I was looking at CNN for a little while last night while the commentators Roland Martin and Anderson Cooper were discussing the recent tendency by politicians in the South to honor the Confederate States of America. I certainly understand honoring your ancestors.
Some of my ancestors were the Vikings who traded and raided all across Northern and Western Europe and the Scottish/British/Irish Isles. I feel some pride in the amazing sailing skills and the courage and tenacity of my people. I can’t say I am proud of the raping and pillage that the Vikings apparently practiced at every opportunity. I am sure there are Irish, English and Scottish people who are still bitter about the havoc my ancestors spread. History and people are just not so simple.
Some of my other ancestors fought for the German Army in World War One. Although I am awed at their fortitude, their courage and their ability to survive, I can’t say there is a damn thing admirable about The Great War.
The War Between the States was one of those wars that had no good guys. The idea that the Confederates fought for their freedom is quite ironic, as one of the major ways they expressed their freedom was to enslave others. The Unionists began the war with no noble goal. The only goal was to preserve the Union.
I am sure there were individual acts of perseverance, persistence and heroism. I am sure there were Confederate soldiers who snuck food to the starving prisoners at Andersonville. I am sure some of Sherman’s troops snuck food to the women and children who were left homeless and destitute by the March to the Sea. I am sure there must have been a slave owner who helped his slaves evacuate to a safe and remote area like the Gullah Coast where they could live in relative seclusion and safety while the war raged in other areas. I am sure there must have been a Pennsylvania farmer who hid, nursed and fed a wounded Confederate boy-soldier until it was safe for him to sneak back home to Virginia.
I live in Missouri, which was a particularly nasty place before, during and right after the War Between the States. There was so much brutality on all sides, that it is just impossible to declare any side the good guy. The bitterness still survives at some level. If you have ever seen the Clint Eastwood movie, “The Outlaw Josie Wales”, then you know a little bit of the Missouri story. Even today, the Kansas KU sports team is called the “Jay Hawks”, which was the name the Kansas border raiding militias went by. Talking about not being PC. This is certainly as offensive to people with Confederate ancestors as it must be for Native Americans of the Northern Plains to see a team named the “Custers”.
It was just a few years ago that Kansas and Missouri decided to change the name of their college sports rivalry from “The border war” to “The border showdown”.
Even so, Kansas and Missouri seem to have mostly forgiven each other. Outside of the sports rivalries and away from the battle field memorials, there is not a lot of talk of the bad old days.
It might be a good idea for all the ancestors of The War of Secession to just admit it was an ugly time and forgive each other.
Forgiving old enemies is not easy. I lost some of my family to the German death camps in World War Two. But in my days as a dog trainer, I had dog training buddies in Germany who had been SS officers in the war. I traveled to Germany frequently to train dogs and to buy dogs in the 1980s. It was pretty weird training dogs, drinking beer and sharing a few laughs with the guys who might have shoved my great grand mother into a crowded, foul smelling railroad stock car and locked the door behind her. My dog training buddies and I never talked about the bad old days, except to acknowledge that they played a role and that my family paid a price. We shrugged and agreed it was a long time ago. We agreed to focus on the present and focus on trying to move on. The fires of hate and ignorance had long burned out.
I lived in New York during a very racist and dangerous time in the 1970s and 1980s. My family was on both sides. The white side of my family tried to deal with it as best they could. The black side of my family tried to not get killed. It was an ugly time. So we all try to forgive the people who stoked the fires of hate and ignorance, while we try to move on.
But the fires of hate and ignorance still seem to benefit the scammers and the charlatans who find wealth and power in the fear and anger they fuel. Forgiving is not enough. How to we help people feel the futility of hate and vengeance? How do we help them see how they are being used as patsies in political scams to help charlatans rise to wealth and power?
I am tired of having to forgive people for their unspeakable acts of cruelty and foolishness. Let’s move on to something else, please. How about something a little more constructive and forward looking?