Rethinking the Past

These are tempestuous times, and I’ve been thinking about heritage as seen from a modern perspective.

In my genealogical pursuits, I learned that three of my great-grandfather’s older brothers did not return from the Civil War. I haven’t looked for any of their cousins, etc., but that’s a real thing. What did they sacrifice their lives for? What was going through their heads? Did they really die to defend slavery?

Two rebel generals, Virginia plantation and slave owners, chose to fight for their home state instead of against it only a few decades apart. One is regarded today as the father of his country while the other has recently fallen into disrepute. Setting the entire long-standing issue of States’ Rights vs federalism aside, it is now entirely about the institution of slavery, and General Lee and my 2nd-great uncles were all on the wrong side.

If the South had not seceded and taken up arms against the United States and Lincoln had not issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when might slavery have ended? It doesn’t matter, because they did and he did and the 13th Amendment was ratified in December, 1865. Within 10 years, the Democrats opposing Reconstruction had control of the House of Representatives, and shortly thereafter Reconstruction ended and soon segregation became a thing through the first half of the 20th century.

As for General Lee, he chose to defend rather than take up arms against the 207 year-old Commonwealth of Virginia in a war with the 70 year-old United States of America. Other people have made similar choices, but that really only looks good if you win and Lee lost. The 44th Georgia Infantry was with him.

As I see it, the problem is less with the Confederacy and more with the white supremacists who have co-opted its symbols. Not unlike the swastika, which used to stand for something far different from fascism, the former Confederate battle flag has become the flag of white supremacists including the Klan. I get that and agree that it needs to go. It saddens me a bit because I’m sure it meant something different to the men who marched and fought and died under it, but the symbols are tainted. Let’s put them away.

We have done some stuff in our national quest to make America great that was pretty despicable in any age. Just about every step white America has taken has been over the body of a Native American, from my ancestor who came ashore on Appledore in the Isles of Shoals to my ancestor who moved his family from Laurens County, SC, down to Henry County, GA, to take possession of some prime land recently redistributed from some Cherokee who had recently been dispossessed and sent off on the Trail of Tears.  (Andrew Jackson isn’t a big issue for some reason.) Still, we persist in our mythology that we’ve ever been and remain better than we are.

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3 Responses to Rethinking the Past

  1. Rain Trueax says:

    It is an extremely depressing time but it’s more about human nature than being a white male. If you look at any cultural or ethnic group, you see the same thing. The word enlightenment changes its meaning depending on what someone hopes to keep or get. I do not see the logic of removing those monuments, most people never even paid any attention to them– but they are now.

    What most in the South fought for was to have the right to form their own nation. Today, California wants to vote for that– are they then traitors for even suggesting it? Very few southerners owned slaves and many had freed what their family had owned but that’s not the issue now. The real target is not just Trump but the issues he ran on like nationalism vs. globalism; or legal immigration vs. illegal; middle class vs. the poor and/or the rich; sending our jobs overseas to keep one small group richer and the middle class poorer– and on it goes. I have zero use for any of the political types on either side. It’s all about power.

    What I want to know is how did we get here with sycophants for leaders? Did this happen when we weren’t looking? Or are we getting what we deserve? Too much watching reality TV that has no reality? Ignoring what our government was doing? And there is a lot most of us wanted to ignore. I don’t know but it’s a depressing time and not the least because anybody with a vehicle can kill others for ego pushed by religious or cultural elements.

  2. Harold says:

    Of course, I believe we’re getting what we deserve. When asked about political leanings most people seem to recognize that neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party is interested in representing us. They’re interested in consolidating and building power toward keeping their corporate sponsors happy. Meanwhile, more people watch a SuperBowl than vote in a Mid-Term Election. If we never elect people who are committed to representing the voter, this will always be the result.
    No single party should ever hold a majority in Congress; it should always be necessary to build a consensus across party lines to enact legislation.

  3. Rain Trueax says:

    The thing that is sad is so many who could do a better job at leading won’t do it given our vicious times. Can’t blame them, but the ones we get often are not doing it for noble purposes :(. And if they start out noble, they quickly find they need money and there goes nobility.