We Can Learn From European Actions

Sep 1, 2017

Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional. In fact, the concept and phrase “American exceptionalism” is a thing.

But when it comes to dealing with Confederate statues and monuments, we could learn a thing or two from the Europeans -- especially the Central and Eastern Europeans who lived under communism for 40-plus years in the wake of the Second World War.

I know, because I was there; I lived in Warsaw, Poland, while writing my dissertation. By the time I showed up in the early 1990s, every vestige of Lenin, Stalin, and their Polish cohort or collaborators had been removed or destroyed.

There were indications of where things had once been—empty pedestals in city squares, four holes in a stone edifice where a plaque had once been proudly displayed, and talk among the locals about something that used to be but is now no more. The communists had fallen, and the one-time heroes of the soviet revolution had no place in contemporary Poland and no reason to be memorialized.

The Confederacy was seditious revolution and a repressive regime that subjugated and tortured many of its own people — people they mistakenly considered and treated as subhuman. We need to remember the tragic events and suffering caused by the Confederacy and its ideology of oppression and human slavery; we do not and should not memorialize those individuals who sought to be its champion.

The statues have got to go. The Polish people did it in just two years. Why has it taken us so long?

I'm David Gunkel, and that's my perspective.