Thursday, August 24, 2017

​ On Slavery, Secession, and the Morality of Confederate War Memorials

​What no no one (of whom I know) has tired to do, but what it seems to me needful is to analyze the moral question of removing Confederate War memorials in general. The claim is made that since the war was fought to preserve slavery, that all these should be removed. Let us examine this moral assertion.

I think that there is no doubt that the states seceded to preserve slavery. This was morally wrong. But the burden of fighting a just war falls on the aggressor. If the Union had explicitly decided to invade the South to free the slaves, then we would have to discuss that case for a just war. But the Union explicitly fought to keep the states in the Union, which get arguably had a legal right to leave to secede. Thus is so much the case that after the War they had to back off from trying Jefferson Davis because that would mean litigating succession. They would have had to have a surety which they did not possess about the legality of secession to have invaded the South on those grounds.

If the Union was engaged in an unjust war, the the seceded Southern states had to right not only of self-defense, but to act cooperatively in self-defense. In that case we cannot say that soldiers who fought for the Confederacy fought to defend slavery. They fought to defend themselves against unjust aggression, as many of them said. The fact that some persons said they were defending slavery does not change this; it would be unjust to the Confederate soldiery as a whole to generalize from this. To make such a generalization is be a sin of calumny against the Confederate soldier.

Now the question of war memorials is a difficult one. And not that I am talkoing about War memorials here, not memorials to politicians like Jefferson Davis. Now, soldiers (and other lawful combatants like sailors) are not held guilty of the policies of their government unless they personally engage in violations of the laws of war. So, even when a belligerent has engaged in an unjust war, one cannot usually question the morality of war memorials who sole purpose was to honor veterans. However, the case becomes even clearer in the case where people are engaged in a just war, and even stronger when that war was one of self-defense. Now I do not go here into individual cases, as circumstances alter cases, but I think that we can say with certainty that the proposition that all memorials to Confederate soldiers should be removed is thus not morally justifiable, and that to remove them would be to participate in a sin of calumny against the dead, and would in many cases also be a sin of sacrilege, since very many of these are funerary monuments.

Further, the attempt to fight racism in this fashion would be the employment of unjust means, and thus cannot but have the effect of undermining that fight. To proceed as many now wish to do would be thus to commit injustice, and, like all injustice, such injustice will have serious and deleterious consequences on our society.

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