Posts Tagged ‘sesquicentennial’

An Editorial

This year (April 12th, to be exact), marks the 150th anniversary of the shelling of Fort Sumter, the first act of the Civil War.

As usual, this anniversary is controversial. Brooks at Crossroads has been blogging about this controversy for the last few months, he’s stated the issues and inanities far better than I could, so pop over there and catch up if you’d like.

You can probably imagine the various debates: should Confederate soldiers be honored, should slavery be included in any remembrances, was the war really about “states rights” or something far more sinister, etc. There are groups out there trying to use this anniversary for their own political advantage as well, whether drumming up support for unrestricted gun rights, nullification, secession, or even outright rebellion against the current administration/government, or something else. Most of these folks are, of course, nutjobs. But that’s to be expected: every anniversary celebration, whether it’s Independence Day, 9/11, or the sesquicentennial of the War of Northern Aggression, brings out the nutjobs trying to rally support for their own cause. They need to do so, for their cause doesn’t stand on its own, it needs the crutch of misrepresented history to lean on.

In my view, we definitely should honor this sesquicentennial with reverence, respect, and honesty. Yes, the war was about slavery. Yes, the Confederacy was wrong about seceding to “preserve the peculiar institution”. Yes, “states’ rights” arguments were used to dupe Confederate soldiers into fighting. Yes, Lincoln was wrong about suspending habeus corpus. Yes, the draft riots were handled badly. Yes, Reconstruction failed and led to the rise of Jim Crow and the KKK. Yes, yes, yes, nearly every horrible thing that led up to and occurred during that war was tragic and contemptible and disgusting and true. War is like that, war is nasty, miserable business, and always results from failures of leadership and integrity on at least one side, but usually by both.

But yes, we still need to respect and honor the soldiers who gave their lives on either side. Yes, we need to respect that these men were fighting for a cause they thought was just. Yes, we need to allow such ceremonies to take place on either side of the Mason-Dixon. Yes we should have wreath-laying ceremonies at Union and Confederate cemeteries. But yes, we should also recognize the slaves who suffered under the yoke of oppression, and honor those who ran the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movements, or who acted as conscientious objectors to the whole thing. Yes, yes, and yes again.

People need to realize that these events occurred 150 years ago. We are generations and generations removed from those events. There is no longer any need to take any of this stuff personally. It is behind us. Let’s not act like those barbarous regions of the world, areas still waging wars of hate because one country oppressed another 100 years ago, or one king conquered another 500 years ago, or two brothers hated each other 1500 years ago, or some tyrant murdered a prophet 2000 years ago. People and cultures who hold onto these historical transgressions (real or imagined) and allow them to torment them in the current age are weak, foolish, and stupid. When you’re stuck in the past you never move forward. We are Americans, we should be better than that. We need to look at the now, and at the future, and not dwell on what was (or what we erroneously thought it was).

Here’s what we should honor on this 150th anniversary of the War Between the States: we survived the greatest man-made catastrophe to ever occur on North American soil. We never regressed back into further military conflict amongst ourselves in 150 years. How many other nations in the world can claim that? Precious few, that’s for sure. Look around: some regions have been fighting civil wars for 20 years or more! We are “one and done” in terms of civil war. I find that truly remarkable.

Not only that, but we have absolutely thrived in the aftermath. We stretched our influence across the continent, across the world, and into the reaches of space. We have excelled in economics and business to become the world’s leading economic power. We have excelled in science and technology, harnessing the atom, conquering horrible diseases, cracking DNA and connecting the world with electrons and photons. We have turned our slaveholding society into an artistic machine, spawning the blues, folk, gospel, rockabilly, bluegrass, rock-and-roll, country, soul, and R&B. We have done a lot of cool shit, folks, since the end of the Civil War. Yeah, we’re troubled now, things don’t look too rosy, but we still have it pretty good (whether you live in the North or the South).

Here’s my advice for appreciating this Sesquicentennial: take the opportunity to learn about history, and reflect on how far we, as a complete nation, have come since those unenlightened times 150 years ago.

And let the past be the past.

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