Somehow a clash between two groups of people in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday — each containing their share of thugs bent on violence, along with good people committed to a cause they consider worthy — has been translated into an attack on history.
Somehow the fact card-carrying hate groups were present, such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK, is providing a license to declare war on every vestige of Confederate heritage.
To me, that’s a big jump. Because while the stated purpose of last Saturday’s event was to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park, it seemed obvious that the white supremacists who came from all over the country were simply using this as an excuse. A cause to rally around.
At the same time, they’ve done a terrible disservice to those who have taken the time and effort to peel away the commonly accepted veneer of contempt, and understand and appreciate true Confederate history. Folks who are wholly legitimate in these beliefs somehow are being labeled (unfairly) as white nationalists.
When I look at footage of the Charlottesville melee, I see thugs on both sides who are so indistinguishable you can’t tell whom is whom as far as well-defined good guys and bad guys.
That event is certainly tragic in itself, yet what is especially sad is the attack on anything Confederate which has come in the aftermath of C-Ville. A Civil War monument was violently ripped down in Durham this week and there are attempts all over the country to remove similar statues and fixtures that have been around more than 100 years in some cases.
Here again, I’m having trouble seeing the link between modern-day white supremacy and what Southern soldiers did during the Civil War. These were mostly farm boys, only about 10 percent of which came from slave-owning families, according to estimates out there. From what I can tell, many were fighting to simply protect their homelands from Yankee hordes who were the invaders. Who wouldn’t?
Another problem is that you can’t judge life in 1860s America by today’s standards, albeit poor as modern standards are at times.
If applied to the litmus paper of 2017, Abraham Lincoln himself can be classified as a racist because of his views at the start of the war that blacks would be unfit as soldiers, and other reasons.
Lincoln also said his main goal was to “preserve the union” (aka maintain economic control over Southern seaports, commodities and other resources) and he would not be bothered if slavery were eradicated or maintained (see 1862 letter to Horace Greeley). Additionally, he advocated sending slaves to Liberia.
Oh, and by the way, Lincoln’s in-laws, the Todds, were a slave-owning family, and Lincoln didn’t get around to implementing the Emancipation Proclamation until 1863, when the North was getting its butt kicked and he had to transform the war into something more than an economic crusade.
But despite the fact that I consider Lincoln to be the most-overrated U.S. president, I certainly don’t want to see the Lincoln Memorial torn down or his image removed from $5 bills and pennies.
That’s because to be fair, Lincoln must be viewed within the historical context of his own lifetime, not evaluated by the narrow-minded criteria of some of the “evolved” among us today.
The same goes for those Confederate troops who died in the sincere desire to defend their country and not in the name of slavery.
The truth is, we could take down every Civil War monument in the nation, and the radical groups fueling this still wouldn’t be satisfied.
They then most likely would target names of schools and buildings, and rewrite all the history books to remove any mention of Confederate generals.
And why stop there?
I’m sure the world could live with only three geographical directions — north, east and west — so go ahead and remove “south,” just to eliminate any possible reference to the former Confederacy.
But he who lives with the sword in this regard would also face dying by the sword, since sooner or later the pendulum of racial hatred would swing into unintended areas.
If, for example, some damning information emerged about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would that justify demands to take down statues of him or rename all the King highways and bridges?
Certainly not! Because anyone with a brain would have to keep in mind that Dr. King, Abe Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee and others were all human.
And any human failings they might have had should not obscure greatness they achieved.
In other words, leave history alone!
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.