Erasing History

The recent decision of the United States Marine Corps to ban displays of the Confederate flag is a necessary and welcome policy. I am proud to say, my cousin, Lieutenant General John Broadmeadow, was the senior Marine officer signing and issuing the official command.

Banning symbols associated with those who once fought to preserve slavery is a worthwhile goal. The flag represents two fundamental and undeniable legacies, slavery and a once lethal enemy of the United States of America.

Some have tried to spin the past into a less sinister reality. But the states that seceded from the Union did so to preserve and protect slavery. Every other rationale was ancillary and tangential to the cause.

These are the words three states publicized in justifying their secession.

Georgia

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic…”

Mississippi

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

South Carolina

“But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.”

Let there be no doubt about it, the argument for secession by the confederate states was based on slavery. They considered slaves to be nothing more than property. They saw the rising tide of abolition as an unlawful deprivation of their rights to this property by the government. There was no consideration of the black race as anything near as valuable as the white race. The south saw slaves as little more than two-legged pack animals.

 No alteration of facts, or creative interpretation of history, can change that reality.

Yet, the clamor to remove monuments to those who supported the south as a way of cleansing the stain of slavery is an exercise in contradictions and a fool’s mission.

These statues and artifacts represent a period in history important for us to remember. Removing them will not alter the past anymore than denying the reality behind it.

To remove the name of General Braxton Bragg from Fort Bragg, North Carolina cannot stand scrutiny without removing all those who may have held slaves.

One cannot erase history, no matter how unpleasant, unless one will wipe out all of it. And that is impossible.

If we tear down the statues to Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis because they fought in the cause of slavery, should we also remove statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or the sixteen other Presidents who owned slaves?

Jefferson himself, while troubled by the institution of slavery, vacillated in his position. While he lamented the practice, he still held onto his slaves.

“I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery], in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

If we are to remove the name Bragg from the fort, should we rename Washington, DC?

Do we erase from the history books the actions of William Tecumseh Sherman because of his total war in Georgia? Sherman was not an abolitionist. He didn’t care if the south held slaves, he fought to preserve the Union. Are those motivations admirable absent a revulsion to slavery?

Sherman’s own words expressed the nature of his conduct of the Southern Campaign.

“I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers … tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

Sherman may have detested the realities of “hard war” but he did not shy away from visiting it in all its terror upon his enemies. Is his memorial something to preserve while we demolish those of Robert E. Lee?

Where do we stop trying to whitewash history? Do we remove all the names of soldiers memorialized in Forts and military posts who took part in the genocide of Native Americans?

Much of our history is written in blood. We shouldn’t try to obliterate these histories but learn from them. These statues and portraits represent Americans who lived during a much different time. They stood by their convictions, no matter how we view them now, and their fellow countrymen saw fit to memorialize them.

They are a part of history that is undeniable, unchangeable, and unerasable. Trying to understand the motivations of those who supported the southern cause is important, so such misguided endeavors never happen again.

They also remind us that slavery was the precursor to something many Americans still endure. They carry scars not from the whip but from the crippling pain of racism and discrimination.

The Confederate Flag should be on display in museums and history books. The legacy of slavery should be an important element of every American’s education.

For someone to display the Confederate Flag today is equal to displaying a Nazi flag. We do not celebrate the causes of our enemies. Despite efforts to recharacterize the motivations of secession, the fact remains that the Confederate States took up arms against the United States of America to preserve slavery. One of the most hateful legacies of human history.

Yet it is important, when those enemies were fellow Americans, that we don’t bury history because it is painful to recall it. Remembering something, in its proper perspective, is different than celebrating or endorsing it.

History is a valued teacher if we learn to appreciate and put the lessons into context.

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