Commentary: Let go of the resentments of the past

Regarding Frank Calio’s letter published Monday, Aug. 12, 2019:

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the 5th meaning of buff is listed thus: “[earlier – buff an enthusiast about going to fires; perhaps from the buff overcoats worn by volunteer firefighters in New York City about 1820]: FAN, ENTHUSIAST.”

One must double check and face the facts of any actual event, the aftermath of that event and especially the reactions to both. History is not served by distorting any of those aspects of the subject being studied. Therefore, it is not enough to be an enthusiast about anything, particularly for anyone who delves into momentous subjects in the history of a country — in this case, the Civil War of the United States of America.

It’s unnecessary here to go into all the machinations of both sides of the slavery question from the very inception of our country leading up to the Civil War; simply put, the war was fought for the individual states’ right to own people as slaves. When it became obvious that would never be accepted by the federal government, individual states involved decided to secede from the Union to form the Confederate States of America and commission an army.

In April 1861 they fired the first shots of the war in South Carolina. It ended in April 1865 with a formal Confederate surrender in Virginia. These are accepted historical facts — no one can erase them. No one is talking about erasing any of the historical facts of that tragic war. The subject here is the continued reaction to that defeat and its aftermath.

In “The Friends of Voltaire,” Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (this is often misattributed to Voltaire himself). We can all agree with that. But nowhere is it written that one must “respect the passion” of those who conceive and undertake to fight for such a repulsive cause — the right to own people as slaves, the right to rip those slave families apart and sell them as an income device, the right to inflict horrible punishments on those slaves who ran away because they did not want to be slaves.

Nowhere is it written that the federal or state governments of the United States of America must subsidize monuments to this repulsive cause either with tax money or government land. And no, the soldiers of the Civil War are NOT being disrespected here, nor are the German soldiers of WWI and WWII.

The valor and sacrifices of these soldiers has not been diminished. I think it is possible that many soldiers of many wars didn’t really understand what they were inadvertently defending because of propaganda and the twisting of the real goals of the war by those in power. This is not difficult to believe: look up our various wars with the Native Americans; look up causes of the Vietnam War.

Mr. Calio implies that the Confederacy is ignored or minimized in textbooks and history classes, that children won’t learn the history of the Confederacy without these monuments. This is not true. Events such as battle re-enactments, lectures and exhibits about the lives of the soldiers of both sides and those they left behind, etc., are popular and welcomed everywhere. The American Civil War Museum on the James River in Virginia is universally praised for its well-executed exhibits and presentations.

It is the monuments and the flags themselves along with the glorification of the generals (by naming things after them) that indeed are representations of the racist and brutal facts of the cause of this sordid war. Its ugly aftermath (Jim Crow, rigid segregation, lynching, etc.) has kept alive the festering sore of that reaction for 154 years up to and including the election of our first black president and now, a white president who supports white supremacy causes.

Robert E. Lee himself was adamant that there should be no monuments or encomiums to any aspect of the war. He strongly believed that we must concentrate on becoming one people continuing the quest to “form a more perfect union.” I often disagree with Senator Trey Paradee but he presented a calmly reasoned and honest description of this issue. His use of the word “traitor” is correct according the dictionary: betraying one’s country in order to subvert it. We should all remember that none of the Confederate soldiers or generals were executed because it was thought that the bleeding from this war must end with the surrender.

We are never going to be able to staunch this bloodletting going forward if we refuse to let go of the resentments of the past (i.e., the war was lost, it’s OVER) and make a concerted effort to find common ground for the sake of our future peace.

Janis T. Gaddis is a resident of Dover.

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