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Friday, October 30, 2015

No to trash-talking our veterans

Talbot County's residents are faced with a decision that carries far more implications than a simple decision of moving a veterans' memorial.  These are three questions a few people have forced Talbot County residents to answer:

  • Do we accept the rewriting of history with lies to get the history to fit our modern day narrative?
  • Do we accept teaching our children and grandchildren that rewriting history with lies is ok as long as the final story promotes the bigger perceived good?
  • Do we accept the destruction of stories and legacies of past generations to promote our own, individual stories that build our own legacies for the future?
I answer a resounding, "no" to all three questions.

Claiming the Civil War was fought over slavery is akin to claiming the Revolutionary War was fought over a tea tax.  While both statements are broadly true, both miss the mark at explaining the complexities of all the issues involved.  Pop culture revisionists would like us to believe the good guys from the North rode in on white stallions to free the Black man from the bondage of the dumb hillbillies plodding along on mules, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

The year before the start of the Civil War, slavery in Maryland was clearly a moribund institution.  Statewide, only 12% of Maryland families owned slaves.  In Talbot County, two-thirds of the Black population were free persons.  Fact is, slave ownership was the realm of the wealthy as owning slaves was an expensive undertaking.  Most Talbot County residents did not own slaves nor desired to own slaves.

Eastern Shoremen have a long history of being a fiercely independent lot.  As recently as 1998, serious talk about secession from Maryland filled the halls of the Capitol in Annapolis.  It is more reasonable to believe the 85 young men honored on the Talbot Boys Memorial - whom most, if not all, held a fourth grade education - heard the news of Union forces sweeping through Baltimore and Annapolis and arresting the mayor of Baltimore, an ex governor, 31 state legislators, and any Democrat or perceived Confederate sympathizer.  They undoubtedly heard that President Lincoln ordered the arrest of US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brook Taney because he dared to speak out against the indiscriminate round up and arrests of Maryland citizens. 

Secessionists in the sate weren't lead by diehard slave owners, either.  Secession leaders like T. Parkin Scott were abolitionists, but they all feared the tyranny being exercised by those in DC.  And when the tyrants from DC went door-to-door to draft soldiers for the Union army, the fiercely independent Eastern Shoremen felt a strong, patriotic duty to defend their families, neighbors, and communities from the federal aggression and indiscriminate arrests.  Fighting to preserve slavery most likely wasn't even on their radar screen.  Back then, the concepts of civic duty and social responsibility were the average citizen's driving force to do the right thing - not fifteen minutes of YouTube fame as it is today.

It took Congress several decades to recognize Confederate soldiers as honorable veterans.  President McKinley began the process of recognizing them after valiant fighting in the Spanish-American War by a handful of Confederate soldiers and many sons of Confederate soldiers.  Over the next six decades, a series of Congressional acts recognized Confederate soldiers as honorable veterans.  In 1958, the year the last surviving Confederate soldier lived, Congress enacted a symbolic law that granted full military honors and benefits to all Confederate soldiers.  Confederate soldiers were, after all, American citizens helping to define the future of our budding nation.

As a veteran, I will always stand behind fellow veterans, both past and present.  If we allow the rewriting of history with lies and half-truths to disparage those who fought in the Civil War, what veterans from other wars will be next?  Do we strip veterans of the US Calvary of any and all honors because they stole land from the Mexicans or rounded up Native Americans and marched them on trails of tears?  If we allow the desecration of memorials on the basis of lies and half-truths despite what nine decades of generations has already decided through actions and Congressional approval, what memorials will be next on the chopping block a hundred years from now?
It's really not hard to see how a child born today could live to see a strong Asian community of tomorrow demanding a wall in DC that honors fifty thousand baby killers, who promoted US imperialistic aggression against their home country, should come down.  I didn't like that harsh rhetoric that greeted our returning Vietnam vets over forty years ago and I would like it even less if I were around a hundred years from now hearing a new generation spewing such rhetoric.

Simply put, the darkest chapters of our history shouldn't be packed off to a museum or hauled off to an obscure cemetery few, if any, visit.  It is the darkest chapters of our history where the most valuable lessons are to be learned.  No matter how painful those chapters are, we should be shining a spotlight on them for all to see lest future generations forget. 

The Talbot Boys Memorial should proudly stand right where it's at.  As a community, we should force that memorial to tell the full story.  Some 350 Talbot Boys died on the Union side of the battle.  They need to be honored.  Instead of pointing fingers of blame at the 85 Talbot Boys who fought for the Confederacy, we should be pointing fingers of blame at the County Commissioners, who, generation after generation for the last 100 years, have failed to honor those 350 veterans.  Hopefully, this generation of County Commissioners will do what their predecessors failed to do.   Let's tell the full story and shine a bright spotlight on it so no one forgets the sacrifice some 700,000 Americans gave their lives for.

We can't pack the Civil War up and ship it to a museum or an obscure cemetery.  The Civil War was and is as defining a moment for the shape of our nation as the Revolutionary War.  We should never disparage nor forget the veterans who fought it, both Blue and Gray.

TL;DR Folks:
Editor's note: The above is the eight minute speech I wanted to give at the public hearing.  Below is the three minute version because, apparently, democracy only works in three minute sound bytes and that's all the time the Council allots speakers.  Because of my job, I arrived late.  All I saw was a room full of suits and a fancy video camera rolling.  Fresh off a ten hour job, I looked like a bum.  I never felt so intimidated.  When the lady asked if I wanted to speak, I asked if I would be filmed.  She said yes, so I kindly excused myself.  Since I had already emailed this to the Council, it became part of the public record so I felt no need for a fat old toothless bum to make a fool of himself.  Ok, maybe some slight exaggeration there, but this public meeting definitely wasn't the right time for a first time public speech in a venue I never attended before.

Claiming the Civil War was fought over slavery is akin to claiming the Revolutionary War was fought over a tea tax.  Simple sound bytes rarely detail the truth.

Pop culture revisionists want us to believe good guys from the North rode in on white stallions to free Black men from the bondage of dumb hillbillies plodding along on mules.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The call to remove the Talbot Boys from the courtyard rests on two claims: they were traitors and they fought to preserve slavery.

Eastern Shoremen have a long history of being a fiercely independent lot.  It is more reasonable to believe the Talbot Boys chose to protect their families and communities from aggressive federal forces.  Slavery, already a moribund institution in Maryland, most likely never factored into their thinking.

It took Congress several acts over several decades to recognize Confederate soldiers as honorable veterans, but by 1958, the year the last surviving Confederate soldier lived, Congress enacted a final law granting full military honors and benefits to all Confederate soldiers.  Confederate soldiers weren't and aren't traitors.  They were and are honorable veterans.

I will always stand behind fellow veterans.  If we allow the rewriting of history with lies and half-truths to disparage those who fought, what other veterans will be next?  It's easy to see how a child born today could live to see a strong Asian community of tomorrow demanding a wall in DC to come down because it honors fifty thousand baby killers.  I didn't like that harsh rhetoric greeting our returning Vietnam vets over forty years ago and I would like it even less if I were around a hundred years from now hearing a new generation spewing such rhetoric.

Simply put, the darkest chapters of our history shouldn't be packed off to a museum or hauled off to an obscure cemetery.  It is the darkest chapters of our history where the most valuable lessons are to be learned.  No matter how painful those chapters are, we should be shining a spotlight on them lest future generations forget. 

The Talbot Boys Memorial should proudly stand right where it's at.  Instead of pointing fingers of blame at the 85 Talbot Boys, we should be pointing fingers of blame at past generations who have failed to honor 350 veterans who fought the Union side.  This generation of County Commissioners should do what their predecessors failed to do.  A Union memorial honoring 350 Talbot Boys should be placed next to the Confederate memorial.

Talbot's Civil War veterans fought out of a strong sense of honor, civic duty, and social responsibility.  They deserve more reverence and respect than today's revisionists seeking fifteen minutes of YouTube fame appear willing to give them.  Let Talbot County be the first to put an end to the Great Confederate Purge of 2015 sweeping the nation.


Related Links:
Maybe Union soldiers aren't welcomed in Talbot County
Why did the NAACP let the Yankees die?
On the road to irrelevancy
NAACP and Mr. Potter fighting to tear down the Vietnam War Memorial
Only time will reveal the true motives of Talbot Boys detractors
Final thoughts on the Talbot Boys
The Great Confederate Purge of 2015
The insolence of youth
An open letter to Talbot County
The first secession from the United States, 2015
Letter to the House in SC
The cultural cleansing


For your listening pleasure:



Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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