Imagine a time in the very near future when the provincial administrator of some region in Germany decides to declare “Nazi Heritage Day”, a day to honor the bravery and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of loyal Germans who died in the defense of the ideals of their country. Imagine further that, the reason that this doughty burger advances in support of this initiative is that the German soldiers who fought during World War II were fighting to preserve the German way of life and that “Nazi Heritage Day” in no way is meant to celebrate or glorify the barbaric slaughter of millions of men and women including the genocide committed against six million Jews.
“Nazi Heritage Day”, in this imaginary scenario, is meant to be an economic development stimulus, encouraging tourists from all over the world to view the many battle sites and monuments that are the relics of World War II, a war initiated by the Nazi government. While one can imagine that the promoters of this tourism magnet would tastefully shy away from concentration camps and evidence of mass graves, these promoters would anticipate a bonanza from the sales of Nazi flags and paraphernalia, sales that in no way could be seen as endorsing the vile and repugnant policies of Adolph Hitler and his cohorts. And whether the mass graves or the concentration camps or the gas chambers were mentioned as regrettable or not, just wouldn’t mean “diddly” (to borrow a phrase from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour) to the geniuses who would support this campaign.
If you have the stomach to continue on this imaginary meandering toward madness, you can imagine the outrage and disgust that would be expressed throughout the world. The outrages against humanity committed by the German people and soldiers during the Nazi regime were unspeakable, but they must be spoken lest people forget the depravity that lurks in too many human souls. And yet, of course, we do forget. We forget in Rwanda and in Bosnia and in the Sudan and in the Congo and in too many places too many times.
The fact that there were brave and noble and courageous and admirable German soldiers (think Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”, for example) would be dismissed with a collective wave of dismay and revulsion by most of the civilized world because we know that these Nazi soldiers fought for a system that was so devoid of morality and humanity that no aspect of it could ever be “honored” without fouling all of the celebrants. And, by the way, in 2005 the German government imposed strict restrictions regarding public demonstrations celebrating Nazism, the holocausts and related offenses to civilization.
And now we leave the world of imagination. And in the real, bizarro world in which we find ourselves, where no sense makes sense, the governor of Virginia declares “Confederate Heritage Month” and there is uproar because he neglects to mention that slavery was bad. But the fact of the matter is that there is not sufficient uproar about the fact that in the second decade of the twenty-first century this country has not evolved to the point where celebrating the Confederate States of America is not considered an abomination as a simple matter of fact.
Have we as Americans become so divorced from history and knowledge and fact that we collectively do not realize that the CSA was formed to preserve slavery, termed by the historian C. Vann Woodward as the “peculiar institution”. It was that peculiar institution that countenanced the sale of human beings along with pigs, cotton and firewood. It was that peculiar institution that permitted child rape, beatings, hangings and immolation as the right of any “master”. It was that peculiar institution that branded, castrated and mutilated men, women and children upon a whim of the master or mistress.
A lest we wax sentimental in referring to the brave soldiers who fought for the CSA, we clearly need to remember that Confederate soldiers were under strict orders not to take Black Union soldiers prisoner, but rather they had to be killed on the spot. So there were no black prisoners of war during the civil war. And, lest we forget another aspect of this “glorious heritage”, after the end of the Civil War it was the veterans of the Confederate army who formed the insurgent terrorist group known as the Knights of the White Magnolia and terrorized and maimed and killed black men, women and children (and Jews and Catholics too) throughout the South.
The Knights of the White Magnolia graduated to the ranks of the truly amoral and dedicated criminal terrorists like Al Qaeda, the Mafia and the Yakuza and became known as the Ku Klux Klan. And, as the Ku Klux Klan, these Confederate veterans and their benighted descendants drenched this country with the blood of lynched black men, women and children for almost a century. For some verification look at Without Sanctuary (Twin Palms Publishers) and see how these benighted sons and daughters of the Confederacy abused, degraded and debased human beings by lynching, just because they were black. Some tradition. Some heritage.
We need to remember that the ante bellum South was not a hoop skirt-wearing, magnolia-smelling, mint julep-drinking walk in the Gone With the Wind park for black Americans. It was a time of sustained and midnight terror at noon that allowed for no comfort and no sanctuary. The happy darkies playing the banjo and eating watermelon were in fact dying of malnutrition and frostbite while working like the livestock with whom they often shared food and shelter. The rainbow of black Americans is, in a very real sense, living evidence of the depredations and insults that slave-owners visited upon their female slaves, whenever and wherever they wish. Some heritage. Some tradition.
In Virginia, where there should be some remorse for being the site of the capital of the CSA, there is this odd, defiant unreality. There is a contention that the Civil War was a cultural clash instead of a battle to eliminate slavery from this country. In Mississippi, understandably the home of the blues, Confederate Heritage Day is celebrated on Martin Luther King Day, an unspeakable obscenity rendered all the more so for its governmental sanction and its continuing to this very day without shame and opprobrium being visited upon the government of the state that, if not the birthplace of lynching of black people, is the home of some of its most depraved aspects.
What is most interesting, and sad, is that the outrage against this bastardized view of history is not voiced with the fervor that it deserves. Crimes against humanity should never be celebrated. Those who were complicit in crimes against humanity should never be celebrated (that would include Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee). Those who fought to preserve a system that committed crimes against humanity for over two hundred years do not deserve to be honored, except by their families, who should extend us the decency of holding those rites of celebration in private.
The dead victims of such organized and institutionalized inhumanity, and their descendants, deserve no less.
One last question. Armenians and Jews and the Chinese of Nanking and the Irish and the Serbians and the Rwandans and many, many more of our brothers and sisters on this planet are justifiably entitled to remember the desecration of the humanity of their forebears. The celebration of that desecration is too offensive to deserve consideration. Are African Americans entitled to no less?
Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.