Friday, April 16, 2010

Civil Warriors

Ta-Nehisi Coates does Confederate History Month. With a New Orleans twist.

Powerful stuff. I said it before - if you're going to tell a story, make sure you tell the whole story. We can't get to the complicated parts without accepting the simple parts first. Race, religion and slavery were all tied up in it.

One thing marginalized in the whole conversation is this: Confederate History Month is really American History month. It is just part of that history we don't like to talk about because it wrecks the "we're always the good guys" mythology we feed ourselves.

Good thing, too. We don't like to remember that, at one point, slavery was legal in the United States of America and that most Northerners and Southerners and Westerners were quite content to let their contrymen own and trade other humans. We don't like to recall that Lincoln wouldn't have freed one slave if it would have kept the Union together. We don't like to know that the Union viewed the Emancipation Proclamation as a means to an end rather than a statement of principle. We don't like to recognize that true legal emancipation would take more than 100 years, that our history would continue to be bathed in the blood of atrocity, that racial factors and animosity would still ensnare so many aspects of our currently "enlightened" society even 150 years later.

We need the CSA to be the boogeyman as badly as modern day Confederates need the history of the war not to include slavery.

Because we don't want to talk to one another earnestly about serious subjects, we want to converse with people who already agree with us and see history the way we see it. Because we want things to be easy.

Whoever tells you history is easy is lying to you.

I can see it in the lamentations of the commentors on TNC's post. So many of them are content to hide behind today's "enlightenment" without paying tribute to the blood cost that got us here, or recognizing there is still an outstanding balance to be paid.

That is why I find the history tragic, heroic and beautiful despite her scars. This is the story of how we got to this place and time, where we are and what work we have left to do. In spite of overwhelming odds, in spite of the weight of all human history that came before, and in spite of our own baser natures we have overcome so much as a people. The same document that codified slavery into law at the founding of the Republic, survived the fire of war against itself, and was eventually modified to reflect and enforce more human liberty than any government in history is the same document that forms the basis of our government today.

I don't want this story to be easy. I don't want this story to be simple. If it were, we may forget all the lessons that were so learned so expensively. And God help us to not repeat any of them.


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