One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

An unavoidable topic among Americans these days, the controversy surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States has, to many of us, served as yet another reason to examine our own feelings as citizens of this country.

Exacerbated by the recent tensions surrounding a rally held in North Carolina in which self-described white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others, in their desire to “Unite the Right,” gathered in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Gathering in the city to protest the protest, a group of counter-protestors had gathered a few blocks from the origin of the “Unite the Right” march.

Nonviolent in appearance, but raucous in delivery, this group clearly opposed the opposers.

What could have been the demonstrations of American citizens exercising their constitutional right to gather and to speak freely became a demonstration of hatred, intolerance and fear, as one counter-protestor was killed and 19 others were wounded as a car driven by Alex Fields, an alleged neo-Nazi sympathizer, ran at full speed into a group armed with nothing more than signs and words, ending the life of 32-year-old counter-protestor Heather Heyer.

We, as Americans, have displayed a gamut of reactions ranging from outrage to confusion, and every reaction is valid.

From our nation’s beginnings, its citizens have struggled to define what it is that makes America great, and part of its greatness is the mix of people it contains, and the rights of those people to believe as they wish to believe.

The nation was claimed and settled by a group of people seeking asylum and the freedom to behave without government intrusion into their chosen behaviors.

During the Civil War in our country, the nation was divided, with the southern half fighting in support of their right to own slaves and to secede from the very Union itself.

One symbol that was chosen to commemorate the bloody battles of the war was that of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and white supremacists based the Charlottesvile protests around the removal of the same.

But what may not have been known, or perhaps have been chosen to ignore, were the opinions of Robert E. Lee himself, who, in fact, opposed not only the creation of monuments glorifying the Confederacy, but suggested that such monuments “would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating accomplishment; of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

These and other opinions of the Civil War general are confirmed by historian and biographer Jonathan Horn, who wrote in 2016:

In April 1865, after four years of civil war, Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Letters seeking support for memorial projects received reluctant responses from the general-turned-educator, according to documents at the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress. Lee worried that building memorials so soon after the war would anger the victorious Federals.

In a letter written by Lee to David McConaughy of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association in 1869, in which Lee turned down an invitation to participate in their preservation efforts, he made clear his conviction that it was more important for the nation to heal than to perpetuate the memory of the civil strife it had so recently undergone. The letter was quoted in an article published in the Nov. 21, 1957 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

“I think it well, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered,” Lee wrote.

Horn added, “As he (Lee) saw it, bridging a divided country justified abridging history in places.”

Another of Lee’s biographers, Charles Bracelen Flood, believed that Lee’s conviction was that both sides of the Civil War, particularly the side that lost, Lee’s side, the South, needed to forgive and forget and get on with the business of being Americans.

“Lee knew that the war was over,” Flood wrote “and that everything depended on a new attitude for a new day. He was taken to call upon a lady who lived north of Lexington, who showed him a tree in her yard. All of its had been shot off by Federal artillery fire, and its trunk torn by cannonballs. The woman looked at him expectantly as she showed him the memento of what she and her property had endured. Here was a man who surely would sympathize.

Lee finally spoke. ‘Cut it down, my dear Madam,’ he said. ‘and forget it.’ Little could he have imagined we would still be debating the issue over 150 years hence.”

In our country, built on freedom and democracy, we emulate who and what we look up to. Our leaders are responsible to be our voices on the world stage and to listen to all of their constituents when making the nation’s opinions heard.

On the national political scene in America, the leader we have chosen to be our voice does not lack in strength or conviction, but does send mixed signals not only to the world, but to the very people he claims to represent.

In the great melting pot that makes up our country, there are as many differing opinions as their are differing surnames, but the opinions put forth on social media by the president tend to vary according to the whims and caprices of himself and his advisors.

Our nation, our community, succeeds when it unites to further a common goal.

Division only leads to resentment, discontent and even hatred itself. To move forward, the country would be best served by chopping down the tree bearing the wounds of the past, forgiving, forgetting and moving forward.

Just because persons in power believe in the retention of that power, and in winning at all costs, does not mean that we, as humans and as Americans, need to feel obligated to support more resentment, more discontent and further division of the beautiful country we all share.

We may not agree on some issues, but here in Greene County, we have built a community in which people truly care about one another. We don’t let our differences define us, we are defined by our actions towards one another.

Greene County is home to more volunteers per capita than nearly any county in the country. We have achieved unity here, while allowing diversity and retaining our small-town values.

Let’s reject divisiveness and hatred, here in our part of the country and everywhere. Such rejection of the forces of hate is an undeniable sign of an evolved society and of one whose citizens treat others according to the golden rule and refuse to fit in a box designed according to the parameters of others.