“This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.” – Civil War 150th Anniversary: Confederacy Defeat Should Be Holiday | The New Republic
The United States Civil War was fought over the jurisdiction of the Federal Government to regulate or abolish any practice or policy a State decided to enact. At least, that’s what supporters of the Confederacy will tell you. They will tell you they were freedom fighters, not traitors. It’s what the revisionist history tells you about the conflict. However, that is only minimally correct. Just like we have an argument over second amendment rights currently, so too then, men argued the right of the government to regulate states. They used that language to disguise the heart of the matter, which was unequivocally about slavery. You see, revisionists have found it problematic to sell American Exceptionalism alongside the actual history of America. From the slaughter of millions of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and the inequality of women, this nation has never been the land of the free. That said, The United States has slowly maneuvered toward that possibility. That said, again, the road ahead is still quite long.
The steps we must take to accomplish our mission statement, if you will, started with abolishing slavering and putting down the traitorous insurrection of the southern states who believed that owning men and women was their God given right (even then we still had trouble with separation of church and state, racism and the whole lot we’re arguing now–don’t infringe my right to own guns regardless of how flooded the market is with them, making it insanely easy for criminals to get legitimate guns into the underground market, and how people–mostly children–are dying from accidents all the time, and killers are taking them off the shelves of family members with or without permission, in order to slaughter those they see as threatening them). Never forget, the truth of the matter is, the Civil War was fought over the right of one group of humans to own another group of humans, so they did not have to pay them wages for their work.
The ultimate ideal of capitalism is to pay zero wages, so they can maximize profit. Capitalism isn’t about freedom, either. That’s a misnomer about the policy. Corporations are slowly working things back that way, paying wages that are subsistence level–you supply your shelter, clothes and food, however minimal from the laughable wage I pay you, while I reap the benefits of your work into the millions of dollars. Black balling labor unions is just another tactic in eradicating people’s rights for maximum profit. Do you really think that you don’t have a right to negotiate the value of your time and labor, the conditions under which you will conduct that labor, or coverage for injury long term and short term, benefits for your continued health which benefits the entire society as you can continue to utilize your time and labor, and that corporations are actually paying a fair wage to you in trade of that time and labor? Look at the balance between their profits and yours from the sale of your time and labor and tell me again that that is fair. The system we currently labor under is indentured servitude and the hook is our debt, forced upon us by poor wages. Widespread laziness is a myth used to divide people fighting on the same side. While you’re distracted by the idea that Suzie is getting something for free, your boss just did–profits straight off your back–80 hour work weeks with no additional compensation. Tax subsidies and zero tax responsibility–despite using national resources to produce. And, you’re pissed a mom is getting food stamps to make sure she and her child can pinch through hard times? Get your perspective right!
The same tactics were used during the holocaust of Natives: They’re not like us. They’re savages. They will steal from us. We’re good Christians and God gave us their land, they are heathens and do not deserve mercy. They justified it from the old testament. If separation of Church and state had been respected then that tactic could not have been used against the First Nations. Furthermore, if the first white Americans respected freedom and property, they would not have murdered the indigenous population and then stolen their lands. They deflected from the actions they took by blaming those they victimized as the ones who perpetrated those actions. And there is no founder who is exempt from these questions, for almost all thought that blacks were subhuman, as they thought of the Native, and that Women were incapable of rational thought and therefore needed to be caged. Not all used the Bible to justify their notions, but it stemmed from eons of racism and sexism back in Europe–exactly why the Bible was translated to support such institutions and policies. These founders are inextricable from their time and place, flawed men without the real Godlike Reason for which they are still revered.
I agree that The United States should have a national holiday to mark the signing of the surrender at Appomattox. The Federal Government had undeniably beaten down tyranny–in the guise of a fight for freedom. Seriously, you can’t say you fight for freedom when you’re fighting for the right to oppress others because of their national origins, their genetic make up, their melanin content! Did we fight World War II, disgusted by the Nazi atrocities, only to continue to ignore the things that we had done in our own past? Those things that informed the structure of the Holocaust in Europe? It certainly appears that way as we crumble beneath the Right Wing’s slide to fascism.
How we perceive our history speaks volumes to the place we are headed. Currently, we’re hypocrites. We have never been the land of the free, because only the white males were free at the founding of the nation. That further narrowed down to the white male protestant. Not even the Irish were acceptable, and certainly not Italians. Don’t forget that even Germans were suspect. The KKK was a WASP organization created to further the agenda of WASPs (men). Civil Rights (race/ethnicity, gender or orientation) were an abomination to them, cracking the foundations of their agenda of supremacy–taking away their power and assumed rights of leadership. Marking out the failure of this agenda, the signing of peace on April 9, 1865 declared that we are going to move toward those ideals we put forward in our founding documents (yes, when they were founding the nation, the slavery issue came up, but in order to hold numbers, which they needed as a threat to the Kingdom of England in their bid for separation, they conceded the right to own slaves to the southern states–and called it hypocrisy then too, a hypocrisy that would need to be addressed and may be the undoing of the United States in the future–oh, how accurate they were and still are, for they knew the problems of human nature which still exist).
There is a long road ahead of us to answer for the crimes of our past. The harder we fight embracing those ugly truths, the harder it will be to address them. Many cry that it is not their problem and that they were not alive to do anything about it. That doesn’t absolve anyone of doing the right thing now: acknowledging the truth of our history and rejecting revisionist history despite the comfort and nationalistic pride we desire. (Germany is still paying reparations and is still held in contempt, why is the United States any less accountable? We did more damage than Germany by far, and continue to do so.)
So long as one among us is not free, we are all bound by the terms of their prison. So long as one suffers, we are touched by the ripples of their poverty. If someone wishes to act in the way of their faith, and follow the tenets of that faith, then they need to stop revising what that faith taught them to suit their sociopathic delight for the suffering of others. The blatant lies about American History does no good for future Americans.
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K. Williams is the author of Blue Honor and OP-DEC: Operation Deceit, historical fiction dealing with the social repercussions of the US Civil War and World War II, respectively. Both books are published by Booktrope and available now on Amazon.com. K is the creator of the Blue Honor Blog and writes about history as well as Native American Rights and the environment. Check out her learning German segments for some fun.