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The Confederate Fountain at Hill Park in Helena.

The Confederate Fountain at Hill Park in Helena.

Montanans should support Helena city officials' decision to remove a Civil War memorial in a city park there. The monument, a granite fountain donated in 1916 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and placed in the city's Hill Park, was taken down Aug. 18 on orders from the Helena City Commission.

Let's not oversimplify this. It was not an easy decision. The national controversy of removing Confederate Civil War monuments is fraught with passion. Advocates have been vocal in their calls for the removals. Critics decry this as an effort to rewrite history.

But the latter arguments ignore reality.

Literally miles of shelves in the libraries of our communities and universities are filled with tomes about the events leading up to, during and following the Civil War. Curious and thinking Americans continue to pore over those books to try to understand this most wrenching era of American history. Scholars have devoted entire careers to this war. And so they should. The Civil War should never and will never be forgotten.

But the monument issue is wholly separate.

We erect statues and monuments to remember and to honor historic figures who acted selflessly and bravely for the greater good. Monuments erected in memory of members of the Confederacy invoke legitimate outrage from those whose ancestors the Confederates fought to keep in slavery.

Some have argued the monuments have artistic value. But to maintain Confederate war memorials on esthetic grounds reduces them to the status of mere ornaments and glosses over the fate of millions of black Americans who suffered unspeakable wrongs at the hands of their oppressors.

This is not to say these artifacts should be destroyed. They are relics of a different era and should be preserved. But they should be preserved in a museum setting where the curious can seek them out to learn from them. They should not be on display in public parks.

Around the nation, decisions about the fate of Confederate war memorials will be made on a local basis. Helena city commissioners did that for their community and our state. And they made the right decision.

This editorial originally appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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