Ron Maxwell’s Arlington Speech

The History News Network has posted Ron Maxwell’s recent address at the Confederate cemetery at Arlington.  He starts off with the right tone, but unfortunately, toward the end he was much too distracted by the Sebesta-Loewen petition.  If you are going to honor soldiers than honor soldiers.  That’s the purpose of Memorial Day.  It just seemed to me to be out of place.  Even more interesting is Maxwell’s theme: “The history of America is liberation.”

In the 19th century the work of liberation would continue, slowly, falteringly, but steadily. Before slavery could be ended by law a transformation of the hearts and minds of Americans had to take place. Mammon is a heavy shackle on the soul. When profits are fused with prejudice change is even harder to accomplish. It is argued that the liberation of America from the nightmare of slavery would have happened in time, as it did throughout the rest of the Western Hemisphere, without a savage Civil War. Alternate histories and speculations of paths not taken are of endless interest, but the facts of history cannot be undone. We did have a brutal Civil War. And the work of liberation continued.

Are we to understand that the Confederate soldiers being commemorated by Maxwell contributed to the liberation of slaves and beyond?

These graves stand as monuments not just to the slain – but to remind us of a world that could have been, but for their sacrifice. A world of oppression, a world of ignorance, a world of conformity. One need only look at the images from Pyong Yang in North Korea – the regimented masses offering homage to their supreme leader – to catch a glimpse of the prison camp that could have been our destiny as well.

Now this is what I call historical revisionism.  Well done, Ron.

11 comments… add one

  • Jarret Jun 15, 2009

    I’ll support Maxwell giving speeches as long as it keeps him from making any more movies that feature Stonewall Jackson feeling good about himself because he taught slaves the Bible.

  • John Jun 15, 2009

    Kevin,

    The irony is that the CSA soldiers did contribute to the abolition of slavery. The Civil War which they fought and lost did lead to the end of slavery.

    The second paragraph you quote, however, is simply over the top. North Korea? Prison camp? What possible connection could be made between our Civil War and the horror that North Korea is for the vast majority of its citizens. The comparison leaves me almost speechless.

    John

  • Dan Wright Jun 16, 2009

    Thanks for the link to the full text of Maxwell’s speech…I think.
    Maybe Ron’s watched his own movies too many times.
    With the mythmakers working furiously, we may be only a few years away from the Confederacy winning the Civil War.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 16, 2009

      Dan,

      Why stop there? With a speech like that one could argue the Confederacy did win the war and the entire world benefited.

  • Mike Jun 16, 2009

    I for one enjoyed Maxwell’s diatribe against Sebesta-Loewen petition. Those boys wanted publicity and glory but instead they are getting scorned. Maybe this will put an end to at Petition nonsense. But I will agree it took away for what he was there to do and that was give a Memorial day speech.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 16, 2009

      Mike,

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed the speech, but how do you know what “those boys wanted”?

  • Mike Jun 16, 2009

    Well Kevin, If the Boys over at History week didn’t want the Publicity they would have not started that petition in the first place. I am too old and jaded to believe they had any altruistic reasons for doing it.

  • Bobby Edwards Jun 16, 2009

    Kevin,

    Thanks very much for the link to Maxwell’s speech. I enjoyed it very much, although it was a bit long and covered too many topics. I have read other articles about Moses Ezekeial, the VMI Cadet, and I often think of what one of my VMI friends told me after a visit to that Newmarket Battlefield. The Cadets at VMI today march in the honor of those fallen Cadets at the Bushong House, calling out the Names of those who Fell that day, in that muddy field where they lost their shoes in the charge up the hill trying to take the artillery piece. Ezekeial’s story and his links to those young cadets through his VMI ties is emotional, and his rise to excellence in his craft is inspiring.

    I have yet to visit that Mounument in Arlington, although I have visited Arlington several times. When you start walking Arlington, like the Hollywood Cemetery, you need a Map to be able to get around and to see the most important places. I will surely try to put that Monument on one of my lists of places that I would like to go. Memorial Day Weekend, I would have been at the Vietnam Memorial, however because I had planned to be there earlier, but had plans interrupted.

    Maxwell did a good job of why Southerner’s honor their Ancestors. And, I found these two passages very important to me in the defense of the Monuments of our Southern Heroe’s.

    Maxwell:

    “We cannot wish our ancestors away, nor should we. In the act of designing and erecting these monuments and statues they are telling us what was important to them in their time. By leaving for us, their progeny, a record in stone, they are expressly calling upon us, their grand-children, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren to remember.

    Unless we’re prepared to tear down every statue and monument in America we must instead take stock. What are these statues? Who cared so much to place them in the village green, the town square or the local cemetery? Instead of behaving like censorious cultural commissars or inquisitorial accusers, can we not instead meditate on their meaning for our country and in our own lives? Can they not be seen as invitations of rediscovery, of sacred places set aside in the quiet corners of our lives, for communion with our ancestors – for a portal to understanding who they were and who we are?”
    Maxwell
    ………………………………………………………………………………….

