Tuesday, August 02, 2005

An old war triggers fresh emotions

This morning I found myself reading an article on Beliefnet by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach called, "The Sin of Confederate Hero Worship". It is subtitled, "Why do Americans stand for Southerners idolizing the Confederacy, despite the evils of slavery and treason at its heart?" and it compares the cause of the Confederacy to the cause of present day terrorists - namely that of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Now what interested me is the comment section afterwards and I am reminded once again how we are still fighting that war. Here's a sample of what the Rabbi said:

Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. But his personal feelings about the institution are utterly immaterial. The only relevant point was that he used his military genius to fight a war that would have kept men, women, and children in chains. What on earth could make a man like that a hero? What could make a man like Jefferson Davis a hero in the eyes of the good people of the modern South, and what message are those who lionize this man sending to their children? That it is good to rebel against the United States?
It is high time for the United States to remove statues of Confederate leaders. And for those who say that removing such statues would be an affront to free speech, I would respond, are there any statues of Benedict Arnold in the United States? And would anyone dare erect one? And yet Arnold's treachery against the United States was child's play compared to the damage caused by Davis, Lee, and Jackson.

The great men of the Civil War were not the rebels, but those who fought to preserve the unity of this great nation rather than to tear it asunder. The great men of that terrible war were those who ultimately freed the slaves from bondage--most notably Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman--rather than those whose victory would have had fellow Americans owned as beasts of burden by their countrymen.

Now I must admit, as someone born and partially raised in the South, that I cringed at the mention of Sherman. How anyone could condone his March to the Sea (also see here) filled with war crimes is beyond me. And it was just my emotional reaction that prompted me to go ahead and read the comments after this article. I want to share two with you - each representing opposite viewpoints. Here's one by a writer who agrees with Rabbi Boteach:

To romanticize over the Confederacy is a slap in the face to the nation as a whole.

Let's tell the truth: The Confederacy, no matter how "Christian", or how genteel, it perceived itself, was still an enemy (slave) state within the Union that had to be put in check militarily. All of which took a heavy toll on human life, from slaves to soliders.

I would say to my Southern neighbors: don't pine over the Confederate symbols and heroes as remnants of a "golden age", but to mourn over them as examples of human evil and treason against the common good. And after you mourn, learn from those examples to make this nation (and humanity) better.

And here's a comment by someone who believes in honoring the Confederate dead:

The War Between the States was not about slavery per se. It was about one group of people telling another group of people that there was only one way -- theirs. It was more about states' rights than slavery although admittedly slavery was a component. The industrial north with its greater population wanted to tell the rural south how to run its affairs. But what doesn't get said most of the time is that slavery not only existed in the North, it was common. Their house wasn't completely clean before they decided to clean someone else's. Even now there is little mention of northern slavery. Why is that? Because they "won" the war and only the victors get to write the history?

I honor Robert E. Lee because although he did oppose slavery he also loved his home and was willing to fight for it. He was also a man of honor and great faith. Should he be dumped in a hole and forgotten becuase he was on the losing side of a war? Or does one have to be on the winning side to be considered worthy of memorialization?

I can see it both ways. I really can.

Emotions ran very high on the message board. It gave me considerable pause for reflection because if we're still so divided about such a tragic episode of our nation's history that is now 140 years old, how can we hope to heal the divisions which currently rip us apart? The morning's reading has been very sobering indeed.

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