In Enterprise, Ala., at an intersection in the midst of downtown, is a monument to an insect, the only such public memorial in the United States, maybe the world. Beginning in 1915 the boll weevil, migrating from Mexico, devastated much of the cotton crops of the South. Because of this economic disaster, farmers were encouraged to diversify their plantings, the result being an area not dependent upon a monoculture but one more able to withstand the caprice of nature.
In Recogne, Belgium, there is a beautiful stone-walled cemetery complete with a chapel where 6,800 German soldiers, mostly from the Ardennes Offensive in 1945, are respectfully buried. Here in a country that the Germans would have conquered and maintained dominance is a memorial to those soldiers who acted in that endeavor. There are other German cemeteries on allied soil, from World War I and World War II, where soldiers of the defeated nation are entombed.
In many towns, large and small, all across Europe are monuments to battles and soldiers, whether they be on the winning or losing side of history. Similarly, in the United States, in courthouse squares and in parks, both in the North and South, are monuments and memorials to various aspects and participants of the Civil War.
What do the monuments to the boll weevil, German soldiers, and the Civil War have in common? They are all recognition to the devastation that must occur at times to end a persistent way of thinking and to bring a new order and a more sustainable future. King Cotton no longer has economic dominance in Southern farming. European nations are not at war with one another. And the evil of slavery has been abolished in America.
As tragic as the Civil War was – over 600,000 men lost their lives, more than all the wars the United States has fought combined – it took that war to establish the supremacy of the federal government and to rid the nation of government-sanctioned slavery. Every monument and memorial is recognition of that fact and should be preserved and honored.
The residue of the necessity for a calamity can persist for generations. The boll weevil is not extinct; European nations still argue; and racism persists. But monuments are placed so that we will be less likely to forget history. They encourage us to continually work to eliminate the vestiges, and to be on guard against the conditions that brought about the devastation.
Let’s keep and maintain these monuments in the open, easily accessible to the public. If they are defaced or even destroyed by someone who does not understand history and wishes to use it as the target of his personal anger, let the edifice be repaired or replaced. As a civilization we cannot allow history to be ignored, much less defamed.
Martin lives in Charlotte.