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Victims of Communism Lesson: An Educator's View on Preserving the Arlington Reconciliation Memorial

By: Jonathan Papanikolaou B.A., M.A.P.H


Despite being a young, developing discipline in America, historic preservation, as it continues to grow, is of vital importance to the very fabric of this nation. Historic lands, buildings, and monuments do not just represent a window into time that best exemplifies the quality of life and happenstance of the past but also offers a teaching for future generations. There is a strongly held conviction that preserving not just the properties and structures themselves, but ensuring the survival of the histories of those who created and lived is key to understanding our shared heritage. Yet, the question must be asked: “How long will America’s historical monuments remain standing with the day-to-day changing political tide that dictates what is to be racially offensive or socially acceptable?”


In spite of a historic preservation infrastructure that includes federal and state protection laws and numerous local preservation ordinances, the dangerously growing trend of removing Confederate monuments, cenotaphs, and namesakes has reached an all-time high with the current actions of the U.S. Army, namely Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose efforts to remove the Reconciliation Monument from Arlington National Cemetery grounds has evoked a philosophical, moral, and racial debate and battle. The monument is a work of art – a masterpiece – designed by world-renowned Jewish sculptor, Moses Ezekiel. The Monument, eulogized by three sitting U.S. Presidents, is a monument that was intended to reconcile the differences between the North and South while honoring Confederate veterans buried on the grounds. It was meant to be an olive branch as Americans reunited through healing, solidarity, and a common maxim that we are all living and building toward a more perfect Union. And yet, the continual rewriting, censorship, and outright destruction of this memorial bears witness to a plot straight out of an Orwellian book disguising the underhandedness of a partisan government that seeks to destroy a culture with an agenda chalked full of revisionist history and media gaslighting. Today, there is simply an ultimatum: “If we cannot recontextualize your [Southern] history and monuments to our own standards and selective understanding, then it is to be eradicated.” In the current political and racial climate, the removal of a Jewish sculpture, especially of this magnitude, has many consequences, one that implicates anti-Semitic fervor – all of which is now on full display here in America.


While the Army has decided to reverse its plans for a full Environmental Impact Study in favor of an abbreviated version that would instigate the Monument’s hasty, yet questionable, removal, no one, including the Army, has thought about the educational impact it would have on Virginian youths and the larger sphere of younger generations across this nation, especially those learning about monumental legacies, historic preservation, the importance of primary sources, civic duties as citizens, and the responsibilities of upholding the rule of law.


In the State of Florida, education has taken a very serious turn with regard to teaching living histories. The week of November 6th – 10th is known as Holocaust Education Week, which provides educators across the board opportunities to highlight the horrors that befell Jews, and countless other minorities, during the Second World War. The Holocaust is actively taught as one of the most horrific time periods in modern history orchestrated by dictatorial regimes and aided by destructive governmental policies that approvingly bureaucratized ethnic cleansing by fostering Social Darwinist ideals. Teaching school children about being an “upstander” versus a “bystander” has been a longstanding mission of countless Holocaust museums. Schoolchildren learn about the positive effects that can be achieved from those willing, and having the courage, to stand against the tides that call out for tyranny and racial factionalism.


Additionally, November 7th in the State of Florida is designated as Victims of Communism Day for those who escaped socialist and communist regimes and have found solace, freedom, safety, and security in Florida. These survivors know firsthand the dangers when a government and military assume all modes of production, dictates the livelihoods it so eagerly feeds off for their own controlling strength, and determines the necessity of societal life it so desperately strongarms – all in the name of maintaining a status quo. Nazism, Fascism, and Communism alike are famously known for purging cultural symbols and pages of history it deems “dangerous” to the minds of their people. This brings to question whether the efforts by the American Army to join this immoral cultural purge of Southern heritage, history, and remembrance aligns with that of Communist regimes?


What teachable moments for American youths are there in the face of such adversity and prejudice? What is to be gained by this Monument’s removal except for the desecration and dishonor towards American veterans and a tombstone marking their final resting place? Today, it is undeniable that anything remotely tied to the South, its heritage, and traditions has become an “other,” – a now socially accepted form of persecution that somehow justifies the perpetrator, be they an individual, group, or local/state entity, in acting as sole judge and jury as to a monument’s relevance, right to exist, and whether it is to be studied for posterity.


No doubt students learn of the incredible historical significance Virginia, as a state, holds for the founding and integral parts of our nation’s past. Whether its earliest conception as one of the original thirteen colonies, the birthplace of George Washington, the key battlegrounds during the Revolutionary War or the housing of the capital for the Confederacy during the War for Southern Independence, Virginia rightfully bears a significant mark for this nation as a repository of historical reminiscences worthy of future study and application. Yet, emotional prejudice and presentism has set in motion a point-of-no-return with the destructive acts of woke council members, commissioners, school boards, mayors, governors, public servants, and governmental officials alike. The removal of the prominent, historical Monuments Avenue in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in the heart of Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Confederate States of America, sent shockwaves throughout the country, yet a chilly silence echoed through the halls of educational establishments as schools and educators were told to refrain from comment as the nation painfully witnessed the burning and physical desecration of its historical legacies in the name “righteous and peaceful protest.” That same eerie silence is now resounding from the public, historic preservation infrastructure and other public institutions charged with protecting perishable historic resources, and presumably standing up for the importance of preserving these primary historic sources, including war memorials and cenotaphs. In the case of Ezekiel’s Arlington grave marker and Memorial, not one single historic preservation officers went on record opposing Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s decision to remove the Reconciliation Memorial.


