Thirty-three years ago, I took an oath to serve as an officer in the U.S. Army. I was honored to serve my country and state for more than 30 years, and during those years, I never forgot the oath that I swore:
… That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.
I have thought about this oath, the nature of which dates back to 1789, a lot lately.
In the wake of the tragic shooting this past summer at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu initiated the removal of four local monuments: the Robert E. Lee statute at Lee Circle, the P.G.T. Beauregard statue at City Park Avenue, the Jefferson Davis monument at Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway, and the Liberty Monument near One Canal Place.
These monuments should be taken down.
They herald an era of bondage and ruthlessness to our fellow man and celebrate rebellion against the United States in the name of preserving slavery. They have no place in modern America, nor do they reflect the Christian values that are often espoused in the southern United States.
These monuments — focused not on reconciliation, celebrating the U.S. as a whole or honoring the hundreds of thousands of Confederate dead — do not belong prominently standing in the middle of the city’s most traveled thoroughfares.
Beauregard, Davis and Lee all violated their responsibilities — their oaths — as leaders within the United States when they decided to take up arms against this country.
America stands for freedom. And these monuments completely run counter to what we stand for as Americans.
These monuments, constructed years and decades after the Civil War, were built for one reason — to remind African-Americans, newly freed from slavery and at the early stages of gaining civil rights, where they stood in the social order of 19th- and 20th-century New Orleans.
Inferior. Property. Less than human. Make no mistake — the Civil War was about slavery, and these monuments are not about preserving history.
These monuments were designed to tell the people of New Orleans that certain people are worth less than others. And monuments should not divide people.
The events in Charleston ought to be used as an opportunity to make us better, to force us to listen more closely to what concerns our neighbors, so we, together, can make America a better place to live for everyone.
Now is not the time for using nuance or high-mindedness to defend these monuments. Now is the time to take them down and put them in a museum where their context can be properly explained.
Abraham Lincoln said it best in 1858: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The Confederacy never stood for American values and never stood for the oath that I took as an officer in the United States Army.
Let’s spare parents from having to explain to their children why we, as a society, permit the celebration of people who fought against America.
Let’s show our kids, and our grandkids, what America really stands for.
Let’s remove the monuments.
Paul W. Rainwater is a consultant living in Baton Rouge. Until last year, Rainwater served as the chief of staff to Gov. Bobby Jindal and previously served as Jindal’s commissioner of administration and executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. He also previously served as U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s legislative director.