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.


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…”


“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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A Message to Nike: Sell the Damn Sneakers

First, Happy 4th of July 2019 the 243rd Birthday of this American Experiment!

More than a symbol

The controversy over the original flag and its symbolic relationship to slavery and racism does nothing to further the discussion on racism in the United States.

While I disagree with his methods, Colin Kaepernick does demonstrate the courage of his convictions. However, he misses the point with such meaningless protests toward Nike and their Betsy Ross sneakers.

Slave labor built much of early America. Of that, there is no dispute. Slaveholders provided much of the labor which drove America’s rise in global trade. When slavery ended, inequitable treatment of minorities offered a slightly more expensive but still bargain price for labor.

It is one of the strangest dichotomies of the rise of the United States from the bonds of British tyranny. The founding fathers joined to fight for their independence from a Royal Government which trampled their rights. This same Royal Government recognized the inhumanity and inherent injustice of holding a fellow human in slavery and banned the practice.

It underscores the point that no government, no society, no people are perfect. They have their brief shining moments, rising to greatness as shown by documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and their failures by killing over seven hundred thousand of their fellow Americans to end slavery in the “land of the free.”

However, symbols are often never single-purpose. While the original flag may well have flown over institutions or government organizations which supported slavery, it also flew over many that did not.

History is not a moment in time. If that were the case, we would be right to argue the genocide of Native Americans, where both pre- and post- Civil War American Soldiers slaughtered tens of thousands and displaced millions, is worse than slavery.

Quantifying such atrocities is an exercise in futility.

Nothing can ever undo the tarnish of the practice of slavery in the US, nor the ever-present racism which permeates much of our culture to this day. However, to isolate one symbol and demand its removal from the public discourse without recognizing the multiple manifestations of its symbolism is disingenuous.

I would argue the effort to remove such a symbol amounts to placing an unfair comparative standard on items with little connection to the reality of the times.

Americans stole slaves from their homeland, brought them to America, and bred and traded them like cattle. The ships bringing slaves to America flew the same American flag.

Americans, by declaration not birth, stole a country from Native Americans and destroyed their entire culture. The soldiers who imposed the policies against these Native Americans followed that same flag into battle.

These are America’s darkest chapters.

There are brighter chapters written by the American people.

That same flag led Americans into battles at Belleau Woods, Marne, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Chosin Reservoir, Hue. Places where Americans died to save others from tyranny.

That same flag flew in planes that airlifted food to Berlin, brought aid around the world, and offered reassurance just by its mere presence throughout the world.

That same flag flies on the surface of the moon and on the Voyager spacecraft which left the solar system and now travels in interstellar space.

One cannot take a symbol from one moment in history and equate it to the practices, beliefs, or actions of an entire nation. We cannot eliminate racism by attacking the past. We can eliminate racism by learning from the mistakes, and the triumphs, of the past to change the future.

Nike, sell the damn sneakers. Americans died to ensure freedom of speech and the flag represents that more so than reflects racial bias or support for slavery.

Words Illuminate the Mind, Actions Unveil the Heart

Wandering around the state of Virginia, visiting various historical locations, I had the opportJeffersonunity to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

The man who played such a pivotal role in the formation of this country; writing the Declaration of Independence, influencing the development of the Constitution, writing definitively on the separation of church and state, and serving as the third President of the United States, is a study in contradictions.

When he wrote the words, “All men are created equal”, his concept of the word ‘men’ was limited to free white males, not the inclusive embracing concept of ‘mankind’ the words have come to mean.

The list of his contradictions is long and it bends towards complicating his memory.

He held fellow men and women in bondage.

He championed education but denied it for slaves out of fear that an educated, literate slave posed a threat.

He ordered the whip not be used against his black butler, a favorite slave, yet let the use of such terror continue for others.

He conducted scientific research trying to find a less labor intensive crop to sugarcane to reduce the onerous workload borne by slaves…and shift that burden, albeit lessened, onto the children of slaves.

He used the promise of manumission as a carrot to control those slaves he owned. Dangling the opportunity as an incentive, and threat, to maintain order.

He fathered children with Sally Hemings; holding this woman as a slave and never granting her freedom.

A man whose words inspired a nation to greatness, fostered the emergence of the anti-slavery movement, and lit the beacon of America believed slaves to be inferior humans not capable of controlling their own destiny.

He promoted the idea of teaching them skills and then sending slaves back to West Africa because he could not conceive of an America where black and white could live as one people.

He was a bigoted genius whose mind conceived universal truths and whose heart refused to recognize the contradiction in his denial of those very truths to some men and women he considered mere property.

From this, I took away several things.

First, the words of the founders are timeless. Their application from the limited scope of “white males” to the universal application today demonstrates our nation, our constitution, and our laws are subject to the progress of society.

Those who would argue the constitution is inviolate and not subject to changing interpretation ignore the contradictions of the founders such as Jefferson.

Jefferson was a product of his time. His words ring with a universal truth even if he himself would have found 21st century America to be a foreign, unimaginable world.

When we discuss things such as constitutional changes, we need to keep in mind the contradictions demonstrated by the authors of these words. Times change and we must learn to adapt our laws to this change.

The principles established by Jefferson and the founders stand the test of time. Their application requires constant review.

There has never been a time when the universal truth, “actions speak louder than words”, is more apropos. The current leaders of this nation show the same contradictions.  We can learn from Jefferson’s flaws as much as we can from his genius.

Pay attention to what people do, in their actions are the truths behind the rhetoric.