De Vos: Take a pause on Monday
History belongs to those who write it down. Today, Southerners preach that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights. Their history books claim the war was fought so states could control their destiny through popular vote. This sounds like a reasonable democratic principal, but it conveniently stops short of mentioning that the destiny they pursued was based upon owning other humans and profiting from their execrable existence.
A couple of weeks ago, the city of New Orleans took down a statue of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis. With his crossed arms and menacing scowl fixed towards the North, the statue neatly divided culture, color and community.
There’s also a stark division in accounts of the war’s end and the details of Davis’ capture.
The North says that, when captured, Jeff Davis was dressed as a woman whose wife almost succeeded in passing him off as her mother. Davis had looted the entire Confederate treasury and was headed for a royal existence in the Philippines. The escape blew up when a Union soldier noticed granny’s long dress didn’t quite hide her spurs. Southern historians claim that just before the capture, it was a chilly night and Davis ducked into his tent and, in the dark, understandably, but mistakenly, grabbed his wife’s housedress. As he left the tent, his wife, lest he catch a chill, tossed her shawl over his head just as the damn Yankees pointed their rifles at them.
So 152 years later his statue is hauled away, destined to adorn some dusty museum niche, a fitting spot for a dark American memory.
But good can be stirred up from the ashes of evil.
Monday is Memorial Day, with the Civil War being the most historically memorable in the American story. That war ended in the spring of 1865 after claiming more than 20,000 lives, requiring the creation of our national cemeteries.
Memorial Day sprang from grass roots as towns and cities, and eventually states across America began holding springtime remembrances of those missing. By 1868, the 30th of May had been designated as Decoration Day, later to morph into Memorial Day. The first remembrance was dignified at Arlington National Cemetery in a speech by General James A. Garfield who went on to become our 20th president.
Northern states adopted the holiday quickly, Southerners held out for dates commemorating Confederate victories. But in 1968, Congress set Memorial Day as a national holiday that would fall on the last Monday in May, however many Southern states, clinging to long-faded glory, still celebrate a separate Confederate Memorial Day. On Monday, we honor all of the heroes of all of our wars, the men and women who served their nation and placed their country above themselves.
A nation-wide pause for remembrance is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Monday. Give it a thought.
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