It’s been interesting to watch the comments section at The Atlantic evolve in response to my most recent post. I have no moderating power so it is just a matter of sitting back and watching individuals talk past one another in their typical self-absorbed fashion. That said, some of the comments are worth a bit of reflection. Here is one in response to the work of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, which has gone furthest in promoting the sesquicentennial:
I believe I speak for many Virginians when I say that we are very disappointed in the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and its blatant exclusion of any recognition of the 32,000+ Virginians who answered the State’s call to take up arms in her defense and never returned home, or the thousands more who survived the war and returned to help rebuild the ruins of the State.
While no one denies that slavery was one of the main issues that led to the conflict and deserves a place in any discussion of the War Between the States, this commission has taken its original focus of inclusion, which we applaud, and twisted it so far as to make slavery/emancipation its main focus, in effect excluding any remembrance of the men and women who so valiantly defended Virginia.
Now, we could jump in and detail for this individual the extent to which Virginia’s Confederates fit into the many projects sponsored by the commission, but that would be a waste of time. Even a cursory glance at their website should be sufficient to satisfy most people that the memory of the Confederate soldier is secure.
If we take one step back, however, it is clear that it is not the lack of coverage of the Confederate soldier that is of concern to this individual, but the way in which the narrative itself is framed. First, notice the nod to the importance of slavery as “one of the main issues” that led to secession and war, but once the war begins it’s about the soldiers and apparently there is no more need to bring it up. What this individual wants is a narrative that celebrates the Confederate soldier along with his goal of an independent nation. The coming year is going to be a good one for those Virginians who find themselves imagining the possibilities of a Confederate victory. It’s going to be Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” on a grand scale.
I guess it comes down to the question of whether the state of Virginia should commemorate the Civil War as if it hoped to become part of an independent Confederate nation or in recognition that the past 150 years – even with all its setbacks – was a better outcome not only for the generation that fought the war, but for us as well.