Stars and Bars

For several years I traveled with teenagers from a high school in San Francisco to live and work for 3 weeks in the city of Derry (Londonderry if you are an Orangeman). My love for this town on the River Foyle is well known. I love its history and while living on the Nationalist “Bogside” of the river we were able to connect with Loyalist teenagers on the “Waterside” the other side of the Foyle. I loved my time there and the friends I made. Near the Craigavon Bridge is a building that holds some historical significance for us. Supposedly, the local shirt factories provided uniforms for both sides in the American Civil War on one floor blue uniforms and on another grey uniforms were made. (To this day Derry still supplies the US president with 12 free shirts every year.)

Speaking of wars, civil (is there such a thing?) and otherwise, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell issued a proclamation in April 2010 declaring it Confederate History Month in the commonwealth. Supposedly to boost tourism in the state, the proclamation starts off with two “Whereas'” that are of note:

WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and

WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and…

Originally any mention of slavery was omitted in the proclamation until yesterday when the Governor backtracked and added another “Whereas” to clarify his position. After some in his state complained to him after his original explanation on why a mention of slavery was omitted. As McDonnell said, “it (slavery) is not an important enough issue to include in the original proclamation.” That didn’t sit too well with the citizenry. “I must condemn Gov. McDonnell’s proclamation honoring ‘Confederate History Month’ and its insensitive disregard of Virginia’s complicated and painful history, the remnants of which many Virginians still wrestle with today,“ said Sheila Johnson, an African-American business owner.

The whole idea of romanticizing the Confederate states and the civil war itself boggles the mind. I know there are groups that re-enact battles and skirmishes that took place during the civil war for history’s sake. It’s good to walk in the shoes of the men who fought on both sides of this tragic chapter in our history. At least 618,000 Americans died in the Civil War, and some experts say the toll reached 700,000. The number that is most often quoted is 620,000. At any rate, these casualties exceed the nation’s loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam and Iraq.

George on a Horse

It is ironic that one of the framers of the Declaration of Independence, a slave owner was from Virginia, Jefferson. The history of the Union was partially formed by that state. And yet it is this state, and others, that formed a massive resistance against that same Union, committing treason in the process. The massive casualties on both sides are a testament to the horror of war, any war. I am afraid that during this remembrance month, people will continue to romanticize the confederacy as a noble cause to raise the pride of the poor white laborer and forget the ugliness of slavery. As a matter of fact these types of remembrances harken back to an era when poor whites and slaves knew their place. That war of independence that McDonnell talks about in paragraph one sounds like a lofty aspiration, or treason.

Whatever reasons people use to explain the causes of the Civil War, economics, states rights, slavery or the election of Abraham Lincoln, the fact remains that the war between the states was a blight on our history. A shameful time when Americans fought Americans, citizen against citizen, brother against brother. Where is the pride in that?

I wonder why Europe doesn’t reenact the Crusades. Weren’t they all just great. I wonder why there are no reenactments of those great battles to win and re-win and re-win the Holy Land for Christians. I bet the folks in Derry would be happy to make the uniforms. Ah, those were the days.

And so it goes…