Sons of Confederate Veterans Object To Art

Ir116_museum_200x500Well, not just any art.  The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee, Florida is currently displaying John Sims’s "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag." The piece in question is part of an exhibit that caused a great deal of controversy up at Gettysburg College back in 2004.  Col. Robert Hurst of the SCV noted:

I and the other members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans camps in this area find the current display at the Brogan Museum of the ‘art’ of John Sims to be both tasteless and offensive.

Yes, sometimes art is "tasteless and offensive."  My suggestion for those of you who find yourselves in agreement with Col. Hurst is that you not pay the entrance fee at the art gallery.  These are the same people who apparently find nothing wrong with the way in which the Confederate flag is used to sell bikinis, necklaces, and bed sheets

Apparently at 11:00am the museum will respond to the SCV’s request.  I assume it will be a hearty, "NO".

Blogging the Civil Rights Movement

The English and History departments at my school decided to set up an interdisciplinary seminar on the Civil Rights Movement for interested juniors.  This is a two-week seminar that started meeting this week on M, T, Th from 7-8:30pm.  There are five teachers and 17 students involved.  We meet in a room where we can all fit around a table and converse with ease.  Here is the seminar description:

An interdisciplinary History and English course, this seminar will address the fundamental question of how Americans bring about change. While we will look closely at the Civil Rights Movement as a case study in effecting change, we will be doing so in the context of larger questions. What are the most effective ways to bring about change? What has to happen in order to make people want to change? What if not everyone wants to change? How do we resolve conflicts about our most fundamental values? What are the areas today in which you yourself would like to see change? What ideas do you have for making that change: the political system? the courts? education? protest?

Students had to read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Harvard Sitkof’s The Struggle for Black Equality before the seminar started.  The conversations have been simply wonderful and the students seem to be thoroughly enjoying the experience.  Last night we spent most of the time discussing King’s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" and tonight we will discuss James Baldwin’s essay "Nobody Knows My Name." 

Of course I set up a blog for the seminar.  You can read the posts, but cannot comment.  You will find a link on the left side bar under "Personal."  The students are still getting use to the blogging format, but you can at least get a sense of the kinds of issues that we are discussing.  I am seriously thinking about using blogs in my classes next year.

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson: Lovers?

Of course not, but why are you so disturbed by the suggestion?  Imagine we discovered a cache of letters from one of the two that suggested an intimate relationship.  Would that discovery seriously challenge our assumptions about their military careers, personal character, and battlefield heroics?  Would the fact of their sexuality negate all other accomplishments?

I’ve been thinking about General Pace’s silly comments about the immorality of homosexuality even as an estimated 65,000 gay men and women fight and die in Iraq.  The more I think the more I am convinced that the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is more about maintaining a certain perception of the armed forces and nothing to do with unit cohesion or other facts of the matter.  Simply put, we are invested in our gender assumptions about the military and the idea of gay servicemen and women challenges our central ideas and images of the uniform.  However, the war in Iraq clearly demonstrates that one’s sexuality has nothing to do with an ability or willingness to fight and kill.  As I listened to an interview on NPR with a gay veteran of Iraq who lost both legs I wondered why this topic is even an issue at all.  A recent Pew Research Poll suggests that more Americans are willing to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military.  I assume it is just a matter of time.  Is this argument any different from the assumption that the color of your skin provides evidence of one’s ability to engage in combat?  We used to segregate the military based on the belief that unit cohesion would be compromised by the mixing of the races.

So, would there really be a problem if we learned that a prominent Civil War warrior such as Grant or Lee  turned out to be gay?  Would we look at that wonderful image of Grant leaning against a tree during the battle of the Wilderness or that rough image of Sherman differently?  Would a few of my fellow Civil War bloggers retreat to the position that since Lee and Jackson were both “Christian warriors” that they were incapable of such behavior?  I hold out hope that we have the intellectual strength and maturity to be able to stretch our concept of a warrior to allow individuals to be who they are/were and not force them into our preconceived assumptions that have little basis in reality.

Did You Really Have To Say That?: An Open Letter To General Peter Pace

Dear General Pace,

I was disappointed to read your comments in the newspaper regarding your personal attitude towards homosexuals.  Here is what you said if you need to be reminded:

I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we
should not condone immoral acts…. I do not believe that the armed
forces of the United States are well served by a saying through our policies
that it’s OK to be immoral in any way…. As an individual, I would not want (acceptance of gay behavior) to be our
policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find
out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just
look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral

First, let me state that you have every right to your personal moral views, but was it really appropriate to state them at this time?  You could have expressed those views in private or waited until after you retired to share such thoughts.  Do you really need to be reminded that thousands of gay men and women are currently risking their lives in Afghanistan and the streets of Baghdad?  Every night we see images on the evening news of gay military personnel that have been killed in battle or seriously wounded.  How dare you dishonor their service and sacrifice by reducing them to one characteristic while at the same time you lower the military’s standards by admitting recruits with criminal backgrounds.  Even more absurd is your comparison between homosexual couples and the act of adultery.  I’m not even sure what you are attempting to point out in your comparison.

The military’s policy of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been in place since the Clinton administration.  If I understand it correctly it means that as long as a gay man or woman does not openly declare their sexuality their place in the military is secure.  If it is the case that gay men and women are not to talk openly than why is it permissible for you to speak out about the morality of homosexuality?  Why the double-standard?  I have a former student who happens to be a lesbian who is currently serving in the military.  She is extremely bright and a graduate of one of this nation’s top universities and who is interested in one day working overseas for the State Department.  Her area of expertise is Russia and she is a fluent speaker of the language – just the kind of individual that we need in the service of our country.  From the beginning she was aware of the challenges involved in serving in the military as a young lesbian woman.  Even with a clear understanding of all of this her sense of service and patriotism held sway.  I assume that most gay and lesbians in the military thought seriously about these same issues, but in the end remained committed to serving their country. 

Your comments only served to add to their concerns.  Is the military really in a position where it can afford to alienate committed Americans who want nothing more than to serve their country?  Now, I have never served in the military which means that I’ve never experienced combat.  That said, I wonder whether in the case of fighting in the streets of Baghdad that any individual’s sexual preference becomes a factor in saving lives and completing missions.  Perhaps I am mistaken, but if so I would like to be shown the evidence.

I’m sorry that you felt a need to reduce the service of thousands of gay men and women along lines that have nothing to do with their day-to-day commitment and multiple tours of duty in some of the most dangerous places on the planet.  But if you can’t say it I will:

Thanks to all of you who have served, are currently serving, or who will serve in this nation’s armed forces.  Thank you for being able to look beyond the irrational and hateful comments of General Pace while maintaining your focus on what is truly of value to you.