Monday, May 29, 2017

Inadequacies of Remembrance, and That Which Remains

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson re-issued a Lincoln-era amnesty proclamation to former Confederates - with particular exceptions for those ineligible - taking an oath to defend the Constitution and disavow slavery. A month earlier, the United States (“Union”) had prevailed over the seceding Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) by defeating it in its infancy. By most standards, that should have been the end of it. On the contrary, it was the beginning of an even more protracted clash. A struggle to reconcile a tumultuous past with an enlightened present, in order to solidify an equitable future and a more unified society. Currently, the U.S. is in the midst of addressing those issues over the symbols of and monuments to the defeated Confederacy.

There are few instances in history when the eventual losers of a conflict have been commemorated and memorialized. Undeniably, examples do exist of lost battles and those who fought them immortalized throughout the centuries, nothing less than a testament to the sacrifice that ultimately led to victory for their cause. Yet, for every Thermopylae or Alamo remembered, countless events that presaged only defeat and obscurity for its participants rather than continued reverence have gone unacknowledged by history. In numerous cultures, victors oftentimes completely erased vanquished enemies from the historical record. For the most part, this was an effort to secure their own place in history at the beginning of their reign - until time came for a similar fate to befall them as well.

On the one hand, it is understandable that certain Americans wish to honor their Confederate forebears. After all, those who fought for the Confederacy were Americans too, who believed states’ rights increasingly were being unconstitutionally encroached upon by an exceedingly overreaching federal government. Given current domestic affairs, an idea that sounds distinctly familiar in more recent times. Despite what revisionists wish to disseminate, this is, and always will be, the primary impetus that sparked the American Civil War. Of course, it is more complicated than that because the issue over states’ rights is directly tied to the agrarian-based economy of the Southern states and, especially, the heinous institution of slavery. As the war progressed, preserving the Union and abolishing the latter became synonymous.

On the other hand, the Confederacy lost. Thus, it should be placed upon the same ash heap of history as any other conquered movement. In the end, remember the history - both positive and negative - but ban the symbols and dismantle the monuments. While one hopes that the same will never be said of the United States, a day may come when it too finds itself on a similar precipice. After all, every triumphant civilization - from the Egyptians to the British - has had to consider such prospects as their influence and power waned in their own respective times of dominion. For as apocryphally foretold, all glory is fleeting - particularly in the attempt to maintain it beyond its expiration date.

What might be commemorated and memorialized by those who come after when, and if, that pinnacle is reached, and what will be forgotten? Will anyone remember, should anyone maintain the memory?

©2017 Steve Sagarra

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