THE STRUGGLE FOR MEMORY
Old Warrenton Cemetery Confederate Gravesite
Sponsored by Black Horse Camp #780
Sons of Confederate Veterans
May 30, 2010
by Thomas Moore
The hallmark of a healthy, vibrant People is their stories, traditions, folklore, tales, and legends, both the true and the mythic. In rich, viable cultures, it’s not just the rulers or politicians or captains of industry who are celebrated, but also the historians, the bards, the storytellers. These individuals are the repository of the collective memory of a People. Without it they have no i dentity. And with no identity, with no “individuation” as a worthy and distinct People, their society has no sense of purpose or direction. A People with no knowledge of their history, with no collective memory, have literally become senile. Collectively, they are just as dysfunctional as an individual with acute Alzheimer’s disease.
I believe we Southerners are a distinct People, with our own particular folkways, traditions, customs, music, speech, and a common history lived out in a shared space. In essence, we are an authentic nation. In fact, I believe we are the last authentic Western civilization in the historic sense of the word “civilization,” especially in contrast to today’s America, with its militant secularism, tawdry commercialism, and infantile celebrity worship that pass for civilization. One thing that distinguishes us in today’s America is that we Southerners understand the truth that we a re what we remember. We are a people rich in memory.
You can see this in our continued reverence for our heroes – especially the distinguished Southerners who were the main figures in founding America as a great constitutional republic, a confederated union of sovereign states, as created by the Founders in 1787. And we honor equally those who fought to keep it so from 1861 to 1865. They sacrificed much to prevent it from degenerating into a unitary state, a virtually unlimited, authoritarian, centralized national polity, which is what the USA is today, thanks to the Northern victory in 1865.
For many decades after the War ended, the Southern people followed the admonition of General Lee and other Confederate leaders to obey the law and conduct themselves as loyal Americans. When Federal occupation ended in 1877, the South found itself being ac cepted, slowly, grudgingly, because America’s expanding commercial and political ambitions needed our proven valor and military aptitude. And of course, our vast natural resources and our tax revenues.
In the 1890’s a kind of social truce emerged between North and South, sometimes called the “Grand Bargain.” Under this truce the North agreed to stop demonizing the South. They acknowledged the South had been sincere and honorable in The War, although misguided in trying to break up the Union. They agreed that the courage and dedication of the Southern armies were worthy of praise, even in a wrong cause. Confederate heroes like Lee and Stonewall Jackson were honored as American heroes. Southerners were allowed back in the fold as citizens, though never quite on an equal footing with the rest of Americans.
In exchange for being allowed to erect our Confederate monuments, fly our flags, display our revered symbols, and pay tribute to our heroes, the South conceded it was best for the Union not to have broken up. We became loyal, patriotic Americans, giving our full energies to building the country. We paid our taxes and sent our sons to fight America’s wars – and today even our daughters. We went along with the burgeoning American empire because that is what the powers decreed.
The South has kept this bargain many times over. No part of the country has been more loyal and more patriotic than the South. The Stars and Stripes fly more ubiquitously in the South than in any other region. In every war from 1865 to the present, Southern men have served bravely, representing a disproportionate share of the enlisted ranks and officer corps -- and of the dead and wounded. Nearly half today’s casualties in Afghanistan are from the 14 Southern States.
But sadly, the Grand Bargain has been broken, even while we Southerners are expected to continue living up to it. As Dr. Clyde Wilson, one of the South’s most distinguished historians, has said, “Our Confederate heritage is being banished to a dark little corner of American life labeled ‘Slavery and Treason.’ The people who seek to destroy our heritage are not folks we can win over by presenting historical evidence and assuring them we are good, loyal Americans free of hate. They could not care less about truth or heritage. We are not in an argument over the interpretation of the past. Our very identity as Southerners -- today and tomorrow, as well as yesterday -- is at stake.”
