Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

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Few historical events have shaped the American nation as much as the Civil War[1]. Rather clearly, an event of such monumental importance cannot be ignored by any American Nationalist group. How are we to view the Civil War? How are we to commemorate the honorable dead? Who are to be counted among those honorable dead? How do we move forward?

First, no zealot for either side is correct. The American Civil War is not a simple matter for many reasons. The South was not simply fighting for slavery; the North was not simply fighting a war of conquest or aggression. It is possible to recognize that both the North was in the wrong (they were) and that they were not entirely unjustified (they were not). Good and true men fought on both sides of that conflict, and this is all the more true of the rank-and-file soldiers who did the actual fighting. Most Southern soldiers believed they were defending their homes, their families, and their people; most Northern soldiers believed they were defending their country and fulfilling their duty to their sovereign by putting down a rebellion[2]. We can fault the soldiers of neither side with regard to these beliefs, as they are all correct or excusably mistaken. Many of the commanders — particularly among those who fought for the North — are another matter entirely.

Second, our efforts, heretofore, to honor our dead have been haphazard, flawed, and (not infrequently) tainted. We need a more comprehensive approach to this matter. Every state that had soldiers who fought in the war should commemorate them; a museum commensurate with the scope and scale of the state’s involvement would be the rational place to start. These must not become a means of partisan attack or slander — our goal must be unity. The South should commemorate both Southern and Northern soldiers; the North should commemorate both Northern and Southern soldiers. Let it be a mark of honor that we commemorate our brothers, whether they fought earnestly and with an accurate view or earnestly and with a mistaken view. Whatever evil was done must be laid at the feet of the responsible commanders, who must be condemned by all. Additionally, a regional museum should be constructed in the South (Richmond is the natural choice) and a national museum in Washington, DC.

Third, as already stated, those to be honored must include all those soldiers who fought without malice and those commanders who fought with honor. Lincoln must be condemned without caveat — and his memorial in DC must be repurposed, his face removed from our currency, and other such measures taken to place him in an appropriate position of opprobrium and disgrace. Which commanders are to be commemorated and which condemned should not prove a difficult matter, even if it will prove necessary to recognize that some inhabit the grey area between commemorate and condemn.

Fourth, finally, and most importantly, we must move forward as a united people — as the American nation; the South must cease to use “Yankee” as a pejorative and the North must also learn to speak of Southerners as brothers, not as some strange and foreign (and all too often despised) people. The Civil War is part of our collective history — it belongs to neither side. Many of us had family who fought on both sides. The Civil War is one of the fault lines our enemies are using to divide us — we must disarm our enemies by closing this wound once and for all. The men who once had gone at each other with musket, cannon, bayonet, saber, and knife could find it in themselves to bury the hatchet; we, their descendants, dishonor their memory when we refuse to seek peace with our brothers. Rehashing old conflicts is generally unwise; rehashing them in the middle of an existential crisis is suicidal.

The American Civil War is American — not exclusively Northern or exclusively Southern — history. We must commemorate all of the honorable dead, while still condemning the wicked. The way forward is together, not divided into warring camps, but united as one people with a common history and — if any at all — a shared future.

  1. For reasons that I hope will become clear before you finish reading this article, I will not be using any of the alternative names (e.g., the War of Northern Aggression) for this conflict. ↩︎

  2. This is particularly true for those soldiers who had only recently arrived from Europe, for the quashing of rebellions in the hinterlands was not an unknown or even unusual affair for the Europeans of that time. ↩︎