What Has Become of The Old Spirit of Unity and Reconciliation?
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An incredible thing happened after the American Civil War. For four years, the United States and Confederate States of America had been locked in a desperate struggle. The United States, led by Abraham Lincoln, sought to preserve the Union created in the wake of the struggle of the American colonies against the British Empire. To quote him in his own words, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
On the other side was the embattled Confederate States of America. Outnumbered and surrounded by enemies, they put up a valiant struggle for independence from a federal government which they felt had grown too large. To be sure, the CSA had slavery. The CSA also planned to abolish slavery in exchange for recognition by the European powers, who were the premier economic and political powers of the time. To achieve this objective, the diplomat Duncan F Kenner was secretly sent to Europe. This was done in secret so as not to inflame those in the South who were pro-slavery. This mission makes one question the commitment of the CSA to keeping slavery. In the same way Lincoln supported the abolition of slavery in order to keep on his side anti-slavery advocates, the Confederate government supported slavery to keep pro-slavery advocates on their side while secretly plotting abolition. The slaves, it seems, were merely pawns in a power struggle.
In any case, the conflicts left thousands dead and entire cities in the South burned to ashes by the Northern war criminal Sherman and many Jews driven from their homes by Northern general Grant. (To be fair, Lincoln rescinded this order before too much damage could be done.) On April 12th, 1864 the Southern forces committed a war crime of their own when they massacred surrendering, mostly black Union troops as they tried to surrender at a bluff above the Mississippi River. Both sides committed atrocities and both sides suffered heavily.
Judging from human history and the tendency of humans to seek retribution, one would have thought that the leaders of the CSA would have been summarily executed after the surrender at Appomattox. Such a thing did not occur. After the Civil War, a spirit of reconciliation settled upon the newly reunited nation. President Lincoln and President Johnson both gave pardons to former Confederate soldiers, who were allowed to regain citizenship in exchange for signing a loyalty oath to the United States. Famed Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, was pardoned by President Abraham Lincoln. The Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, was captured and imprisoned for two years and then released.
Most of all, the South was allowed to keep its culture which had developed during the war. The Confederate battle flag was carried into battle alongside the flag of the Union, stitched onto the crest of the Army Rangers and proudly borne as far as Okinawa in the United State’s struggle against the genocidal Japanese Empire. The message was clear. Southerners, and their symbols, were part of the United States. In diversity, there was strength. Monuments were built throughout the South to honor those who had demonstrated such virtues as loyalty, bravery or honor during the war. These included Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Attorney General George Davis.
One must wonder what has become of this spirit of reconciliation and unity? In the town of Wilmington, NC a statue of George Davis which has been there for over one-hundred years without causing a bit of harm was vandalized. Confederate statues in Durham have also been vandalized. The removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville led to violent clashes between White Nationalists and Antifa protesters. As much as I disagree with White Nationalists and their violent tactics, I can not support the removal of statues that represent Southern heritage. What good will it do to reopen wounds that closed over a century ago? It will only accomplish further alienation of White Southerners and play into White Nationalist narratives of the persecution of white culture.