December 18, 2023

Reconciliation Memorial Issue Brief


The American Civil War ended in 1865, but it took many decades to heal the war’s bitter wounds. President William McKinley, a former Union soldier who would one day sit in the Oval Office, committed himself to healing the nation’s wounds. After the Spanish American War ended in the 1890s, he proposed building a memorial to reconciliation. His hope was that the Memorial would help heal the bitter sectionalism between the North and South and honor the many Southern soldiers whose contributions had helped to secure U.S. victory in the Spanish American War.

Moses Ezekiel, the most prominent Jewish American sculptor of the American Renaissance (1870-1945), built the Reconciliation Memorial from 1912-1914. It features thirty-two full sized figures cast in bronze, depicting the universal experience families faced when their lives were interrupted by a call to combat. It was Ezekiel’s culminating work and his grave. The Memorial is surrounded by four-hundred graves in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery.

One in a series dedicated to national healing and peacemaking—including the Memorial Bridge that links Virginia to Washington, D.C.—the Reconciliation Memorial was dedicated in 1914. This was the result of the combined efforts of four U.S. presidents: William McKinley, Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. 

Every U.S. president, from William McKinley to Barack Obama in 2009, has placed an honorary wreath at the Memorial’s base in a formal ceremony. After 2009, however, this ceremony stopped.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests, momentum grew to destroy historic American monuments and memorials. Violent rioters defaced and vandalized the Lincoln Memorial and a World War One memorial, among many others. 

Recent Developments

Updated on December 19, 2023

June 2020 — Senator Elizabeth Warren has championed a political purge of American history, culminating in a “Naming Commission” with a two million dollar budget. Its mission is to recommend renaming or removing important parts of American history from military property. The Commission called for the removal of Ezekiel’s Reconciliation Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. This operation will cost taxpayers $61 million. Multiple lawsuits have been filed to preserve this historic work of art and grave marker.

September 2, 2023 — The Virginia Council (TVC) joined eleven other historic preservation groups in co-signing and submitting a Regulatory Response Letter to Ms. Renea Yates, director of the Office of Army Cemeteries in response to the planned removal of the Memorial. The Letter was organized by Defend Arlington—which has been spearheading the effort to halt the removal—and points out that taking down Ezekiel’s Memorial would violate federal law and send a chilling message that government officials need not respect the rule of law. The U.S. must follow its long-standing policy of protecting our nation’s historic landmarks. 

TVC also opposes the removal on the grounds that Moses Ezekiel was a preeminent Virginian known both within and without the U.S. for his masterpieces, and taking down his Memorial will dishonor this talented Virginia artist whose art should be celebrated.

September 26, 2023 — A coalition successfully obtained an amendment to the U.S. House Defense Appropriations bill which would prohibit the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) from spending tax dollars on the removal of the Memorial.

December 12, 2023 — The courts ruled in favor of the DoD destroying the Memorial. This decision is a regrettable moment in American history, erasing our shared past rather than learning from it. The Virginia Council's leadership and volunteers were present at Arlington National Cemetery to document the atrocity—destruction crews moved in and began their work the same weekend that many volunteers laid wreaths on the other tomb stones throughout Arlington National Cemetery.

The nice Christmas wreaths are not the most honest indicator of what this country thinks about our veterans and the horrible conflicts we overcame together. It is more accurately, and tragically, symbolized by what's happening on the other side of the chain link fence: the destruction of our artistic heritage and the desecration of our dead soldiers' graves.

However, just minutes away from being hoisted into a plywood box, the Honorable Judge Rossie D. Alston issued an injunction that temporarily halted the effort to destroy the Reconciliation Memorial. This matter came before the court on Defend Arlington's emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the DoD. Defend Arlington alleges that, in addition to the removal of the Memorial, the DoD has failed to take care of the gravesites surrounding the Memorial as the process of removal is underway.

Interestingly, the same construction team that took down the statues on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA, is also responsible for removing the Reconciliation Memorial. Devon Henry, owner of Team Henry Enterprises, has now removed over twenty-three monuments in the southern states. The most recent addition to Henry's arsenal are several LED light towers that showed up overnight after the TRO was issued. Those who want to destroy history and irreplaceable art love to work at night and in the shadows—and it won't stop here.

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