Monuments remember each side of epic tragedy
Sunday, December 3, 2017
With the election Rutherford B. Hayes, the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction. Southern states were re-admitted into the Union. Marshall law ended in the South. From about 1885 to 1824, circa the 50th Anniversary of the War between the States, there was a great desire for forgiveness and reunification.
There was a need for conciliation and honor for those now aging and those lost. This was the America Beautiful period in our history in which parks, public spaces, sculpture, urban landscaping and rebuilding was going on across the nation, a dynamic Renaissance, making life more livable, civil and cultured.
The Grand Old Army and the Confederate Veterans of America held conventions where tales were swapped of valor, loss, glory and honor. Gray bearded and wizened veterans joined together at battlefield reunions to break bread and extend hands of forgiveness, reconciliation and respect. During this time, both North and South erected monuments and memorials to their war heroes and those fallen in the field of battle.
Sculptures of North and South glorified their individual side’s distinct messages, which acted as eternal symbols to their causes and their glory, expressions of momentary history. Those actors on this stage of time, hopefully would live on in the minds of posterity, that history and the nation's struggles would not be forgotten, nor would their lives be counted as squandered and wasted in vain.
Rather, it was intended, that these men and events should be recalled in the future and contemplated, argued about and reflected upon, as actors of a grand play of immortal history, continuing to be studied and remembered through the ages. Their purpose was to give meaning to heroism, bravery, honor, commitment, patriotism and duty.
The war had been a grand epic tragedy in which the glories of the past could positively shape or constrain our future, but should remind us all of the faults and failures of all mankind and also his nobility. These events and memorials, in both North and South today, serve as a guiding light to direct future generations of Americans. These monuments are the greatest sculptural assets of our nation, created at the zenith or our cultural history.
No one monument can define this era, any more than a single actor or a single scene can define a play. The First Battle of Mananas did not define four years carnage, blood, sorrow, glory and defeat. America's historic monuments are our heritage, milestones in the story of America's great defining marshal epoch. But, it is not just our story. It is a story for the world.
Current events in America have metastasized from an ambivalent era of political correctness into what is quickly becoming a Maoist Cultural Revolution. As the world leader, America’s actions, attitudes and fashions are followed, copied and mimicked everywhere on the globe, whether innovative, wholesome or obscene.
What extremist iconoclasts and terrorist have recently done in the Middle East is repugnant and a crime against humanity, world history and art. In the past what occurred in the secret world of Eastern socialism was derided by the West and scorned. Today, 50 years later, somehow the vector of this madness has infected our nation.
From American shores this pathogen could become a global contagion that will consume the world’s historic culture and its symbols of heritage and civility. Americans should not encourage or promote acceptability of a diseased madness that will only diminish our national power, prestige and honor, encourage international chaos and threaten world culture and beauty.
We should act more civilized and mature. We have a global leadership responsibility to promote our constituted and inalienable protected rights of speech, writing, assembly and expression. When America constrains these rights, by censorship, in whatever form, it is at our own peril.
Cliff Page was the Sculptor in Residence at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H., during its 50th Anniversary and the 150th Anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. He studied at the National Institute for the Fine Arts, Mexico, was a Fulbright Fellow to Italy and is an ODU and ECU graduate.