- Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, following surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. April 1865. Photo by Mathew Brady.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~ George Santayana
Somewhere, Santayana is rolling in his grave.
Main stream media and the blogs are all atwitter over Governor Bob McDonnell’s proclamation of April as Confederate History Month. Read the proclamation. In it, McDonnell says:
WHEREAS, this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all.
Rightly stated Governor. An acknowledgement that, no, it was not our finest hour. But also an acknowledgement that it was a time in history that we must not forget. A time where men and women fought with valour, and yes integrity for a cause in which they believed, misguided though they were.
More importantly, it’s a foreshadowing of the upcoming 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. A time that will bring tourists and history buffs, and their associated cash, to the borders of the Commonwealth.
But, for the perpetually offended, that’s not good enough.
According to The Washington Post, the Governor is Airbrushing Virginia History.
We all know that when it comes to Governor McDonnell, The Washington Post has no bias. [See Bridge. Brooklyn. Impending Sale]
Not to be left out, Ben and Lowell, otherwise known as the Sisters from Our Lady of the Hysterical Blog Posts weigh in on the subject, as does the real Larry Sabato who tweeted:
Already tweeted about Gov. McDonnell’s Confederate proclamation, but it’s becoming increasingly clear this is a disaster for him & VA.
That would be the same Larry Sabato who helped sink George Allen because he “knew” that’s right he “knew” that George Allen used the “n-word.” Sabato later had to retract that comment and say well he didn’t really “know” it, he sort of felt it.
Still, it’s not just the left attacking McDonnell, Doug from Below the Beltway tweets: Virginia had 48 Confederate History Months between 1861 and 1865. That’s enough for me, thank you.
The subject generates quite a bit of “conversation” amongst the right as well. J.R. at Bearing Drift has called for the recognition of Virginia Heritage Day.
Point is, regardless of where you stand on the issue, emotions run deep.
The larger point is, that on this issue McDonnell will be criticized for his action, or inaction.
George Allen received criticism each of the four years he issued the proclamation. Jim Gilmore endeavored to be sensitive to the issue and in 1998 included an acknowledgement of slavery in his first proclamation.
That wasn’t good enough. The NAACP still criticized Gilmore and threatened a tourism boycott of the state. Gilmore’s last proclamation recognized “Virginia Civil War Month.” He also was the one who provided separate but equal days off for Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King Day, pleasing no one except the state employees who get a four day weekend two weeks after Christmas, er…the winter holidays. For many, that also wasn’t good enough.
It never would be.
Mark Warner and Tim Kaine avoided the issue.
But we’re on the eve of an important anniversary. The plans for the Sesquicentennial are well underway. It’s important that we remember our history. The good and the bad.
It may be painful to do so. And surely emotions will rise again, even if the south doesn’t.
But no one, not McDonnell, nor Gilmore or Allen before him, is calling for a return to racial discrimination and certainly not a return to slavery. Anyone who implies that they are is either grandstanding for political purporses or…a moron. I have no patience for either.
I had great-grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, so I could be a legitimate “Son of the Confederacy.” But between you and me, those people scare me. Still I’m not about do deny my heritage. I’m not about to deny that I love Virginia. I love the South. And I can appreciate that heritage without having to whitewash it. So to speak.
Do I love the fact that our history bears the dark stain of slavery? Of course not.
But it’s the sum of that history, the good and the bad, that makes me who I am, and who our Commonwealth is today.
There are a lot of disagreement on this issue. There have been for, oh at least 150 years. But it’s not going to go away. And the vast majority of people who are critical of the Governor are going to be critical no matter what he does. Today it’s Confederate History Month. Tomorrow it’s something else.
Would it have been easier for McDonnell to take the Warner and Kaine route and ignore Virginia’s history altogether? Maybe.
But it wouldn’t have been honest.
This afternoon, McDonnell issued a statement adding the following paragraph to the proclamation:
WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history.
In an equitable world, this would be the end of it. In a world where petty grudges and the scoring of political points is more important than history and integrity, there will never be enough.