Can Virginia Military Institute survive without its identity? The current hysteria over cleansing America of its statuary misses the point: one can not erase the past. It can be forgotten over time, but at some point an archaeologist will dig it up and historians and linguists will figure it all out, and there it is – 10,000 years later and everyone learns all about how that society operated. Virginia Military Institute, for all its new-found love of Progressive ideals has and, if everything remains constant, will always have its identity grounded in the Confederacy and West Point.
The formal uniform of coatee, duck and shako comes from the uniforms worn by General Winfield Scott’s brigade at the Battle of Chippawa. The Regimental System comes from the standard organization of a line infantry regiment of the musket era. The Honor System is a legacy from the days when it was all the rage in colleges across America as the rougher sons of the frontier needed the pastiche of civilization in order to move up the social and commercial ladders. The academics came from France’s l’Ecole Polytechnique via West Point. Sylvanus Thayer’s influence on Francis H. Smith was that profound, and Virginia Military Institute never grew away from Thayer’s West Point of 1820.
When we look at Virginia Military Institute’s iconography, we see the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah and the Army of Northern Virginia. It can be argued that Marshall and Lejeune were not antebellum heroes, and that’s a fair argument that is countered by the Progressives as ‘they are old, dead white men.’ Yes, true. Such is the level of argument in the Left. Marshall and Lejeune could be the keystone around which to build a new identity for Virginia Military Institute. They were decent men in service to good causes.
Not every cadet, alumni, and staff were slave-owners, but many gave service to a break-away political ideology that sought to not only maintain slavery but to reinforce it and make it grow in North America. How does one honor otherwise decent men who served wicked causes? How does one honor otherwise honorable men who gave their utmost in the cause of evil? It’s not a question of can or can not – we do with our icons. But should we?
If we remove the Confederacy and the West Pointisms, can Virginia Military Institute survive without its core identity?