I say: take the general, but leave the horse.
I’m referring to the horse beneath Robert E. Lee on the controversial statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I believe Lee himself would agree to having his likeness removed. In the years following the Civil War, he wrote against creating such monuments to honor leaders of the Confederacy. He said the South needed to move forward.
Over one hundred-fifty years later, we’re still trying to move on. Still trying to heal. Lee was right: putting men like him on high pedestals hasn’t helped us in this struggle. But I believe honoring his horse might.
No, the horse isn’t a hero. But neither is it guilty. The horse was only doing what horses do. Or rather, what we force them to do. T he horse didn’t choose that war. The horse didn’t divide the nation. The horse is innocent.
Many innocent horses died in our Civil War battles. They endured hunger and the thirst of long marches. They charged into the line of fire, though their good horse sense told them: don’t!
So I say, leave the Civil War horse on its pedestal. Not only does it deserve some respect…
…but seeing it could remind us of the painful ugly truth of that war.
Perhaps then, we’ll grieve a great tragedy—and its long aftermath—instead of celebrating a false nobility. We’ll grieve for what the entire nation lost. A loss continuing.
It’s been said that removing the statue of Lee “is merely a symbolic gesture.” In other words: it doesn’t change much in our society. However, we’ve seen how powerful symbols can be. Maybe the horse statue could be a potent symbol. Maybe it could actually help us heal. I don’t know. But of this, I’m sure: you won’t heal if you don’t grieve. So let’s keep the horse.
© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry blog