    However, I found his choice of words intresting:
    - ” Censorial Cultural Commisars”
    - “Inquisitorial Accusers”

    I may save them for later usage if the Commisars come down to hard on me.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 16, 2009

      Bobby,

      The Arlington monument is well worth visiting. First, Maxwell attempted to explain why some Southerners honor their Confederate ancestors. He did not explain why many Southerners ignore Confederate ancestors and choose instead to honor other ancestors. Let me just say one thing in response to the Maxwell passage you quoted:

      “”We cannot wish our ancestors away, nor should we. In the act of designing and erecting these monuments and statues they are telling us what was important to them in their time. By leaving for us, their progeny, a record in stone, they are expressly calling upon us, their grand-children, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren to remember.”

      That’s where Maxwell is mistaken. Monuments are not simply about the event to be commemorated, but about what those who erect it hope to remember. This is a crucial difference and it is not meant as a slight. The Arlington Monument is not simply about the bravery of Confederate soldiers. It tells a story of the war and slavery that no longer resonates with historians and with many Americans. The images of loyal slaves and what some perceive to be a “black Confederate” is a case in point. As I’ve stated before I disagree with the Loewen-Sebesta petition, but their critique of the statue hits on some important interpretive points.

  • Bobby Edwards Jun 16, 2009

    Kevin,

    Concerning Monuments – We covered that topic in depth a couple of topics over, and a few times I mentioned some of the psychological factors that Monuments have on Individuals. I speak from the experience of several visits to the Vietnam Monument back to the day in 1982 when it was opened to the public, and a Vietnamese Architect, Maya Ling designed a Monument that originally disappointed the Veterans. We were looking for a Monument with Soldiers on it, but what we got as we walked the wall and touched it shiny black granite, looking for a name from our past was something that none of us were quite ready for. The Wall Reflected back at you, and you found yourself in the wall, as you felt a Name – took out your graphite pen and started on the etch. The beginning of the etch brought back memories that gripped your conscience touching the Lost Soul behind the Wall. We all felt that strange feeling, and in groups of men huddled together, remembering a day that a rocket came in, or a Unit was attacked, or many men fell on one day – they were clustered in the group and time they fell. The leave behinds were touching and there’s a museum of artifacts that’s numbering in the Tens of Thousands, perhaps now – Hundreds of Thousands. Some men become so emotional and they leave. Some gathered in groups, laugh at the brighter side of an event they shared with someone who didn’t make it, and then turn around and Cry in a matter of seconds.

    I have had the Honor of organizing a 6924th Intelligence Squadron Unit gathering at the Wall Twice. The last time, a descendent of General Kearney – our Major Kearney and I spent the day with members of the Unit that came and left the wall. The Major replicated the Unit’s Guidon with Unit Citations and Awards, and I was part of the Presentation service at the wall. In 2002, I Organized a Meeting of 6924th Troops and we Honored one of our Fallen, Paul W. Anthony from North Carolina. Paul was killed three days in Country from a Rocket Attack that destroyed our Communications Ctr. The day after we left Memorial Leave Behinds, Unit Coins, and Information about Pauls Death, his Mother and Father-in-Law arrived from Pennsylvania with a Bus Load of Students from the Church. They found our Memorial to Paul. Today our Unit has a Scholarship at the UNC Charlotte in the Memory of Paul, and it’s given to R.O.T.C. Students.

    On an earlier post about the South Carolina McGowan Monument at Spottsylvania Park, I posted a Link showing the Memorial Service. Although it wasn’t the same as a Viet Nam Memorial – It’s Close. I saw many descendents from the McGowan Brigade in the Memorial Service, and I have Linked a Folder of Several Photos of That Event. I have found my Photos across the Web on Other Sites – They aren’t that bad. I hope that with the NPS officiating the Event of the Memorial Presentation, and a Well Known Author, Gordon Rhea explaining the Events at the Bloody Angle – that many will understand that this was a Monument as Gordon said needed to be done. I will assure you as Gordon Rhea explained the story and shared the courage and sacrifice of the Confederate Soldiers and the Determined Federal Foes – there were many with moist eyes.

    Here’s the Link to the McGowan Memorial Presentation – And, I think Maxwell’s Words Fully Cover the Presentation and Purpose of that Monument.

    http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=d0e1e18a6d5d04e47069484bded33bcdc14335d2cd1a5ee5

    For the Photos of Vietnam Mixed with the Vietnam Wall – You May Want to Check this Link, where I have posted a few of my photos from various periods. Enjoy.

    http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=d0e1e18a6d5d04e4d5a101cf914073b48c6bd2fe88c22258

    Kevin, Thanks for the additional information on the Ezekeial Arlington Monument – I will research more of the details on the Monument.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 16, 2009

      Bobby,

      We seem to be talking past one another. All I can say is that I am interested in how monuments both reflect the event remembered as well as those doing the remembering. I can’t make it any simpler than that. This blog is called Civil War Memory and my primary interest is in how Americans choose to remember the past and how often our memories evolve for reasons that have little to do with the historical event itself.

Leave a Comment