Thursday, April 09, 2015

On the anniversary of the defeat of the Rebellion

The Rebellion was what my ancestors called the civil conflict ended by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender to the Union army at Appomattox 150 years ago. One of my prosperous forebears had what he thought it had been about chiseled on the monument he erected to his country's freedoms.

I was surprised to learn from historian David W. Blight's essay at The Atlantic that

... Fully one-third of this immigrant nation of over 300,000 million can still today, if they choose, trace their ancestry to someone who experienced the Civil War.

It seems to me that we ought to be celebrating this event -- it's not something to rush past without ceremony.

Moral progress prevailed in that war. Slavery was overturned by force of arms and at great human cost. As in all wars, participants' motives were mixed, complicated, not often heroic. But without much wanting to, Northerners could claim that their kin had "died to make men free." If there is anything in the history of this country worth celebrating, it is that the better side triumphed in 1865.

Echoing President Lincoln's Gettysburg formula, Brian Beutler proposes a new federal holiday:

... let's name April 9 New Birth of Freedom Day.

... Today, the South is home to innumerable counties, schools, and other monuments named in honor of Confederate men, or established to celebrate the Confederacy itself. The federal government can’t change that on its own, but it can refuse to participate in the celebration.

It could rename these 10 army installations after Union fighters. It could remove monuments to the Confederacy (as opposed to museums and landmarks) from the National Register of Historic Places, and disclaim any obligation to finance their maintenance. ...

It could remove the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and place it in the custody of the Smithsonian -- or at least end the spectacle of the president of the United States bestowing it with a wreath every Memorial Day. We aren’t being polite to anyone worthy of politeness, or advancing any noble end, by continuing to honor traitors in this way.

In a followup article, he explains to his numerous detractors

The purpose is to cement a national consensus that the Confederate regime -- its political and military leaders, and its goals, not its civilians and conscripts -- was truly odious.

Insofar as the modern successors of the nuliifiers and secessionists again try to impede further progress toward human freedom, their project is still morally odious.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

My friend Sarah offered this comment:
It is a little ironic, having US military bases named for leaders of a treasonous rebellion. (My people, of course, also saw it that way.) Agree that if we are ever to make progress as our nation inexorably lurches toward majority-minority demographics that the confederate flag cannot be a symbol of national pride. The history of slavery must be reckoned with. Also the Trail of Tears - and the wars following the Civil War, using Union soldiers, that finally defeated the Indian nations militarily.