Bigotry, Civil War, CSA- Confederate States of America, Dred Scott, Firing on Fort Sumter, Germany, History, Holocaust, Ich bin Dachau, Lies, Memorials, Monuments, Old South, Perspective, Slavery, Third Reich, Three-Fifths Compromise
History, like life, is full of controversy and contention. Sometimes we can agree on basic facts but find the interpretations and conclusions of others incomprehensible. At other times we can’t even agree on the basics. Even a thing as seemingly simple as a war’s beginning and end can be controversial.
Between April 1861 and April 1865 the US was embroiled in a war of secession that came to be called the Civil War. It can be argued that the Civil War has its roots in the 3/5 Compromise of 1787, that twisted snake logic of compromise that flowed from the Constitutional Convention which allowed slave states to count the kidnapped, bought and sold African people brought to what would eventually become the United States as 3/5 of a citizen for representation purposes while simultaneously declaring them property.
The four-million African slaves that inhabited the United States in 1860 had no human rights, and this vile illogic of human as property was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1857 via the Dred Scott decision. There is no skirting the simple fact that a clash of pro and anti-slavery forces played a huge role in the CSA’s war of rebellion.
While there are many milestones that led to the Civil War, chief among them the Confederate States of America (CSA) declaring secession from the Union beginning on December 20, 1860, it is the April 12, 1861 firing on Fort Sumter that provides the agreed upon date for the beginning of open hostilities. The firing on Fort Sumter occurred 100 years before I was born and its legacy remains lodged like a musket ball in the side of the United States nearly 160 years later.
The incredible death toll between 1861 and 1865 is not counted among the controversies and contentions that swirl among the Civil War’s historical facts. Civil War bloodshed took the lives of more US servicemembers than any other conflict before or since. Roughly 3/4 of a million US servicemen lost their lives in the Civil War. That’s nearly twice as many US deaths that arose from World War II, which had twice as many as WWI, which had twice as many as Vietnam. Granted, we can argue whether servicemen fighting for the Confederate States of America should count as US servicemembers, but brushing over that fine point it remains true that more US servicemembers died between 1861 and 1865 than all other following wars combined.
With total US servicemen deaths from the Civil War eclipsing that of all other US servicemember deaths commemorating the dead has been a point of contention. There are those who insist that monuments to the Confederacy are imperative to history and that preserving them is essential if we want to remember our past, while on the opposite side are those who wish to remove all monuments to the Confederacy. The removal side declares the rebels traitors to our nation and, believing the cause for which the CSA fought obscene, insist that monuments to the CSA must go, even to the extent of pulling the monuments down in violent, vandal protest.
Having lived in five states south of the Mason Dixon line for a total of 25 years and five states north for 33 I believe there is a proper way to display CSA war memorials and that Germany provides us with a perfect template. Among other memorials to the horror that was the Third Reich, Germany has converted half-a-dozen former Nazi Extermination camps into Holocaust museums. Germans confront and acknowledge the evil that they perpetrated. The do not glorify or gloss over their sins. They do not cry out what wonderful Germans Hitler’s soldiers were. Germans have pledged to never forget their atrocities, they do not gild them, glorify them or memorialize them.
This is the template that the United States should adopt for our CSA “Monuments.” Glorifying rebel traitors who fought against equality and white washing the atrocities of the Old South is abominable. Do I wish to have all monuments to the CSA torn down? Oh, no. I wish to have them transformed. Transformed in the image of German Holocaust museums. Transformed into testaments of truth and a promise of a better tomorrow. Forget history? Not on your life. Rather, let us remember the warning of George Santayana, he who declared, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Ich bin Dachau and I have seen America. I will not forget, I will not white wash and I will insist that the “States Right” for which the CSA fought most dearly was the right to continue owning people as property in perpetuity, an atrocity that deserves no monuments but only memorials that make clear without ambiguity the evil that ruled slave states. Rather than tearing down statues of Confederate soldiers let us memorialize the CSA with proper monuments, monuments of grief and horror and let those monuments be a reminder that we must never repeat the dehumanization of our siblings.