Sunday, November 8, 2009

Where Is the Honor?

I happened to pass by a fraternity house at Valdosta State University on Friday and saw what appeared to be the beginning of a formal ball. The young ladies were all dressed in lovely gowns, looking like a classic collection of Southern Belles. The young men wore matching outfits – costume replicas of Confederate Army uniforms.

Why is there such a tendency here in the South to venerate the Confederacy and the Civil War? I understand the desire to honor heritage, and maintain tradition, and all that – but the Confederacy? It was, after all, a would-be nation that existed for barely more than four years, almost 150 years ago. Surely no one can claim that their ancestors were born and raised in the CSA, simply because four years is far too short a time to raise a child. There was little time to develop Confederate traditions, to create a Confederate heritage – so what exactly are these people honoring? Many people decry the immigrants who fly the flags of their home nations, screaming that they're in THIS country now, they should be honoring their new home instead of their old. Doesn't the same logic apply even more strongly to those flying the flag of a nation that existed so briefly, so long ago?

The brief existence of the CSA is entirely entwined with the Civil War. To honor the Confederacy's heritage is to honor their side of the war – for there are few other lasting accomplishments to be honored. Not to put too fine a point on it...the CSA was a treasonous organization devoted to ripping the United States into two nations, seriously damaging both. Had they succeeded, I would see a point in honoring the founders of the CSA just as we now honor Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and the other founders of the U.S. But they didn't. What is it about the losing side of this war that makes it so deserving of honor, especially honor by citizens of the nation that won?

These days you can find innumerable celebrations of the heritage of the Confederacy strewn throughout the South – replicas of the battle flag fly everywhere, monuments and events such as that formal ball pay honor to the fallen Confederate soldiers, and so forth. As a soldier myself, I can certainly understand the desire to honor the fallen. But why honor only one side, and the losing one, at that? Some of the displays include their own apologetics – the bumper stickers that show the battle flag and the slogan “Heritage, Not Hate,” for example. They ignore the reality – there is no heritage of the Confederacy besides the hate. The only reason for the war was to maintain slavery. Many people these days like to claim it was about “States' Rights,” and the loss of power to the Federal Government – they ignore the fact that the only right those states really cared about was the right to enslave other humans. The public statements and documents of the time make it clear – the overwhelming cause of the secessions and the war was the question of slavery. That is the heritage these people are now celebrating. That is the cause they are honoring. That is the tradition they are maintaining. When I saw those students gathering for their event, they appeared to all be white. All things considered, that's not really a surprise.