Friday, January 23, 2009

Another thought on the race meditation

When I was growing up in the radical 1960's, there was one aspect of the most radical of the black power views that disturbed and saddened me. This was their lack of respect for the armed forces of America based on their feeling disenfranchised, which they were indeed, due to racism.

So their feeling of alienation from the American armed forces was quite understandable and not what bothered me (though I felt it to be counterproductive at the time, though that too was some of the Vietnam era zeitgeist).

What bothered me is that there is no heritage among Afro-Americans of honoring the Union war dead.

Here are the casualties of Union soldiers who fought to eliminate slavery:

364,511 Dead
281,881 Wounded
646,392 Total

I was always saddened that Afro-Americans did not, to my knowledge, develop a custom of honoring the Union dead, even if they were doing so to make a pointed commentary toward contemporary Armed forces who were discriminatory.

Honestly, if over three hundred thousand people died freeing my ancestors from slavery, I think I'd visit a few graves and lay a few wreaths, if for no other reason than to teach my children the sacrifice that was made for them by people over a hundred years ago AND as a counterpoint to modern day racism and indifference.

If, for example, someone provoked me with displaying the Confederate flag (as a provocative and not a cultural act) I'd go and lay more wreaths and flowers on the Union graves, forgotten and overgrown, in response. I think that, by the way, resonates with Afro-Americans whose own cemeteries have a sad history of neglect and disrespect by white communities. Likewise I often feel that Afro-Americans have forgotten the Union dead.

It's a subject that is near to my heart because, as I said, not only do I find slavery to be abhorrent, but also my father's family had a Civil War veteran reside with them in their family country hotel in the latter years of his life, so it is not a matter of abstract history to me. I like to think that my grandmother cooked him some great meals and that his beer was free.

When there were over six hundred thousand casualties (wounds were no light matter then, as they are not today in Iraq, for example), it is not giving one's children a full and accurate picture to make it like no one cared about slaves "back then." Over six hundred thousand (again, compare that to our Iraq conflict) showed how much they cared by dying or being dreadfully wounded. I'd like to see their memory and sacrifice recalled by more people today, if you know what I mean.