Part 3: Confederate Heritage Month -- What this All Really Means

06/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This is the third, and unless there is a major gaffe tonight from Richmond, the final part of my writing on the serious problems with Confederate Heritage Month in Virginia.

In the first entry, I noted the slight "omission" by Governor McDonnell of the institution of slavery in his proclamation. It was corrected by his office, which was kind enough to note that slavery was a distinctly unpleasant thing. Thank you Governor.

The following day, I wrote that the Governor should correct the entire document, rename it "Civil War Heritage Month" and note the involvement of Virginians, black and white, who fought and died for the United States. That, sadly, has been ignored by the Governor's office and many others. I expect that it will continue to be ignored by many.

In this final part, I want to discuss the entire issue of "why" from both an historical view and from a modern political view. Why should we remember the American Civil War? What should we study about it? And why would a modern politician, well aware of the impact that announcing "Confederate Heritage Month" would have on not only his constituents but the media-blogosphere as well, do such a thing?

First, let's discuss the history. Simply put, the Civil War was about slavery. It was not about anything else. Had there been no slaves, there would have been no Civil War. For those who cry that the causation of the war was "States Rights" I have to ask -- which right were they seceding over? The right to print their own money? The right to issue letters of marque and reprisal? The right to sign treaties with foreign powers?

No. The 'right' that so strongly defended, and by doing so murdered 650,000 Americans, was the right to own other human beings and their labor. That was the State Right so steadfastly defended. If you do not believe me, just read the collective writings of Jefferson Davis, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Roger B. Taney, or of the 'moderate' plutocrats of South Carolina. It was obvious to those men why they were fighting. Or put in a more accurate way, why they were sending poor white Southern men to their deaths by the tens of thousands--to protect their property and their 'way of life.' These tyrants cared nothing for the men they were sending to die. First person accounts of the era show how many of these die-hard secessionists soon were less concerned with the Glorious Cause than they were in making sure that no one took their property away from them--to include the Confederate government.

So why should we study and discuss the Civil War? Military historians study the war as a perfect example of early Industrial Age conflict, technological change, logistics, operational art and grand strategy. For social historians, it is a moment of great change in American society, from the role of women and minorities to shifts in immigration and urban/rural issues. Political historians can see no better example of the issues, strengths and weaknesses of a representative democracy than in a conflict like the Civil War; great statesmen, speeches that still resound, the impact of assassination on a government.

Yet there is another reason to study the war. We need to study the Civil War -- objectively and factually -- in order to finally heal the rift that the war and slavery caused. Young people need to discuss, without propaganda or Lost Cause mythology, why the war started. Older students need to study the great decisions that put the nation on the road to disunion. And modern political leaders need to study the mistakes that were made before the war that split the nation in two and murdered a generation.

What were those mistakes that our present day political leaders need to reflect upon? I list a few for your consideration:

• The false idea that individuals in a republic are only responsible for themselves and their well-being, that they owe nothing to their fellow citizens past a grudgingly paid tax for national defense, and the associated false idea that somehow everyone will be just fine without laws, regulations, or taxation and that our responsibility is for the upholding of not human rights but the upholding of 'property' rights;

• The false idea that one race or one group is "American" when all others are not, including those with different beliefs, ideas, lifestyles, background and origin, for along those lines lies the belief that one group is not only more American, but morally superior to another and has both the right and responsibility to oppress another;

• The false idea that God is always on your side... which leads to a firm conviction that whatever you do, you are doing "God's Will" and all others are not only against you politically, but against God -- a quite convenient situation for immoral and unethical leaders and one that Confederate leaders used to motivate an entire generation of poor white Southern men to die on the battlefield for slavery;

• The false idea that the Federal government is somehow inferior (or ineffective or inefficient) when compared to local or state governments, that local government "always knows best"; this view of reality quickly leads to localized suppression of civil rights, destruction of liberties, and violates the most hallowed compact of our Republic, the Constitution; and lastly,

• That the American people can be fooled only part of the time; even those that gain the most from a society but believe themselves to be the most downtrodden will ultimately discover the extent of the lies told to them by their political leaders. To paraphrase one Confederate soldier after the war, "I fought for my country [the C.S.A.] but I'll be damned if I ever fight for it again."

So, it is up to you Governor and the members of the Virginia Legislature to do the right thing and learn some of these lessons of the great American bloodletting. And if you do
not, it is ultimately up to the voters of Virginia to decide whether you should be the elected representative of the all the people -- white and black, descendant of Union soldier or Confederate--and not just a small, unhappy portion of the electorate.

May God bless our beloved Union.