And the people cited by Dr. Wilson are not just Liberal Democrats and the perfervid ranks of the radical Left. They include so-called conservative Republicans as well. I know from exp erience, up close and personal and from the inside: the Republican Establishment to which so many Southerners have given their loyalty secretly despises us as much as the Democrats. In fact, the more loyal we are, the more the GOP Insiders and Neo-Cons despise us.
Today our ruling elites and their media lapdogs equate this Flag with the Nazi swastika, and the men who fought under it with Hitler’s legions. General Lee, a leading voice after the War for racial as well as political reconciliation, is dismissed with contempt as leader of an army of slave-drivers
Need I remind anyone here what happened when Governor Bob McDonnell recently tried to revive Virginia’s time-honored practice of honoring her Confederate history? The might of the establishment fell on him in full fury. The clamoring voices of moral sanctimoniousness insisted the Confederacy c ould only be cited if it was characterized as an exercise in treason, and that its soldiers fought only to enslave others. The Governor of course back-pedaled. He tried to apologize. He clearly hadn’t yet learned that you can never apologize enough or abase yourself abjectly enough before the altar of Political Correctness. I guess he knows it now.
The latest assault of the Marxist attempt to re-write history is by Roland Martin of CNN. In an April broadcast he attacked Governor McDonnell’s Confederate History proclamation, claiming -- his words – that “celebrating the Confederates is akin to honoring Nazi soldiers for killing of Jews during the Holocaust,” and that Confederate soldiers should be considered "domestic terrorists."
Do you feel insulted, or worse, assaulted? If not, you should. This is a gross insult – to you and to me a nd to the truth. But it’s more than an insult, as bad as that is. It’s more than a malicious lie borne of Political Correctness.
This kind of expunging of memory has profound and troubling political implications. Such acts have been the trademark of totalitarian regimes throughout the ages. The Communist dictator Stalin understood this principle. He said, “Who controls the past controls the present.” If despots can make you believe a false story about the past, they can control and manipulate your actions in the present for their selfish purposes. If they can label you as an enemy of the state, then you’re fair game and defenseless.
Stalin went to extraordinary lengths to expunge the names and images of his one-time colleagues and later rivals like Kirov and Trotsky from the pages of books and newspapers. Hitler had the ancestral village of his natural grandfather razed and tried to eliminate its very memory (from a fear the man was Jewish). The Jacobins of the French Terror, Mao Tse-Dong and the Red Chinese, and the Khmer Rouge all engaged in this most common behaviour of despots: warring against history and erasing memory. It recalls to us the words of Czech writer Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
These are the ominous parallels with the campaign against Southern history and identity. This attempt to expunge memory and re-write history is a form of aggression. It’s a key strategy in the “cold civil war” raging in our country. It’s part of a new political paradigm that supersedes the old Left-Right paradigm. It supersedes the false dichotomy of Republicans versus Democrats, who are really just two wings of the same bird of prey, simply two gangs fighting over the spoils.
The real conflict today is between those who still cling to an older tradition of human dignity and liberty versus those who seek to control, exploit, and plunder their fellow man. It’s between those who still worship and serve God and those who worship and serve the state.
The relentless campaign of hatred, vilification, and elimination of all things distinctly Southern from the public sphere is not an inconsequential matter. It tells us our culture is marked for extinction. And why do the power elites want to destroy it?
Because the old Jeffersonian idea of personal responsibility, individual liberty, and limited government is the Southern political ideal. And that ideal is precisely the target. To eliminate it, Southern history and memory which have nurtured it, must be destroyed. And if the culture which shelters these ancient ideals is destroyed, then the liberty which sprouted and flourished in its soil, the personal freedoms which it sustains, will not be far behind.
Seen in this light, the cause of the South and the preservation of its memory, its traditions, and its symbols is the cause of decent men and women everywhere who love liberty and seek to live in dignity.
Thomas Moore is Chairman of the Southern National Congress.