Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Union Forever

Hurrah, boys, Hurrah!

One crying shame about the way we Americans do history is that we always seem so scared of our own. Just like the immaturity to which we tend to approach the subject of modern war, we bend over backwards to justify oversimplification and ignorance about past wars.

Confederate History Month is not some new thing, even if most Confederates in the Attic celebrate it for the wrong reasons.

We should not shy away from our past, we should not gloss it over. When political hacks issue proclamations of Confederacy memorials, don't oppose them, encourage them to include the whole history. Tell the whole story. Own American and Confederate and Civil War history and we will be better for it. The story is more complex and heroic and tragic and redemptive than almost any other episode in our history.

And yes, that story includes the story of slavery. Bookman is absolutely right. If you're going to tell one story, you got to tell the whole story. But the story doesn't stop at slavery, either.

This story is the American Epic and we spend most of our time debating whether to tell it wrong or ignore it completely. The past is never dead, it ain't even past. But you wouldn't be able to tell by the way we treat it in the mainstream.

Every day I drive by reminders of the Confederacy. A statue of General Robert E. Lee is exhaulted over Lee Circle in a premier roundabout. A statue of General P. G. T. Beauregard on horseback guards a roundabout two blocks from my house. I pass a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on my way to and back from work - it is located on Jefferson Davis Parkway which makes up most of my route. This is shortly before or after I turn onto Calhoun Street. If I travel east to Georgia, I pass through a city named Slidell. When I pick up friends from the airport, I travel to a city named Kenner.

I live in one of the most diverse, culturally African and Carribean cities in America, and every day is Confederate Memorial Day.

Every. Single. Day.

And no one seems to know why. Why would we still be ashamed to talk about slavery and its pivotal role in both American history and the war, while at the same time we declare we've moved on from its legacy? If you never owned slaves, why in the hell are you afraid to talk about slavery in academic ways? And if you think the war was just about ending slavery, why did Lincoln specifically include exceptions in the Emancipation Proclamation for slaves held in Orleans Parish, coastal counties of South Carolina and Georgia, and the border states?

Hell, the guy who helped design the Rebel Flag was from St. Bernard Parish and owned a home in the French Quarter. In a city that liberally celebrates its overwhelming cultural contributions to America, why can't I find three people who even know that?

No, no. I know the answer to all these questions and more: because it is complicated, that's why. And we don't like complications. It may mean we have to take off the team colors for a minute and think.

Which is a shame, really. Especially when talking about the Civil War.



Dante said...

Complication nothing. The answer is simple: We want to make every single issue we can about race in this country. And openly discussing racial issues is taboo in this country.

Issues that even graze race (like voters being required to show ID) are made to be racial issues and then promptly silenced. The war that decided the fate of slavery in this country is far too large a target to separate (or better yet acknowledge and move past) the racial components.

But yes, it is a shame. It's a shame that any discussion of the rights of states is labeled racism. It's a shame that a war that forced the hand of western expansion is labeled racism. It's a shame that the war that took the US into a whole new realm of military strategy and technology is labeled racism. It's a shame that we can't take a holistic view of what the Confederacy was, what it tried to accomplish, and why it failed.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

As far as slavery is concerned, you cannot divorce it from the history of this country, especially the early history, any more than you can divorce religion from that same history. I don't think you can seperate its legacy from post-Civil War history, either.

As far as racism is concerned, a lot of issues did and do concern race in this country. And that historical fact is rarely existant just because someone brought it up today.

These concerns didn't arise out of thin air to surprise of everyone involved.

I know slavery and racism didn't have to do with every single issue in our history, but they had to do with an awful lot. Pretending it didn't exist or wasn't a major factor in shaping this nation's history is folly.

Laws, attitudes and behaviors of the past affect laws, culture and behaviors of today. Maybe issues like states rights might not be so closely associated with racist policies of the past if, you know, they hadn't been used most fervently in defense of slavery and racist policy.