove these symbols of great men from our past on military installations
should be of the least concern for leaders and members of our military
forces.  Such an action would not be
justified 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 fulfill
personal agendas rather than honor those who fought and died in this great
country of ours. To once again quote Peay, “Sometimes the best leaders don’t
make decisions in times of emotions.  And
these are raw emotions in (Virginia) right now. 
And steady, boy, steady… could be the better approach”10

1 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.html

3 www.politico.com/story/2017/08/17/trump-confederate-monuments-tweets-241733

4 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-18m

6
Ethics and the Military Profession, p.173

7
Ethics and the Military Profession p.185

8 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-stayAristotle

10 www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/vmi-leaders-say-military-college-will
-keep-confederate-statues/article_1112d889-859c-53e5-a51b-cdcabbaa3a1d.html

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