Memorialize This

[NB: Byline check. /~Rayne]

Today’s All-American holiday didn’t come about in one fell swoop. Its origins have been a bone of contention — did it begin in the South? did it start in the North? Was it an African American celebration?

Depending on who you ask you may find yourself in a discussion not unlike those surrounding Confederate statuary — fraught with past and present politics.

And good old-fashioned racism.

The first large formal observation of this holiday was marked by African Americans of Charleston, South Carolina in 1865 when their Civil War dead were reburied.

Read more about it at Zinn Education Project.

Most Americans aren’t aware of this history, not even lifelong residents of Charleston. The reason is racism manifest through cultural erasure.

I live in the first state to declare Memorial Day a statewide holiday. In 1871 Michigan set aside what was then called Decoration Day to pay tribute to its war dead. We lost more than 14,000 of the 90,000 men sent to fight in the south — about 3.5% of the state’s population lost to the Civil War.

A Union soldier from Michigan wrote to his wife,

The more I learn of the cursed institution of slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction … After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better … Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact of itself will revolutionize everything … Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.

He was killed not long after by a Confederate sniper.

We sent this man and others, our flesh and blood, to fight for what is right, to defend a more perfect union, to defeat the denigration of fellow Americans then enslaved. We’ve allowed the lingering toxins of the Confederacy to obscure why it was this nation went to war — not because of states’ rights but because of an economic system dependent upon the reduction of humans to mere chattel.

We’ve sent our family members to defeat oppression in other wars, too many paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Now we’ve strayed from fighting for the ideals our country was founded upon. What was once defense against oppression has become offense for corporations, serving the US ill over the long run. It has become an excuse to create profits for the military industrial complex while ignoring the exercise of soft power through diplomacy. Our friends and loved ones who’ve died or have been injured or sickened for life are merely collateral damage along the way.

The latest threats against Iran are a perfect example in a string of poor leadership. Who benefits from military action against Iran? Or against beleaguered Venezuela? How would military action against either nation support our values?

One could see a case for highly-limited, tightly-focused action if North Korea pointedly prepares to attack the U.S. or its allies. But if North Korea simply develops weapons for its own defense given its proximity to both China and Russia, what then? Should we place our family members in harm’s way over North Korea’s right to self-defense?

Why is our diplomacy so weak that we don’t really know what Kim Jong-un’s aims are? Why are we tolerating the crazed tweets of a malignant narcissist as diplomacy when we have blood and treasure on the line?

It’s beyond time we really look at the price our nation has paid in flesh and blood and honor the ultimate sacrifices made by reassessing our values and recommitting to them — and not just on a day set aside for observation.

A rational and effective reassessment will also look at the fitness of the president to realize our values in the execution of their duties.

This is an open thread. (Featured image on front page: Korean War Memorial, National Mall, by Brian Kraus via Unsplash.)

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45 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Written at Louisville, 14 Jun 1865 [spelling from the original]:

    the Men of the Eleventh hour are beaing sent home but We that have Went through thick and thin and stood by the Goverment in its darckest hours upheld its honor and flag and shed our blood freer than Watter to Crush the rebelion are Now treated Worse than traitors and Asasins are We are fed on that Which A hog Would Not Eat only When forced to by starvation and to this they do Not Pay us our harde Ernings things are rapidly Coming to A Climax and the Powars that be hat better be stiring them selves to do Justice to this Armey that has done so Much to save and restore the Nation

    (They’d also marched 700 miles in 19 days, with little more than sweetened black coffee, to get to Washington from North Carolina, in May. Men dropped dead on that march.)

    • Rayne says:

      Just heartbreaking what they went through. Not certain how this nation survived the hemorrhage though immigrants did help considerably.

      • P J Evans says:

        One of my mother’s great-grandfathers was an immigrant, and so was his brother – one of the brother’s kids, also an immigrant (English, all of that lot) died in the hospital in Chattanooga, in 1864.
        It’s something of a wonder that the country has held together as long as it has, given that there was never any real attempt at healing the wounds. But we now have people trying to refight it because they think the wrong side won…and they’ve never figured out that if that side had won, we wouldn’t have anything like the world they have now; we’d be much worse off.

  2. e.a.f. says:

    I never knew. Read the referred to article. Thank you. You and this blog continue to educate.

    • Rayne says:

      Most Americans and possibly Canadians aren’t aware that ten of thousands of Canadians fought in the American Civil War or that the Confederates illegally operated out of Canada.

      I only learned by complete accident very recently that one of my French-Canadian forebears fought in the American Revolution. Never EVER imagined myself as a Daughter of the American Revolution given my background. Nobody in my family knew this. I can imagine how easily it could have been buried if culture erased this forebear because of race/ethnicity — would have simply failed to document them in records.

      • Tom says:

        The figure of 50,000 is usually given for the number of Canadians who fought in the Civil War, mainly for the Union, but the definition of a Canadian can be pretty elastic and includes individuals who were about as Canadian as Ted Cruz. Unit rosters show a sprinkling of Canadian-born soldiers in many Union regiments, including famous outfits such as the 20th Maine, which had a number of New Bruswickers in its ranks, and the 54th Massachsetts, which sent a recruiting party to Canada when the regiment was being formed.

        The most well known Canadian Civil War veterans, at least on this side of the border, are medical men such as Dr. Francis Wafer of Kingston, who served with the 108th New York Volunteers as an Assistant Surgeon during some of the bloodiest battles in the Eastern Theatre from March of 1863 through to Appomattox. He was often homesick, especially when he ran into another Canadian doctor or enlisted man. His diary was published some years ago by Dr. Cheryl Wells of the University of Wyoming. In his diary, Wafer admits that he was drawn “to see something of the reality of war.” With grim practicality, he added that, because of the Union army’s pressing need for doctors, “many students of Canadian [medical] schools availed themselves of this privilege, in order to profit by the new & extensive field thrown open for the study of Practical Surgery.”

        Perhaps the best known Canadian Civil War veteran is Dr. Solomon Secord of Kincardine, Ontario. He was a young doctor visiting friends in Georgia when Fort Sumter was fired upon. Because of his outspoken abolitionist views, Secord was arrested and jailed with the threat of being lynched. His friends intervened and suggested that he would be of more use to the Confederacy as a live doctor than a dead abolitionist. Accordingly, Secord was assigned to the 20th Georgia Volunteers as an Assistant Surgeon, and by January 1863 had been promoted to full Surgeon with the equivalent rank of Major. After Lee’s retreat from his defeat at Gettysburg, Secord agreed to stay behind with the wounded. He was captured by Union forces and imprisoned at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, only to escape and make his way south again to rejoin the 20th Georgia. At the end of the war, Secord returned to Kincardine where he resumed his practice and served his community faithfully for the next forty-five years as a traditional country doctor. After his death in 1910, the people of Kincardine erected a monument in his honour. Last September, however, this monument became the subject of controversy when a local American-born resident requested that it be moved because the dedication to Dr. Secord included mention of his serving with the Confederate army. The town council decided the monument would remain where it was. See Kincardine Record for September 6, 2018.

        Another Canadian doctor who served with the Union was Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott. Abbot was born and raised in Toronto, the son of free black parents from Mobile, Alabama. Abbott earned his medical degree at the University of Toronto in 1857 and studied with Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta, the head of Toronto City Hospital. Dr. Augusta was a free black man from Norfolk, Virginia who moved to Toronto in 1850 to study medicine after he was unable to find a college in the U.S. that would accept him as a student. In 1863, Dr. Abbott applied to be a surgeon in the Union army and then worked in a number of hospitals in Washington, D.C.. He was befriended by President Lincoln and his family and on the night of Lincoln’s assassination he was one of the doctors summoned to the dying President’s bedside. Mary Todd Lincoln later showed her appreciation by giving Dr. Abbott the shawl her husband had worn at his first inaugural. In 1866, Dr. Abbott returned to Toronto and in 1891 was one of 273 Torontonians welcomed into the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans’ association. He died in 1913.

  3. Bri2k says:

    What a fantastic tribute to those who sacrificed all for our future, dystopian as it may be. We still have time and the means to turn things around and these heroes should inspire us to do so.

    Part of your post reminds me of this quote from Red Dawn: “America is a whorehouse where the revolutionary ideals of your forefathers are corrupted and sold in alleys by vendors of capitalism.” Never has this been more true than in our current age of corporatism and kakistocracy.

    I grew up around many who served in W.W. II and one common thing is that none of them would talk about it except for banal stories about the chow or K.P. duty. My one neighbor never forgave Patton for making him wear a necktie in combat, for example.

    I knew a fine African-American veteran named Eli. He was a well-spoken man with a very humble job but he always took the time to talk to me no matter how busy he was. Only after he passed on did I learn he’d been captured early in the war and tortured by the Japanese for years until he was liberated.

    Few outside the military today have even the slightest notion of what sacrifice truly means. Thank you for reminding us, Rayne.

    • ernesto1581 says:

      “I grew up around many who served in W.W. II…”
      It has only recently become apparent how many of our fathers, uncles and neighbors came home from that war with some kind of PTSD, which silently colored the rest of their lives with us, their children and wives. It was tacitly ignored after the Second War, I don’t think it even really have a name. In 1917, it was called “Shell Shock” but in either case, soldiers mustering out were told to “man up and get on with it.”

      • P J Evans says:

        The father of a friend was a photographer for the US Army in Europe. He went into some of the camps. I’m sure that’s why he didn’t do well later on – he got into alcohol and got off eventually – but in the 50s and 60s, PTSD wasn’t recognized. (For that matter, I suspect McCain had PTSD, and his ego wouldn’t allow him to get the help he needed.)

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Lots of people outside the military know what sacrifice means. They know about death and dying, and living with what comes after.

      Their is not the youthful hard training, the cleaning, the hurry-up-and-wait, the adrenaline, fear and exhaustion of combat, and living with a seemingly irrational, unforgiving institution. (There are plenty of those outside the military.) It is the daily grind of work, uncertainty, poverty, fatigue, and fear for the future.

      They do not stand on a wall and say nothing’s gonna hurt you tonight. They work day and night and hope that nothing’s gonna hurt their children while they’re away. In school, home alone, running an errand, sick, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the world where many soldiers, sailors, and air force personnel come from. It’s where many return when they leave the service.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        This graduate and her family, and many like them, know a lot about sacrifice.

        [https://twitter.com/CNN/status/1133366137419423745]

        I don’t think it’s about whose sacrifice is greater: one is more intense, the other more prolonged. It’s that those in the military have more in common with those they protect than conventional wisdom admits.

        Neoliberal policies, such as the “all volunteer” military, try to isolate them. Other policies, such as dramatically increasing the costs of education, strip mine the few assets earned by the average American family.

    • P J Evans says:

      Back in the late 70s, there was a guy where I worked who was Dutch, from what’s now Indonesia; he’d been a prisoner of the Japanese, though he’d have been fairly young then. The father of a former manager, much later, had been a prisoner, too, in the Philippines (Bataan, I heard) – and no, he didn’t talk about it, until he was really old.

  4. Savage Librarian says:

    This podcast and transcript describes some of the complex issues of the Civil War. One thing in particular was, and still is, how we are taught about it. I have included an excerpt below.

    “Civil War History is Factual, But Fluid – WhoWhatWhy”

    https://whowhatwhy.org/2017/08/23/civil-war-still-fought-today/

    Jeff Schechtman asks:

    “The other part of it, in thinking about this, is that, unlike so many other historical things that kids learn in school, that the teaching of the Civil War, that the understanding of the Civil War is so fundamentally different in terms of the way it’s taught in the North versus the South.”

    Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum responds:

    “That’s right. That’s right, and that’s by design. You start seeing, again, coming out of the reconstruction, especially now that we’re talking about public education at the turn of the century, that there are very ardent voices that are saying, “Why would we let our enemy teach us about our past?” In the South, particularly women, rallied with educators, and they started producing their own text books that told a very, very different story. It was a very different way of approaching it. That permeated, and that’s why you have this very different understanding of the narrative, North and South, East and West, quite frankly. It was deliberate.”

    • Tom says:

      S.L.: Thanks for the link to the podcast. It wasn’t clear from the discussion or the transcript whether Ms. Coleman said that it was Robert E. Lee who spoke out in 1869 against the idea of Monument Avenue being built in Richmond, but the context suggests that was her meaning. It’s consistent with other accounts I’ve heard of Lee not being in favour of preserving Civil War sites or erecting monuments to the conflict.

  5. ernesto1581 says:

    Fine, appropriately quiet meditation on the meaning of the day (if it still retains any…)

    If memory serves, Michigan & Vermont sent the largest militias per capita to the Civil War — in the case of Vermont, over 39,000 (including a small consort of free blacks) out of a population of about 350,000. Losses due to battle mortality & disease totaled 5,200.
    (Historian Howard Coffin says the most important contribution by the Green Mountain Boys took place at the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864) near Spotsylvania, where the Vermont brigade held a crucial crossroads, the loss of which would have split the Union forces in half, suffering 1,200 casualties over the three days.)

    An aside: Article 2 of the Vermont Constitution of 1777 abolished slavery, fourteen years before it joined the Union, in 1791.

  6. Chachi says:

    Honest question, not trolling – what is a legitimate organization that advocates for peace in the US? 16% of our federal taxes go to the military, which is counter-productive and deadly (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, trying to goad Iran into war, etc.). I saw a parade yesterday honoring our veterans, who *should* be honored; but I saw nothing at all about honoring our current military members by bringing them home.

    • Rayne says:

      First, note that my reply here is NOT an endorsement of any particular lobby group.

      The Friends Committee on National Legislation comes to mind immediately — this is the Quakers’ lobbying entity. They have an active presence on Twitter. Where lobbying is a 501(c)4 entity, the education and activism falls under 501(c)3 and I think that’s the American Friends Service Committee. When you ask about entities that advocate for peace in the U.S., you’ll need to keep this split in mind between lobbying (501(c)4 nonprofit-taxable donations) and education-activism (501(c)3 nonprofit-nontaxable donations).

      I also think of Peace Action West, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Council for a Livable World though I don’t recall seeing social media presence for these groups. Open Society has subset entities focused on peace-related issues; Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International work on reducing abuses which in many cases are related to conflict.

      You can find other organizations under National Foreign Affairs at Vote Smart https://votesmart.org/interest-groups/NA/32

      Do be sure to look into the origin and founders, board members and staff as well as the funding of any so-called peace lobby group. A peace lobby can be a perfect front for a foreign entity to work toward suppression of U.S. military and intelligence.

      It’s unfortunate the increasing militarization of U.S. policy has led to bleed-through of Veterans’ Day into Memorial Day. Focus on bringing our troops home should be aimed at the living while Memorial Day should be focused on those who paid the ultimate price in the service of our country.

    • Eureka says:

      To the latter part of your comment: Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May) is the day set aside to honor those currently serving. Memorial Day is for those who died in service, and Veterans Day is for all who formerly served.

      That’s likely why you wouldn’t have seen yesterday what you noted. Plus what Rayne said.

  7. Badger Robert says:

    The only way to avoid having power allocated to those ready to use violence, is by determination to make decisions by voting.
    No man or woman is really free if his neighbor cannot bargain for a wage, control her own family, or go to a freely chosen church or cultural event.
    Those are things worth fighting and dying for.

  8. Badger Robert says:

    Toward the end of the Civil War, the Confederates had no business operating POW camps.
    Before the wardens could empty the camps and relay the prisoners to Wilmington, NC, the prisoners were dying in large numbers and the slaves knew where the graves where.
    In the end the prisoners and the slaves knew the greater truth. There is only one humanity striving to be free.

    • JamesJoyce says:

      Oh….

      You mean a representative
      Democracy effecting change on behalf of the governed?

      Keep dreaming.

      Systemic servitude is
      bought, them
      leveraged against the
      governed, like a tobacco commercial.

      Deja Vu

      • Rayne says:

        The point of this site is that we do not merely dream of a representative democracy respecting civil liberties and equality. We fight for it.

        As Ben Franklin said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” What are you prepared to do to defend this core American value besides vent your cynicism?

        • oldpaint says:

          Wow. What arrogance. You just lost a follower. I’m not defending JamesJoyce because I can’t make any sense of that comment, but damn, Rayne. Puff yourself up, why don’t you?

          I’ll let myself out.

          • Rayne says:

            Buh-bye. Have a nice life.

            Why it comes as a shock at this point that drive-by cynical dumps aren’t looked on well here is beyond me.

            This site is run by volunteers. We put a lot of ourselves and our lives into this, Marcy most of all. We have a commentariat community envied by other sites because trolling and drive-by dumps aren’t the norm. We have community members who are more like family, some whom have passed and we still mourn years later because they were so critical to the community.

            None of the positive things happen by accident — the ground is prepared here for seeds to grow.

            I’m not apologizing for expecting better for it.

    • P J Evans says:

      Go read about Camp Douglas. It was a prison camp in Chicago – and everyone in the area had to have known about it, as the bodies were being buried in the city cemetery.

  9. mike smith says:

    “And good old-fashioned racism.”

    Cleary part of the narrative usually ignored for “official” purposes.

    It can also be contextualized by: “There is no record of civilization that is not also a record of barbarism.”

    Which is one of many thing I think of when I listen to and enjoy The Blues or Jazz. How do you get one without the other?

  10. Rayne says:

    Since this is an open thread, I’ll leave this for the Canadian crowd. This is some dangerous crap going on in your own backyard; this group is a mortal threat.

    • e.a.f. says:

      Yes, Canada has racists in their military. Don’t know all the groups, but one is called “the proud boys”. A group of them, members of the Canadian Navy, disrupted an event whose participants were Indigenous and Metis people, celebrating Canada Day, in Halifax. As I recall no one was punished and some of us were not happy about that. They ought to have been fired.

      Back in the day, early 1990s, a group of Canadian soldiers in Somalia beat a young Somalian man to death. After an investigation, the Regiment was disbanded. I remember the trials of the individuals and the inquiry. People were rightfully horrified. In the end it was determined the Regiment had race issues, like in they were a bunch of total racists. Brian Mulroney’s (P.M.) government of the day decided to disband the Regiment. Not only did the individuals “pay”, the entire Regiment did. In Canada to have your Regiment disbanded sent a huge message.

      Racism has always existed in Canada, right from the day we became a country. The most visible targets where the Indigenous and Metis people. when European immigrants arrived in the 1950s, there was discrimination and racism. In the early 1900s it was also aimed at people coming from China. They actually had to pay a head tax to enter the country. I can remember hearing about race riots in Chinatown in Vancouver in the early part of the 1900s. Earlier this century, the descendants of those early immigrants had the money repaid to them. One of my friends, whose Father had come here as a very young man, had to pay it and their Mother, was given the cheque by the Government of Canada. People of Chinese descent were not able to vote in Canada until 1947 when Canada joined the U.N. and they had to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. There were many men of Chinese descent who fought for Canada, but weren’t able to vote even though their families had lived here since the 1800s when they built the railway.

      Canada interned people of Japanese descent during WW II. They had all their property “stolen” by the government and never reimbursed.
      As a child I can recall my parents being referred to as dirty D.P.s We were from Europe. What I learnt is that as each new group comes, they become the focus of racists. They say the same things about each group. the tune doesn’t change, just the group its aimed at.
      .
      Racism is alive and well in Halifax which has always had an African American/Canadian population. African Americans came before the Civil War and became African Canadian. Life was not easy. The people lived in one section of the city and in the 1960s the city decided to destroy that area. I’d think it reasonable to conclude it was based on racism not re development. :Last year Canada issued a new $10 bill and Viola Desmond on it. She was a Civil Rights Advocate who forced movie theatres to integrate. She refused to sit in the “coloured” section. First woman to be on a bill and not be the Queen.
      Canada is a multi cultural country. Many do their best to ensure it is, however, it doesn’t always work. But we do have wonderful moments. We can only work towards having those moments become a way of life. Our Minister of Defense’s ancestors came from India and he is a practising Sikh. In 1982 B.C. elected the first South Asian member of a provincial legislature, Moe Sihota, New Democratic Party. B.C. had the first South Asian Premier. He went on to be a federal cabinet minister, when Paul Martin was P.M.

      Traditionally Canadians have been more “polite” with their racism. Not so much these days. When a country has racism it spills over into their military because after all the military is reflective of the country.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks, Eureka. By the way I haven’t forgotten all the leg work you did pulling together material on Stephen Miller. I just can’t find the right event peg to use to stake him out in the sun. But I am watching for the opportunity.

      • Eureka says:

        Your mentioning that just reminded me: the paint-on-hair on the teevee proves the lie that he likes all that negative attention (as claimed in some of those articles). Sure, arrested development blah-blah and it gives him a role with Trump in that Trump hates negative publicity and Miller will take it, but no one likes humiliation and scorn _all_ the time. Plenty of hot summer days ahead. Also funny as I’d obliquely thought of that day while sorting piles earlier; I had printed something Nuremberg-related (though cued from prior post comments re regulating FB).

        I’ve been meaning to add that I’m glad you’ve elaborated here-and-there on your Quebecois since the N-D post. I wonder if those limbs of our peeps crossed paths long ago, before mine went south and yours sw. (It’s a big place but a small world, lol you never know.)

          • Eureka says:

            I don’t have a twitter, but in the meantime of getting my ish together towards getting one (else, can send via another route), I will gather more info. Some of husband’s fam thru there, too, and our families had had some historical glances before we came together (which is part of what gives me the idea of such ‘recurrent’ connections as possible).

            • Eureka says:

              Also, lol, barriers to twitter at this late date: infosec, horror stories, and *having to pick a fecking name.* Someday I’ll get over it, I say, and just do it.

        • P J Evans says:

          They probably did – my sis-in-law’s stepfather has Quebecois ancestors – his paternal grandfather came down in the early 1880s – and his ancestors connect all over the place (aunt by marriage who apparently has people who came down in the 18th century both along the rivers and around by ship to NOLA and Mobile; niece by marriage has people who were kidnapped from New Hampshire and take to Quebec, plus a scattering of others).
          There’s so much documentation for them. And at least two websites with accessible databases.

          • Eureka says:

            My mom’s a genealogist (you two would probably talk forever). She has mentioned another descendant who translated some of the relevant French-Cat baptismal records from there. I’ll have to look anew at what she’s got on the tree, etc. Plus I want to track down spouse’s fam’s genealogist and see what he has.

    • Tom says:

      Reminds me of how much grocery store produce departments have changed since I was a kid. Back then, romaine lettuce was an exotic vegetable.

  11. Eureka says:

    In the meantime of not knowing what else to do about this, add it to the Impeachment Article of human rights abuses. Also Miller’s folks need to gather him ASAP; perhaps his Uncle has an update editorial to write after another year of this:

    Exclusive: Watchdog finds detainees ‘standing on toilets’ for breathing room at border facility holding 900 people in space meant for 125
    https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/31/politics/inspector-general-warns-overcrowded-conditions/index.html

    This tweet linking to the article/article card features an important photo that I cannot find in the article:

    Ginger Thompson: “In surprise visits to CBP detention facilities, federal inspectors found a cell with a maximum capacity of 12 that held 76 detainees. One with a maximum capacity of 8 held 41. (links to CNN)”
    https://twitter.com/gingerthomp1/status/1134506887716704256

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