The other morning while watching the Today show, I saw the curator of the Confederate Museum and former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder debating a "Confederate Ball" that the museum was to hold. Wilder's argument was: While he saw a need to preserve elements of the Confederacy and its history, he felt it was wrong to celebrate the Confederacy and give reverence to it.
The museum's curator said the museum served to preserve the history of the Confederacy for future generations, to which the former governor replied that he (the curator) should take a more active role in contributing to history books about the period. Wilder pointed out that "celebrating" the Confederacy is seen by many blacks much the same way as "celebrating" the Third Reich would be viewed by people of Jewish and Eastern European descent.
I'm inclined to agree with both men to a point. While the preservation of all history is important, we have to realize that history is like a coin, and while you don't have to love both sides of the coin, you have to at least acknowledge that it has more than one. Civil War history should be preserved for future generations, but not romanticized with lots of Margaret Mitchell-esque type bullshit. The "officers and gentlemen" of the Confederacy may have been just that, but let's not overlook the fact that many of those men profited handsomely (and apathetically) from the immeasurable suffering that was American slavery.
While we should note that on paper the Confederate Army had better trained and educated officers, it should be remembered that these "educated" men fought for a government with an agrarian-based economy, virtually no iron foundries or munitions plants (which means no guns when you run out) and no precious metals to back up its currency. One cannot examine the Civil War without looking at slavery, and when someone tries to separate one from the other, American blacks are offended. Any black historian cannot say that he/she wasn't offended upon discovering that Grant ceased the prisoner-of-war exchange because Jefferson Davis and the "honorable" Robert E. Lee refused to stop Confederate troops from executing blacks who attempted to surrender to them rather than taking them prisoner. Take pride in the fact that one of your ancestors fought at Shiloh or Gettysburg, but don't expect me not to be bothered by the fact that had your "great, great granddad's" army been victorious, I would be illiterate, barefoot and harvesting cotton and sugar cane in Louisiana right now.
I hate to bring up a sore point, but every history book I've seen on the period agrees on something -- no matter what your view of the Civil War, THE SOUTH STILL LOST THE DAMNED THING!
Accept it, get over it, get on with your life! Take pride in your history, but always remember that too much pride can offend the others involved, and there are always others involved.
Handy is a senior RTV major who doesn't fly the "stars and bars."