Don’t alter worst times from our past
Recently, the city of Memphis renamed three parks that had been named for Confederate generals. The U.S. Army War College is considering removing portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Across the South, there are movements to rename schools and buildings named not only for Confederate heroes, but those named for slaveholding presidents, including Founding Fathers Washington, Jefferson and Madison.
Why stop there? The floodgates are open, let’s take a ride: tear down The Hermitage for Old Hickory’s removal of the civilized tribes. Eliminate monuments to Union generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Custer, for their role in the subjugation of the Western tribes; ban their flag, the Stars and Stripes. Delete FDR from the dime for Japanese internment. Change the name of a local university because it derives from one of the 19th century’s most reviled robber barons (Hint: He liked to be called “the Commodore”).
Just kidding, but do you get my drift? When we alter our history because we don’t like it, we are on a slippery slope. The issue here is not the Klan, but the Taliban.
Among the outrages the Taliban forced upon Afghan citizens was the near-destruction of their nation’s history. Archivists saved the nation’s film archive by hiding it, despite death threats. The Taliban managed to destroy two 2,000-year-old statues of the Buddha, one of Afghanistan’s — and the world’s — treasures. Do we really want to go there? Will we create a History Soviet? Will we descend into an Orwellian “Animal Farm,” where the future is known but the past is ever-changing?
The Sons and Daughters of Confederate Veterans may take positions with which we disagree. Most are honorable people, interested not in white supremacy, but in preserving and, promoting history study. One example is our state Sen. Douglas Henry, an ardent Sons of Confederate Veterans activist. His devotion to his ancestors has not conflicted with his service to all his constituents in one of the most economically, racially, religiously and culturally diverse of Tennessee’s state Senate districts. All have access to this courtly Southern gentleman.
In 1861, 80 percent of the Southern white population was primarily impoverished small farmers who did not own slaves. It was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. Nine out of 10 Confederate soldiers were from non-slaveholding families. Are these men to blame for the third-most-destructive war in history? If so then those who served in Vietnam must be blamed for that disaster.
Two of the most important events in U.S. history are the reunification of the country, and the end of slavery. The ruling Southern elite (or “slavocracy”) plunged the nation into war to defend their states’ rights to maintain the “peculiar institution.” After the war, they kept blacks in neo-slavery, creating a two-tiered wage system; because black wages were low, white wages were also depressed.
Their motto might have been “Labor is not worthy of its cost,” an attitude persisting in the anti-unionism of our current plutocracy. How have they gotten away with blatant cupidity? They have succeeded by using race to divide people who share common interests. This evil persists with voter suppression laws; add to that xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia and Obamaphobia, and you will know why the former Confederacy remains a low-wage, regressive-tax, poor-service region.
We can learn from the men who ended the war in April 1865. The nation was reunited at Appomattox because of the wisdom of Gens. Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee, who faced reality. The vanquished were treated with respect by the victors. Today, our diverse society is reality. Unity will mean prosperity. To promote tolerance, we must be tolerant. When we denigrate or erase the heritage of millions of people, then we are not building a diverse society, but alienating potential allies.
A country that deliberately destroys any part of its national and natural heritage is not legitimate; example, Taliban-era Afghanistan. Had we understood this when the Buddhas were blown to bits, we might have avoided, or at least prepared for, the longest war in our history.
For those who disagree with my analysis, I say this: Would you rather win one insignificant battle or the war? Show the dignity of Lee and Grant; we have better things to do.
Robert Evins Pickard