As students in schools across this nation learn about the destructive bureaucratic policies that led to the persecution, and ultimate murder, of countless lives and minorities during the Second World War, they are surprised to learn that tyranny and authoritarians’ first act is to target symbols of pride, heritage, and identity as a means of conquering or controlling the masses, and then the narrative. Adolf Hitler infamously carted away the Compiegne Wagon that historically housed the railcar room and site where an armistice was signed in 1918 officially ending the First World War. Carting off the train car from its monument site was a brazen attempt to undo, according to Hitler, the humiliating defeat and compound the cowardice orchestrated by the acting members of the Imperial German government who signed away their pride and distinction as a world power. It was Hitler’s way of controlling the narrative, forcing the rewriting of the historical landscape, and inexplicably altering the living memory, which is akin to what is presently at stake here with the Reconciliation Monument.


Curriculum-speaking, the desecration of this Monument actively works against the Virginia Department of Education’s learning standards and benchmarks as its removal directly threatens the present learning principles and environments within American classrooms. Accordingly, Virginian students, alongside similarly to those in Florida, analyze, examine, explore, challenge, compare and contrast, interpret, and identify the different periods of American history and how a chronological sequence of events has continued to change this country’s landscape. Specifically, students learn of the differing “responsibilities of citizenship and the ethical use of material or intellectual property.” How can students apply social science skills in order to understand the causes, major events, and effects of a War that is continuously attacked in the present day with public erasure? With the removal of a monument specifically built for reunification, how are students to understand the Reconstruction policies that greatly affected both sides when one is erased from public memory and repeatedly condemned in writing? With the continual destruction and removal of historical markers of the South displaying its history, how are students to examine the everyday life of people at different times in the country’s history through the use of primary and secondary sources?” The answer is: they cannot when bias and prejudice have taken root in all associated thinking. The decision-making of Secretary Austin, and the implementation of those decisions by the Army, is to condemn the very historical thinking and social science skills necessary for understanding the American identity, yet it is that very identity that is being attacked.


Academically-speaking, the forcible removal of this Monument infringes upon the ability to freely engage in academic discourse as evidenced by the one-sided arguments that claim that anything having to do with the Confederacy is pure evil and should be removed from public sight and put in its “proper” place away from wide viewership, such as cemeteries. The obvious irony here is that the current subject of derision is in a cemetery. Academic freedom, when understood in its most basic, fundamental term, is a facility to engage in intellectual debates without fear of retaliation or outright censorship. It can also relate to a right to stand beside pedagogical philosophies and the intellectual integrities bestowed upon professional experts, individuals, and/or institutions whose sole purpose is to the betterment of the public’s knowledge. The wailing cries and the arguments that monuments were better off in cemeteries or museums have now officially been contradicted with the present Army’s dangerous actions. Educators everywhere, at the primary, secondary, and higher education levels, should voice outrage and concern at this present move. Parents, too, should be at the very forefront of this situation voicing concern, alarm, and indignation at the Army’s move to censor public education.


The removal and desecration of this Monument is nothing more than an extremist attempt to alter historical memory and erase the culture it represents, distort the living remembrance of fallen American veterans, dishonor American-Jews, and abandon the American youth from their educational principles by attempting to reshape a hallowed ground that was meant for both sides to be remembered; all in the name of the pseudo-social justice warriors who are nothing more than communists hidden in sheep’s clothing. Tearing down a monument that symbolizes reconciliation sends an ugly message that one side is unwilling to accept, acknowledge, or tolerate a differing perspective that is largely accepted as part of the historical past. As Americans continue to steer through the tumultuous waters of partisan politics that further plagues our free land, one thing for certain is that now is the time to stand up for historical stewardship and the preservation of all monuments. There is something ominous at foot when even the dead are not given their final rest due to mistrustful partisan politics.


With the public comment window now closed, the only hope, aside from the continual pressure and advocation to keep the Moses Ezekiel Reconciliation Monument standing, is that the U.S. Congress will order the Army to abort its destructive, misguided mission, or that officers in the Army will recognize that the “just following orders” excuse may not protect them when their actions are exposed to the People and their Constitution they are solemnly sworn to serve and uphold. The voice of the People is loud and clear: leave the historic structure alone.


About the Author:

Jonathan Papanikolaou B.A., M.A.P.H. is a Southwest Florida educator who has been teaching World History: Ancient Civilizations and English Language Arts (ELA) courses in the public system for almost 10 years. He is also a writer, researcher, and historian with a concentration on historic architecture and preservation. He has given numerous speeches, presentations, and seminars on a number of topics, including: World War II, Degenerate Art, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Gilded Age, Fort Myers Architectural History, and Native American Slave Owners. He can be reached through his website: www.southernfortunes.com.

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