I’ve tried to resist writing this column. Maybe not hard enough. May I say early on . . .
First, reality in general and history in particular, are rarely as simple, clear-cut and tidy as many folks would like to think.
Second, the winners of wars get to write most of the history. (Although I might mention here that one of the finest analyses of the American “Civil War” I’ve ever seen was written by Winston Churchill in a section of his excellent book, A History of the English-speaking Peoples.)
Third, just because the majority of the mainstream news media and other purveyors of political correctness believe something passionately does not even usually make it true.
The recent Confederate flag brouhaha (coming on the heels of real tragedy) reminds us that, though it’s amazing that the scars from the bloodiest war in our nation’s brief history have healed as well as they have, storms make the wound ache.
The best medicine for most wounds is honesty. Finding honest answers usually means asking honest questions of folks who are qualified to answer. I’m not qualified to answer, but here are some genuinely honest questions I’d like to ask those who are.
Slavery was surely far worse, far more brutal, far more evil than most of us can begin to imagine. I wonder if the Civil War actually hastened its real demise.
I wonder if the gasoline to which the match was set wasn’t really the clash of two different ways of life, northern industrialism and southern agrarianism, a clash that ended in explosion.
I wonder if it’s not far too easy, too simple, to say that the blue hats were the white hats and the gray hats were the black hats, good and evil lined up against each other.
I wonder if folks in our nation today can ever understand an age when good people who would be willing to die for this nation could love their states first and even be willing to go to war to defend them. We can hardly imagine that “United States” was once a plural.
Which brings me to Lee and Lincoln. I wonder how two of the finest men this land ever produced could find themselves on opposing sides. This alone would make me wonder if the line between the good guys and the bad guys is as clear as many find easy comfort in thinking.
I wonder if the prevailing politically correct opinion that the soldiers of the Confederacy fought primarily for slavery and the soldiers of the Union fought primarily for freedom is accurate.
I read a short article this week mentioning (try this title on!) “The Rt. Rev. Major General Leonidas K. Polk, CSA.” Polk was Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, and, almost before he knew what was happening, was commissioned as a Major General. His soldiering didn’t stop his preaching. He baptized Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Struck by a shell, he died in the Battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia, on June 14, 1864.
Can we be pardoned for thinking that there were some very fine, some very bad, and, mostly, some very human and ordinary folks on both sides of that terrible war?
One thing seems clear. At the end, some of the very best folks (in my estimation), Lincoln and Lee, were united in calling for mercy, healing, unity, and grace.
It’s a call we all still need to heed.
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Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.