Thursday, May 28, 2009

Commemorating our Crazy Aunt

Recently I was working on a story about what Williamsburg was doing for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a project to which the state will devote considerable resources in hopes of driving tourism.

The answer to that question was, “Not much.” As far as Civil War history goes, Williamsburg doesn’t have all that much, certainly when compared to Richmond or Northern Virginia or the Shenandoah Valley.

But, while working on the piece, I began to wonder why we’re commemorating the War Between the States, as it was called when I learned Virginia history in junior high school, at all.

After all, short of conquest and occupation by a foreign power, isn’t a civil war pretty much the worst, most tragic thing that a nation can experience?

Does Spain celebrate its civil war? Does England?

And I expect that the area that will celebrate the most will the South. Which lost. And deserved to lose because it was on the wrong side of history, morality and the law. Thank goodness it lost. What a horrible place to live this would be had it not.

So to Germany and Japan, which like the Confederacy, deserved to lose and did, celebrate their role in World War II?

I expect the 150th festivities to be confined to the South because, in my experience, people in the rest of the country couldn’t care less about the Civil War. They’re over it.
It’s only in the South, where the Civil War and the reason for which it was fought should be an enduring cause of shame, that people are hung up on the “War of Northern Aggression.”

And before any one start’s arguing about states rights -- yes, I know all about it. The South was asserting the state’s rights to allow some of their citizens to own people like animals. So if you want to defend the South’s actions in the Civil War, start by defending slavery. If you can’t, then drink a big can of shut the hell up.

We should be hiding our Civil War history in the attic like the crazy aunt in a Victorian novel. Instead, we want to dress her up like Scarlett O’Hara and make her the (Southern) belle of the ball.

It’s not surprise that Virginia should take the lead in commemorating the Civil War. After all, the state rakes in big bucks from tourism related to the history. It’s the only reason to go to some place in Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley would be beautiful with or without the war. Richmond would still have the charm of the fan and could put up statures of real great Virginians like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Oliver Hill and Doug Wilder on Monument Avenue. I suppose Northern Virginia has its charms, if you like shopping and traffic. But I can’t for the life of me think of a reason to visit Appomattox County – where I lived for a year – other than to visit the surrender site.

A few months ago, the guys at Bearing Drift had a petition up advocating that Virginia do away with Lee/Jackson Day. My hat is off to them. That’s a gutsy position to take on a Republican blog because the neo-secessionists and other partisans of the Lost Cause have been Republicans for the last 40 years. To be fair, they were Yellow Dog Democrats for the preceding 100 years.

As a recall, the Bearing Drift boys took a little heat in the comments for being “come heres” who didn’t understand our “Southern Heritage.”

Well, I grew up in Richmond. I knew the names of all the loser generals on Monument Avenue. In fact, I grew up on the Pike, at the time the redneck section of town. So I grew up with folks who didn’t mind waving the treason flag every now and then or even painting it on their cars. Also, I went through school desegregation in the Richmond City Schools, so if you want to try to tell me that flag doesn’t have anything to do with racism, try again.

I consider myself a proud Southerner. I’m proud of our heritage and what we’ve contributed to the United States including, the conception of a nation at Jamestown in 1607; the Declaration of Independence; most of the Constitution; the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; the Bill of Rights; Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe; grits; red beans and rice; shrimp Creole; fried chicken; fried food in general – preferably on a stick; jazz, the blues, rock ‘n’ roll and country – basically all the American music worth listening to; Ty Cobb (rotten person, hell of a hitter); Willy May; Hank Aaron; a proper appreciation for the importance of college football; ACC basketball; the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders; the best-looking women in the country and the best weather.

That’s my Southern Heritage. Racism and treason? Not so much.

While I applaud Bearing Drift’s call for an end to the anachronism of Lee/Jackson Day, I like government and public employees more than they do. Since I’m married to a state employee and I don’t want her to lose a day off and because folks here just seem to want a Civil War themed holiday, I’ve got a suggestion.

How about January 26th. On Jan. 26, 1870, Virginia was readmitted to the Union.

Now that’s something to celebrate. And we’ve got plenty of time to get ready for the 150th anniversary.

Someone put Auntie back in the attic.

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