Arlington National Cemetery, it seems, is running out of space. A bugler might need to play taps for the holiest and most visited of the nation’s military resting places sometime around mid-century if the burial ground isn’t further expanded.
But oh yes, I forgot.
Some space could be made in Section 16, where one can find buried Confederate dead and a memorial to those who fell trying to form a separate union. With today’s full-out mania to wipe away visible Civil War history, at least the tributes to the South’s heroes, perhaps some plots could be freed up by removing what some see as symbols of treason.
It’s doubtful most Americans even know 482 Dixie bodies are taking up room in this hallowed ground, carved from the plantation of the most famous of all Confederates, Gen. Robert E. Lee, who last stayed in the farm’s mansion overlooking the U.S. Capitol the sleepless night before he decided he loved Virginia more than the rest of the nation. It was just a matter of state’s rights.
But don’t tell that to those leading the current campaign to obliterate the statues and monuments studding southern cities from Alexandria, Va., to New Orleans, an effort that has extended to discrediting Lee’s motives and military genius.
Those interred in Section 16 are an eclectic bunch, including not only soldiers who gave their lives for what they called “the Cause,” but also wives and civilians and unknowns. Marking the spot is a sizable memorial statue of a woman, her hand stretched out to her beloved South. The memorial is the work of Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran who is buried at the base.
The headstones in this portion are pointed, with a common explanation being they were designed this way to keep Unionists from sitting on them in disrespect. The cemetery’s official explanation is that the aesthetic was chosen simply to set these graves apart from those belonging to the 400,000 other individuals buried under Arlington’s manicured sod.
The cemetery began accepting these rebels in 1901, years after the Spanish-American War, during which public animosity against Confederates began to subside as Southern and Union vets fought together.
A few years later, the United Daughters of the Confederacy received permission to erect their memorial in Arlington, which was created in 1864 with the Civil War was still raging.
A project to be finished in August will add some 27 acres and 28,000 burial sites, which should suffice until around 2041, at which point our most honored dead will have to go elsewhere. That is, unless other solutions are found.
By fighting the Civil War, America reaffirmed one of the main foundational tenants: That all men are created equal and endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights like life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
But today, revisionists are moving to eliminate prominent reminders of the war, arguing there is nothing noble worth remembering about the battlefield sacrifices of Southern soldiers, most of whom weren’t slaveholders and fought mainly with the passionate belief they were defending their homes.
Perhaps then, those Southerners buried in the sacred grounds of Arlington should be disinterred, their memorial removed. Would that finally heal the wounds of slavery? Or would it be better to continue to acknowledge that history is unchangeable and we need constant reminders that millions of Americans had to die on both sides to begin the drawn-out process of keeping the promise of our founders?
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.