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Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Day–Does That Include The Confederate Dead? The Innocent Must Be Remembered

While one can understand the arguments for removing the Confederate flag, it is much harder to accept the relegation of Confederate dead.  As in most wars, most Southern soldiers fought because they were drafted.  In some cases, particularly in the officer corps, they fought for patriotism and followed the lead of their generals and colonels. 

More American soldiers died in the Civil War than in any other (as a proportion of the population); and Confederate soldiers died just as courageously and heroically as their Northern brothers.  Why shouldn’t their deaths be honored? Does it take a just war for soldiers to be recognized?

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If a just war were the only criterion, then soldiers who died in Iraq or Vietnam should be given no recognition whatsoever.  Most historians have concluded that the War in Vietnam was a tragic mistake; and many believe the same thing about Iraq.  What about the soldiers who killed thousands of American Indians to make the West habitable for white settlers? Should their graves be moved to some obscure corner of military cemeteries?

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Those who fought for the Confederacy were Americans, and after the Civil War were still Americans.  They had fought courageously and determinedly not for a cause but for  loyalty.  Most young men who lost their lives for the South were conscripts who fought because they head to, not because of white supremacy, slavery, or Southern righteousness.  Those who died for the Confederacy, a losing cause from the outset because of Northern numbers, armaments, and reserves, were the true heroes of the War Between The States because it was a losing cause. 

The ordinary recruit, enlisted from red dirt farms, was trained to kill fellow Americans out of duty, respect, and obedience - a boy who  acted under no moral or ethical philosophy, nor any  hatred for his brothers from New Hampshire, but only out of loyalty, camaraderie, and honor to his fellows, his officers, and their command - deserves no less honor on Memorial Day then those who fought and won the Civil War.

It is the conscripts who deserve our respect and honor on Memorial Day, not the men who led the charge, configured the battlefield victories, or designed the winning strategy.  The real heroes are the ordinary men who fought  valiantly and even heroically for a cause they had not designed nor for an end they had never even envisaged.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
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The boys who served in France in WWI, Corregidor in WWII, in Chosun in the Korean War, Hue in Vietnam, and the Iraqi desert in Desert Storm fought not for liberty, freedom from tyranny, or against an illiberal oppressor but for duty and responsibility  Either drafted or volunteer, their motives were simple, practical, and uncomplicated either by politics or political philosophy. They were the innocents, free from blame and censure.  Not lambs to slaughter but heroically, obediently, and willingly going to their deaths.  They are the soldiers to be memorialized, not their leaders. 

History remembers Napoleon, Patton, Trafalgar and Normandy; but Memorial Day honors those who died for no reason, no cause, and for no purpose.  Wars have always been fought and they always will for questionable reasons.  Henry V was challenged by his enlisted men on the battlefield at Agincourt.  They, they confided to the King in mufti, were pawns in venal, selfish aristocratic war. 

The cause and purpose of the war meant nothing to the common man, the recruit.  They were only casi belli of the ruling elite.  Yet Henry’s men fought and fought courageously.  They, not the politicians who decided to go to war nor the strategists appointed to win it, were the heroes of the conflict.  They could have sought cowardly escape like Falstaff  in another war, but chose to fight even for a dubious cause.

Those who lead the way in war and are sacrificed to it may be history’s recognized, but never honored heroes.  Only those who serve obediently, dutifully, and honorably deserve recognition.
The Confederate graves in Vicksburg, Richmond, and Gettysburg – graves of conscripts and dutiful citizens – deserve honor, respect, and prayer.  So do those at Bittsburg and a hundred other cemeteries in which are buried soldiers who fought for the Third Reich.

Memorial Day is in honor of the nameless millions who have died for others’ causes.  Those whose patriotism was not relative.  Those who fought not because of a righteous cause but because or duty, honor and respect.

In a censorious age, judgement is quick and harsh.  Confederate soldiers, regardless of how and why they fought, should be consigned to an unrecognized death.   Indians who died at the hands of Union soldiers should be memorialized while federal recruits killed in combat with Comanche and Apache warriors should be given unmarked graves.  Revisionist history has branded Westward Expansion and the Indian Wars as immoral; and those Americans who died at in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri deserve no recognition for advancing Western civilization and are reviled for their barbarity.

Memorial Day should not be another day to celebrate American victories but to honor the dead – especially those who died for nothing other than obedience, duty, and respect.  Even those who volunteered because of unemployment, poverty, or economic ambition deserve at least some recognition. 

There will always be wars.  Unless human nature is reconfigured through genetic modification, natural territorialism, aggression, self-defense, and self-interest will always prevail.  If that is so, then those caught up in the inevitability of war – the unlucky – should be honored for their willing service, regardless of the side on which they fight.

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