Patricia N. Saffran, The Unlawful Assault on Ezekiel’s Masterpiece, the Arlington Reconciliation Memorial

 Patricia N. Saffran

The Civil War may have ended with a peaceful accord in 1865, but when in 2021 Congress passed a bill creating the Naming Commission, they authorized a campaign all over again, against anything Confederate. According to H.R. 6395, “The Secretary of Defense shall establish a commission relating to assigning, modifying, or removing of names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia to assets of the Department of Defense that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.” The bill states further, “EXEMPTION FOR GRAVE MARKERS.—Shall not cover monuments but shall exempt grave markers.” It was extremely odd for Congress to pass such legislation seeing as it was known in 2020 according to the HuffPost poll, that 66% of the US public didn’t agree with Confederate statue removals in particular. Congress gave the commission a $2.3 million budget.


In the Third Naming Commission report published in September 2022, the Arlington Reconciliation Memorial by the renown Jewish sculptor Sir Moses Ezekiel, was added to the list for elimination even though there’s no proof the sculpture is a tribute to the Confederacy. The public disapproves of the commission wanting to remove this work of art.  According to a Kaplan poll of March 3, 2023, “74% of those surveyed believe that Governor Glenn Younkin should take actions to prevent the removal of the monument. Of the 74% who agree, 59% believe that the Governor should be held responsible for the removal of the monument should he not act to prevent removal.” Youngkin’s involvement with the Memorial is a bit murky.  At first he wrote privately to Secretary Austin on March 31, 2023 to offer his help with the plans to remove the sculpture.  Then after that letter surfaced with a FOIA from Defend Arlington and other groups, Governor Youngkin subsequently wrote a flowery letter on June 29, 2023, to Austin, praising the monument and Ezekiel, and admitting, “Simply put, it was a monument to reconciliation. ‘Moses Ezekiel’s sculpture was not intended to glorify the Confederate side in the Civil War, but to turn the page towards reconciliation of our Nation.  I respectfully suggest that removing the monument will cause more division among Americans.'”


As to the sculptor, Sir Moses Ezekiel was the first Jewish graduate at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA. He served in the Civil War for the Confederacy and was a pallbearer for Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Ezekiel studied art after the war and had a studio in Rome where he executed numerous important commissions as a premier Beaux Arts sculptor. He considered the Reconciliation Memorial his masterpiece.  Another of his works, his sculpture of Jackson, was removed in 2020 from the school to New Market Battlefield, in a controversial act by officials that wasn’t supported by all VMI graduates.



For the top of the monument, Ezekiel created the figure of a classically adorned woman, sometimes called Lady South. This figure may be modeled after Nike who is often depicted as a statue holding a laurel wreath. Ezekiel’s figure holds a laurel wreath in one hand, the symbol in ancient Greece and Rome of peace, achievement, and honor. In his Memoirs, Ezekiel wrote, “I would like to make a heroic bronze statue representing the South, a standing figure dignified and sorrowful with her right hand resting on the handle of the plough and her left hand, extended, holding out laurel wreath, whilst her head would be crowned with a wreath of olives. On the plinth upon which she stood, I would put in relief four cinerary urns overshadowed with palm leaves. Each of the urns would have a date of the War. On the base would appear the inscription from Isaiah 2:4. ‘And they shall turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.’ Underneath this would be a round disk with the shields or coats of arms of the Southern states in relief. Beneath this, the circular body of the monument ought to have a high relief upon it to represent the sacrifices and heroism of the men and women of the South.”


The Naming Commission, which is now disbanded, produced a report describing inaccurately, “The memorial offers a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery. ‘Two of these figures are portrayed as African-American: an enslaved woman depicted as a ‘Mammy,’ holding the infant child of a white officer, and an enslaved man following his owner to war.” The problem with this description is that Ezekiel never wrote that he was depicting slaves, and there were many freemen during the war. The report also falsely associates the monument with the Lost Cause, which has nothing to do with the meaning behind the Reconciliation Memorial and is nowhere inscribed on it.


According to Lunelle Siegel of Defend Arlington (, The Memorial was part of a Reconciliation movement in the country and the Arlington Memorial was the brainchild of US President William McKinley and supported by three other presidents.” In the dedication, June 4, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, stated, “My privilege is this, ladies and gentlemen: To declare this chapter in the history of the United States closed and ended, and I bid you turn with me with your faces to the future, quickened by the memories of the past, but with nothing to do with the contests of the past, knowing, as we have shed our blood upon opposite sides, we now face and admire one another.”


In an article originally for the Epoch Times, September 27, 2023,  Dr. Ann McLean and Scott Powell wrote, “The Department of Defense under Secretary Lloyd Austin continues steps toward removing the monument from Arlington….The buck really does stop with Mr. Austin. While the Congressional Naming Commission has been disbanded, they left behind legislation and law. That law, Section 370 of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, specifically exempts Confederate grave markers from the order to remove the names and symbols that honor the Confederacy from Department of Defense bases and assets. Ezekiel requested that he be buried at the foot of the monument, making it his gravestone, which should be protected by law.”

Lunelle Siegel explains, “Defend Arlington and other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth which are pending in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.  The Defendants have asked the Court to dismiss the case and the court decision is pending. This is a grave marker by the Naming Commission’s own definition, and Austin should have stopped, looked and listened before ordering implemation of this recommendation.”  The lawsuit of February 16, 2023 specifically says, “Defendants exceeded its statutory jurisdiction in ordering removal of the Confederate Memorial, by unlawfully disregarding Congressional direction to seek local sensitivities; unlawfully directing removal of a grave marker; an area where it has no jurisdiction; and acting in violation of NEPA, NHPA and FACA.” On September 3, 2023, Karen Durham-Aquilera, Executive Director, Office of Army Cemeteries, was questioned in an email about removing the monument, that disturbing the graves of veterans being illegal and that Secretary Austin is following an illegal order from Congress.  Further, if she or any Arlington Cemetery military personnel allow a crane to damage said gravesites at the memorial that also is a violation of law, and that their apparent use of The Nuremburg Defense to follow illegal Superior Orders was invalid. She refused to answer.

The question remains, why would Secretary Austin, or whoever else is urging the removal of the Reconciliation Memorial, continue to push for this illegal act, when the public is against it?


Please follow and like us: