February 9, 2023

Racism in America: Bridging the Gaps

Our elected leaders seem much more interested in dividing than in unifying.

In our badly fractured America, surely our first priority should be to reconcile our differences — to find common ground and move ahead as a unified nation. But evidently, our elected leaders think not; they talk about unity, but they seem more intent on provoking angry division.

Consider the unending quest to eliminate racism. We downplay decades of healing and instead look for systemic racism in every corner — even in the recent black-on-black Memphis police crime. Critical race theorists advocate “antiracism,” constantly spotlighting the menace posed by the “other” race. And we busily purge all vestiges of the Civil War Confederacy, as if that somehow demonstrates our intolerance of the slavery that existed in a very different America 160 years ago.

Richmond, Virginia, once the capital of the Confederacy, last year removed all of its Confederate monuments — nominally to become a “more welcoming and inclusive” city, but at the same time effectively legitimizing the wanton destruction of historic monuments during the 2020 social justice riots. On the national level, the U.S. Department of Defense established (with congressional endorsement) a “Naming Commission” to remove the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military bases.

That’s little more than woke virtue signaling. Do we truly expect that tearing down monuments — whether by mob action or by lawful direction — or changing the names of military facilities will have any effect on racism?

Let’s look back. The American Civil War was an absolute catastrophe. For four long years, America was at war with itself — a brutal and bitter conflict that left death (620,000 Americans), destruction, and deep physical and emotional wounds that would defy healing for decades.

It wasn’t a race war. Slavery was a major issue, but not the only issue. Slavery at that time was still endemic worldwide, a product not of racial subjugation but of physical might — the victors routinely enslaved the vanquished.

The crusade to keep America together had nearly destroyed it. At the war’s end in 1865, the challenge shifted from fighting to healing. From that point, President Abraham Lincoln applied his full energy to rebuilding the nation that had come so close to self-destruction.

Not surprisingly, Reconstruction and its aftermath were difficult — the wounds were deep and have taken generations to heal. All the while, America has been confronting racism. Despite the many ups and downs along the way, our country’s composite progress on improving race relations has been profound.

In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd social justice protests have, in my view, intensified racial tensions in America. Meanwhile, the DOD Naming Commission completed its work, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin quietly directed full implementation of its recommendations.

U.S. military bases have well-earned stature and respect because of their contributions to the nation, not because of their names. Fort Bragg is a renowned U.S. Army base, Quantico a preeminent U.S. Marine Corps base. Does it matter that one is named for a Confederate general and the other for a city in Virginia?

It’s also helpful to bear in mind the implacably conflicted position of career military personnel at the outbreak of civil war. Until April 1861, allegiance to country had never required them to turn against friends and family. Their quandary was epitomized by Robert E. Lee, a veteran warrior poised at the pinnacle of his U.S. Army career (Lincoln wanted him to assume command of Union forces). Lee could not fathom the idea of leading troops to conquer his beloved native Virginia. Who can fault that decision a century later?

The Naming Commission’s recommendations go well beyond military base names, extending into buildings, streets, and even monuments. One is the removal of the famous “Confederate Memorial” by Jewish American sculptor Moses Ezekial (a Confederate Army veteran) in the section of Arlington National Cemetery dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson as a final resting place for Confederate war dead. Wilson declared their interment there to be “the best of America, the spirit of reconciliation.”

Even more misguided is the commission’s recommendation to dismantle the Reconciliation Plaza at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Reconciliation Plaza was a gift to the Academy by the class of 1961, in honor of West Point alumni a century before who had served and died on both sides of that ugly conflict. It portrays a Confederate soldier providing water to a U.S. soldier wounded by Confederate guns, and a mortally wounded Confederate general being comforted by two Union Army West Point classmates.

We’ve lost our way. These are moving tributes to honorable Americans who’d sacrificed their lives, tributes now being trashed at the direction of our very woke Department of Defense.

We know how Abraham Lincoln would deal with today’s turmoil — he told us in his second inaugural address in March 1865, just 41 days before his assassination:

With malice toward none, with charity for all … let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.

Wouldn’t it be great to have leaders like that again?

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