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Sunday, December 17, 2023

Honor The Confederate Dead - Let Statues Of Commemoration Remain

There is a movement in America to remove all recognition of the Confederate dead from national cemeteries, a revisionist, shameful, dishonorable decision.   Young Southern boys fought because they were conscripted, not out or patriotism, slavery, or the South.  They did so, like thousand of conscripts in other wars before and after, because of duty, obligation, and necessity.  They and their Union counterparts fought in the bloodiest war in American history, and for that alone their deaths should be remembered.  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? 

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage more than any other work of fiction described the carnage and horror of the war, a conflict where more men died than in any other war (as a function of population).

The regiment bled extravagantly. Grunting bundles of blue began to drop. The orderly sergeant of the youth's company was shot through the cheeks. Its supports being injured, his jaw hung afar down, disclosing in the wide cavern of his mouth a pulsing mass of blood and teeth. And with it all he made attempts to cry out. In his endeavor there was a dreadful earnestness, as if he conceived that one great shriek would make him well. 

Erich Maria Remarque wrote as eloquently about WWI:

From the earth, from the air, sustaining forces pour into us--mostly from the earth. To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often for ever.
Earth with thy folds, and hollows, and holes, into which a man may fling himself and crouch down. In the spasm of terror, under the hailing of annihilation, in the bellowing death of the explosions, O Earth, thou grantest us the great resisting surge of new-won life. Our being, almost utterly carried away by the fury of the storm, streams back through our hands from thee, and we, thy redeemed ones, bury ourselves in thee, and through the long minutes in a mute agony of hope bite into thee with our lips!

The boys who fought under the Confederate flag were not traitors nor heroes; but young men thrown into battle thanks to no wish of their own.  They did not die for a cause but because they had the misfortune of being men in 1863 sent to be slaughtered in a war which may or may not have been foreordained.  Historians debate to this day whether slavery would have collapsed under its own weight, buried by the North’s industry and enterprise. 

The Confederate flags that fly and the Confederate statues erected in most Southern cemeteries belong there, for they honor those young men who died not for a cause but who simply died young.  They died heroically because they were forced to fight.  They had no preeminent will or purpose to fight, but fought nobly; and it is this sacrifice – the sacrifice of youth in unwilling but obedient service.   They are as much veterans of the Civil War as their Northern brothers. 

Cemeteries are hallowed ground.  The Byway of Hallowed Ground passing through Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania honors all those who died in the Civil War.  The ground is hallowed because American boys’ blood was shed on it. 

Image result for images confederate cemetery

Does it take a just war for soldiers to be recognized? 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?

Image result for prizewinning photo dying soldier vietnam hue

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
Image result for flanders fields poppies

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. 

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.

Many US army installations in the North are still named after Confederate officers - Forts Benning, Bragg, Hill, Hood, Lee, Pickett, Polk, and Rucker.  The names have been retained because they were not ‘traitors’ as the Post journalist suggests, but because they were professional soldiers many of whom were trained at West Point along with their future Northern adversaries.  Now because of revisionism and a refusal to recognize the place of history, its lessons, and its indelible legacy, the names are being changed. 

These men were honorable, courageous soldiers who accepted the duty imposed upon them by the truly traitorous politicians of the South who refused to accept the conditions of Union membership demanded by the North.  They were no different from today’s high-ranking officers who might have disagreed with politicians who determined that the war against Saddam Hussein was necessary.  They might have disagreed with the Washington politics behind the invasion/liberation, the strategies designed by their superiors, or battlefield operations; but as loyal soldiers taught to obey orders, they complied. It was normal that military bases were named for Southern officers who distinguished themselves in battle.

Using the word ‘traitor’ for fallen Confederate soldiers is misguided and wrong.  There is plenty of guilt to go around when assessing the causes of the Civil War both in the North and the South.  Let the term, if absolutely necessary, be applied to those who through their politics, ambition, and misguided sense of destiny made the Civil War happen.

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