Commentary: Our civil war and theirs

Commentary:  Our civil war and theirs
July 30
00:00 2015

In above photo: Confederate flag

Bill Turner, Guest Columnist

Many Americans defend the preservation and display of Confederate-themed statutes and flags and other varied and sundry – and sordid – signs of the strained historical relationships between blacks who were once slaves and whites who were not.

The shadows and symbols of the time when Americans were at war with themselves have re-emerged, revitalizing conflicts; but it could be worse.

On the other side of the world, the group ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, justifies the literal blowing-up and sledge-hammer smashing of similar antique monuments in their homelands that link them with events from their past.

One of the American South’s best writers, William Faulkner, spoke well for both groups when he said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The ISIS enthusiasts – who say they follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad – are shattering all manner of statues, using the logic that any religious representation, icons or figures that do not represent what they call “True Islam” must be destroyed.

Likewise, there are some diehards in America’s Dixieland and beyond, who, with jihadist-like reasoning, see the removal of Civil War battle flags, colonial and slavery-themed murals and monuments to KKK founders from public spaces in the USA as the equivalent to the loss of their Confederate caliphate.

The controversy over what is unpleasant in hindsight leads to the same questions – and how they are answered – whether faced by Americans on different sides of the issue or by the Sunnis or the Shiites, who are shooting it out in the streets around Damascus and Baghdad.

When it comes to the bad parts of history and what is inherently disgusting or hateful – or if it is “heritage, not hate” –is not only in the eyes of the beholder, it is also in what they do with what they see.

We are taking a fresh new look at the highways and byways in the American South that are named for eminent Confederate soldiers.

We are being introduced — for the first time — to the many men standing regally or on horses in the rotundas of some state capitals.

Soon after the Charleston church massacre of nine blacks where the Confederate flag showed up in the deep background, [South Carolina] Governor Haley called for, and got the flag taken down from the statehouse courtyard in Columbia.

Major retailers pulled the products from their shelves.

Many think such objects and reminders should not be removed, and a large segment of the American white population is now raising bitter counter-demonstrations.

On the whole, however, we have separated ourselves from ISIS by evidence of a civil and quite reasonable tug of war over these mementos.

Citizens and their elected representatives are finding ways to educate ourselves about the Civil War, what some say was a battle over states’ rights, not a treasonous rebellion, not a cause to sustain slavery.

Compared to those pulverizing statuary they don’t like in parts of the Middle East where civil wars are in full swing, we are, by contrast, stopping to think what it means to have at least 188 U.S. public schools named for Confederate generals.

Public tributes in our nation’s capital to President George Washington now have big footnotes: that he kept 316 slaves at his Mount Vernon estate, a very popular tourist site.

Rather than defacing the monument to President Thomas Jefferson, Americans are learning more about his some 600 slaves — one of whom, teenager Sally Hemings, he fathered six children.

Founding fathers with faults.

In our world, thankfully, we are not being called to pulverize images of past nobility or things that symbolize a movement, such as we see in Baghdad and Damascus.

Those who guard the doorway to the American future think differently about what is — and what is not — important enough to threaten our collective existence.

As we fight over interpretations of the past, far better it is that we choose to chop into pieces the systems that keep people of color at the bottom of the economic well.

We won’t, I hope, flip the real script and make a monumental mistake!

Dr. Bill Turner is a noted educator, writer and thinker who called Winston-Salem home for many years. Reach him at William H. Turner (c) 7/27/2017

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