Here’s to a great time of contemplation and inspiration as you finish your latest contribution that will help us understand our complicated past.

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Hi Kevin, I'm wondering what your thoughts might be on James Tanner's presence and remarks at the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Arlington Confederate Monument. I'm trying to reconcile what Barbara Gannon wrote about him in "The Won Cause" with what Washington D.C. newspapers reported in 1912.

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Thanks for replying, Dr. Levin.

Of course the UDC hoped to vindicate the sacrifices of the fathers and brothers. That’s why it’s a memorial to the dead. If it’s a political statement, no one is listening. If it’s a rallying point for fascism or racism, I have yet to see the crowds gathered inside Arlington National Cemetery.

Many others north and south perpetuated despicable policies of racism in the Civil War (like white officers leading black troops into battle) policies that continued into the 20th century, as evidenced by segregation in the armed forces in WWII. Political and societal forces bigger than Grant and Eisenhower dictated their actions. We don’t remove monuments celebrating their service and sacrifices, do we?

But that’s not the issue here.

The UDC also wanted to honor a request from President McKinley, a Union veteran, that Southerners rallying to the flag, including senior officers of the Confederacy, had affirmed their loyalty to the United States at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. A memorial at Arlington National Cemetery was deemed appropriate by three successive administrations.

The UDC raised the money for the memorial; they neither conceived nor drove the decision. They simply honored McKinley’s request.

Having visited repeatedly over the years in times of sorrow and hopelessness, I see little in Ezekiel’s work that celebrates anything except the folly of war, the sacrifice of sons.

And from my perspective as the descendant of both Union and Confederate soldiers, the grandson of a West Point graduate, the son of a Naval Academy graduate, and having worn the uniform myself for 13 years, I believe the many monuments and graves in Arlington National Cemetery and the Confederate memorial are sacred. Their presence affords us an opportunity to reconcile our differences with one another.

Lastly, I know you believe the Moses Ezekiel bronze can be removed without desecrating the site. Pray tell. Better we remove the dead and erase any evidence of their, and our, complicated past.

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Re the Arlington Confederate Memorial, my perspective is the statue acknowledges the burial place of 400 or so soldiers who did their duty in a time and place long ago. As my grandfather’s and father’s caissons and my grandmother’s and mother’s caskets passed by the site, I was moved to remember that reconciliation in the eyes of God is possible, even for those who took up arms in rebellion. For us today to desecrate the graves of these men for our own purposes is a sin. Leave them in peace. Contemplate the tragedy of their lives, and ours.

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Look forward to reading the new book when it's published

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