Special Note: As usual, this is both a text and a video. If you want to see the latter, just click on the image below. If not, read away with my blessing.
Some weeks ago, I visited a small city in Texas. I will not identify it, but suffice to say it is a pleasant place and one on the upswing. Like many cities in Central Texas, it had been…well…dying. But then a combination of factors…including an excellent university, an entrepreneurial couple who turned their personal lives into a real estate empire and a reality TV show, and an energetic population and leadership…led to a revival of the place. I think I could enjoy living there, if push came to shove.
But, we were staying in a hotel down by the Freeway. We got there at night, and so didn’t see much of our surroundings when we checked in. So, it was sort of a shock when, in the daylight, I realized that next door to the hotel, and unaffiliated with it, was a tall flagpole flying the Confederate flag.
Surprised to see this in a presumably enlightened age...
Surprised to see that flag in this presumably enlightened age, I walked across the street to learn what it was all about. I soon discovered that the flag was actually only a marker. Below it, like a great gray tombstone, was a monument to the Confederate dead who had fought to defend the region from invading Union forces.
I couldn’t get close to the monument, however, because it was completely surrounded by a high fence and barbed wire. There were also numerous signs indicating that this was private property, and trespassing was forbidden. Presumably all this was necessary to keep it safe from those for whom the Confederacy is a not a romantic lost cause but an absolute abomination, a repressive and illicit government whose very constitution enshrined the right of its white citizens to own other human beings.
As a good liberal, or whatever the hell I am, I suppose I fall into the camp of those who don’t much care for Confederate monuments. Yet, even so, I was saddened by that wire and those signs. I was saddened that we are so divided as a people that such things are, increasingly, just a given in public and private discourse. We surround ourselves with barriers, whether of barbed wire, or of irreconcilable ideas.
And because I’m one of those pathetic human beings who is always trying to find some way of bridging the unbridgeable, that started me thinking. Is there any way, I wondered, to span this particular breach…the vast and probably eternal division between those for whom this place was a sacred monument, and those for whom it is an abomination…?
The answer is probably no. But, just for a moment, let’s consider some unthinkable thoughts, if only for the exercise…
Let’s start by asking who actually fought for the South? Who formed its armies? Well, a lot of the soldiers were poorer whites who did not benefit from the slave-based economies of the cotton kings, or who did so only remotely.
Then why did they fight? Answer, because many of them didn’t have a choice. A lot of them were drafted. And as for those who volunteered, they had been told that they were fighting not for cotton, and not for slaves, but for the South. In other words, to protect their homes from what looked to them like foreign aggression.
Thus, many of them had…not to put too fine a point on it…been sold a bill of goods. They had been told they were fighting for their farms and families, when in fact they were dying for the privilege of rich people to get richer at the expense of everyone else.
Okay, if that’s the case, then the deaths and sufferings of most of the Confederate soldiers and their families look doubly tragic…not only did they die and die in vain, but they died for cause which was not really theirs. They were the victims of guns, and bombs, and …most deadly of all…of lies.
So…suppose we shifted the conversation away from Confederacy and to the people who died for it. Suppose modern Southerners, and others who might defend monuments to the Confederate dead, said that “Yes, the Confederacy was a horrible thing, and the people who ran it were, as a group, pretty reprehensible. And, yes, the working class and middle class men and women who supported it were stupid to do so, since they were acting against their own best interests…
“But, but…still, they were the victims of their times and of their leaders. If they cannot be honored for their cause, we can at least respect their bravery and their sacrifice…and, more, we may pity them. They suffered the horrors of a war because the leaders they trusted told them them they were fighting for the well-being of their country, when they were only dying for the selfish interests of those same leaders.
“So…in the end, the reality is that both those who endured slavery’s hell, and those who fought to preserve that hell…though they did not know it…were, strangely, akin…”
Okay, that’s what occurred to me. Is it true? Well, yes and no. It is certainly true that many of the soldiers in gray marched off to pain and suffering and a lonely death in a ditch somewhere because they’d been manipulated.
On the other hand, well, they weren’t saints. Those who survived marched home to help establish a society that included lynching and abuse and racial subordination and the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, finding some sort of equivalency between the sufferings of enslaved African-Americans and Confederate soldiers in uniform is palpably false.
Still, there is enough truth here to do something constructive. If one side or the other was willing to reach out, and if both were willing to compromise (including making a few compromises with the facts), then maybe something could be done. Maybe the barbed wire and fences and the signs could be made unnecessary…if only the monument to the dead soldiers and their families was edited rather than removed. Perhaps it could be given additional text. Not much. Just something about how these men and women suffered and fought in a cause that was not only lost, but wrong. Indeed, wrong from its very beginnings. But, the soldiers and their families did not know that. They had been misled by those whom they trusted.
Then, too, next to the first monument, let another be erected. Let it remember the men and women in bondage, who suffered in an exploitative society, and who would know long years of oppression afterwards.
And, then, between these two, let one third and final monument appear. Let this one, at last, pray that the children of those who were the victims of an unjust war…and the children of those who were the victims of an unjust peace…together work as one, to build an America which is better, and more beautiful…
…then any imagined before.
On that note, and until next time…
Onward and upward.
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker