You’ll get some history, with me analyzing and connecting dots. You’ll also get my sarcasm, free of charge.
No doubt, you’ve read and seen many news stories about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12th, 2017.
This is more personal, with some observations. I’ve visited Charlottesville many times. The University of Virginia is a great place (I actually considered it for grad school). I worked in a Virginia library, and many of my meetings were in Charlottesville. The university is lovingly referred to as “Mr. Jefferson’s university.”
So why Charlottesville for such a protest? Statues of Robert E. Lee are a staple in Virginia.
It’s the desire to remove these Confederate monuments that sparked this.
Click on https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/15/how-other-countries-have-dealt-with-monuments-to-dictators-fascists-and-racists/?utm_term=.c4065bc39136 for a good comparison I’ve seen between the Confederacy and Nazi Germany.
The most important one? With Nazi Germany, we conquered a country that brutally occupied much of Europe. With the Confederates, the goal was to keep them in the United States. Doesn’t that beg the following question? Would President Lincoln have been better off saying, “Let them go?” Just a historical fork in the road to think about.
Please allow me a philosophical question. Can you judge Nineteenth Century America by Twenty First Century standards? By today’s standards, Abraham Lincoln was a racist. The only reason he agreed to African-Americans in the military was because the war was going badly for the Union, and he needed the manpower. Lincoln, as with many of his predecessors wanted to ship the African-Americans to Liberia. If Eli Whitney hadn’t invented the cotton gin, American slavery wouldn’t have grown the way it did, and shipment to Liberia in the early Nineteenth Century may have really happened. You could be morally opposed to slavery the institution, but not like African-Americans as people, as many abolitionists did. Saving the Union was the “moral” reason for the Civil War. The real reason? Money talks. Saving the Union sounds better, than “All that cotton.” As for deporting African-Americans, there were too many by then. I wrote an essay about this, click here
I’m Ashkenazic Jewish with according to 23andMe 0.1% East Asian ancestry. Wanted to get that out. Alt-right is my enemy, to them, doesn’t matter how many generations I’ve been here. Their problem, not mine. I would’ve been with the counter protesters in Charlottesville.
Those protesters chanting “Blood and soil?” Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said the following on his Twitter feed: These people are utterly revolting–and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects “blood & soil” nationalism.
Yes, we do. We’re based on an idea, not ethnic nationalism. I also found it interesting that the alt right marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Tells me they are afraid of Jews. What’s eating them is becoming a minority. If they want to yell at anyone, it would have been President Lyndon Johnson. He loosened U.S. immigration laws in 1965. They’ll need a seance to do that.
I remember going to Stone Mountain in 1983. It was like a Confederate theme park. We differ from the victory over Nazi Germany, because Germany was a demolished country, starting at ground zero. In our case, we were trying to reintegrate the rebellious states. Officers on both sides attended West Point together. Friends now enemies.
I need to throw some more historical accuracy in. The flag you see is actually the battle flag of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, who surrendered at the end. According to Civil War historian Bruce Catton, Lee considered disbanding the army and sending the men into the mountains to fight a guerilla war. Some of his officers wanted that. Luckily, Lee was enough of a leader with vision not to do that. I was raised with the idea of Robert E Lee as a man of honor. Hard getting used to the darker side, though I can’t say I’m surprised.
The battle flag is used by haters all over the country now. Two years ago, I wrote an essay after Dylan Roof shot nine people in a Charleston church. At first I thought, ok, what’s in a flag? The power you give it.
I’m not saying the flag should be destroyed totally. It needs to be used as a teaching tool., along with the statues. Those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it, like Groundhog Day.
I have had many Southern friends across the years. My favorite cousin grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I enjoyed The Dukes of Hazzard and the car, the General Lee. Loved the accents, lol! Another factoid I remembered from the book Culture Shock the South. Seven out of ten white Southerners have an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. Yes, and Jews fought for the Confederacy. My father told me about a letter from General Lee, stating his Jewish officers could attend Yom Kippur services, because of a lull in the fighting. Here in Tucson, you have the prominent Drachman family. They first landed in the United States from what’s now Poland in Charleston. They fought for the Confederacy.
The problem is much of history isn’t black and white, cut and dried. I need to close with the following:
Many of the people in my life have heard me speak and write about my beloved former boss, teacher and adopted big sister Susi Baldwin. I knew her from 1976, as a bratty nineteen year old from Brooklyn to her untimely death in October, 2012. I need to share two stories that may or may not make you laugh.
Susi was very much a daughter of the South. Most of her family settled Savannah, though there was a Virginia branch. (Stonewall Jackson was an ancestor). Susi was a bubbly personality. She was ten years older, very much a part of the liberal Sixties and Seventies.
Why am I telling you this? Not everything is black and white.
The first story takes place in 1999. She was living in Purcellville, Virginia, near Leesburg, where there is debate about another Confederate statue. I was staying with her to help her enter the computer age and set up her computer equipment. I went to sleep that night on the living room sofa, underneath the photographs of the Confederate ancestors in uniform.
She told me the second story at dinner. My other boss was an African-American woman named Karen. Karen and Susi were friends. One day Karen said, “We are going to Uncle Thurgood’s house for dinner.”
Susi told me she thought nothing of it until United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall opened the door.
My point? History like politics, makes strange bedfellows. While Susi had the pictures of those Confederate ancestors, if she were alive and healthy on August 12th, she would have been there with the counter protesters. In other words, where does heritage stop and hatred begin? I’m asking this as a philosophical question. The Confederacy was proven wrong, as was Nazi Germany. Does that mean it was inappropriate for Susi to have her ancestors pictures on the wall? Each individual is shaped by the history of the world and the influences around them. Should Susi have been ashamed of her Confederate ancestors? Questions I might have put to her.
Charlottesville as a city rallied against the Alt-Right. Remember something though. This is the school and city founded by Thomas Jefferson. If you’re “Politically Correct,” when do the questions about him begin? Keep debating it.