Obama Honors All Veterans

2885804491_7c6d87cf5cIt’s reasonable to wonder how the public discourse might have been different had James Loewen and Edward Sebesta bypassed the ridiculous idea of petitioning the president not to place a wreath a the Confederate monument at Arlington and instead add a wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial in downtown Washington.  Two things would have been accomplished.  On the one hand their letter would have raised awareness of the history of the Arlington Monument and its symbolism and it would have highlighted an aspect of the Civil War that continues to fly under most people’s radar screen when it comes to our memory of the Civil War.  Instead Loewen and Sebesta provided just one more forum for the crazies who spend their days clogging up message boards with their reactionary neo-Confederate hogwash.  Just look at the comments section at HNN.

Luckily President Obama followed his instincts and/or good counsel and sent an additional wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial.  Such a suggestion from Loewen and Sebesta would have diffused most of the outrage and perhaps would have served to educate that many more people.

Finally, it’s not clear where Obama got the idea to add a wreath.  I’ve read a few references to Kirk Savage’s recent piece in the Washington Post, but that came out after my blog post and link to Caitlin Hopkins at Vast Public Indifference who suggested doing just that.

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10 comments… add one
  • Sherree Tannen May 30, 2009 @ 5:09


    I think I know what you mean. I believe that President Obama has begun what will become a redefinition of what it means to reconcile our differences as a nation, however. The President is the one who noted the bridge between Lee and Lincoln, and he didn’t mean a bridge that absolved the South or the North, and he certainly didn’t mean a symbolic bridge that denied the reality of slavery or that slavery was the cause of the war. He meant (imo) a bridge between irreconcilable differences that can only be reconciled by him, and by the placing of a wreath at the African American memorial, and much, much more as he implements policies through the next four years that begin to rectify the legacy of slavery. On a different, but related note, after President Obama met with our Latin American neighbors, he acknowledged the problems that the US had caused in Central and South America, then he noted in one speech that Central and South America had their own respective past histories to examine as well, as far the treatment of the men and women of Indigenous nations that their ancestors displaced. (It’s Saturday, I know, didn’t mean to go into a deep topic here. Have a great day. Sherree)

  • Kevin Levin May 30, 2009 @ 4:33


    Such a project has a strong reconciliationist sentiment that has deep roots in our Civil War memory.

  • Sherree Tannen May 30, 2009 @ 3:57


    I linked to the article by James Loewen referenced by Mike, and there is a very interesting detail in the picture that accompanies Loewen’s article. On one of the Confederate graves in front of the memorial, someone placed a US flag. (as far as I can tell with my best bifocals on) Most likely there were dozens of Confederate flags placed as well. But that one US flag placed on the grave of a Confederate soldier due, perhaps, (I say “perhaps” since we don’t know who placed the flag or why) to the good common sense and depth of understanding of our nation’s complex history by our first African American President gives me the audacity to keep hoping. (Yes, I am an unreformed idealist. If any of your readers google this and discover that the flag was placed for other reasons, ok. Next year I will go place US flags on Confederate graves then, not as punishment or as an advocate of the actions of these men in fighting an unwise war for the worst of reasons, but as a way for the men to be brought back into the national narrative so that they, and the nation, can be at peace at last. Then I will visit the African American Civil War memorial and place US flags as well. Then to Gettysburg. Then to the Little Big Horn. Then to Normandy, Okinawa, that broken land of Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq……..all the while honoring both our dead, and the dead of those with whom we found ourselves at war and who lost their lives as well.)

  • Chris Evans May 29, 2009 @ 11:58

    I agree totally with Mike. Time to move on. The Union soldier was showered with honors decades after the Civil War. We can now honor both sides North and South. It has been over 140 years. Somebody could argue that the President shouldn’t leave a wreath at the Spanish American War monument and say it represents American Imperalism. I don’t agree but the argument could be made by someone. They mention he should leave wreaths at the GAR monuments. Why stop there? He should leave wreaths at Andersonville National Cemetery-those Union soldiers should be honored, too. Shouldn’t he also send a wreath to Little Big Horn Battlefield and its cemetery. But there will be controversy there too. You have American soldiers and American Indians who fought there. But should the Indians not be recognized because they fought against American soldiers? In the end the President did the right thing. Honoring the Confederate soldiers and the USCT was a excellent idea.

  • Mike May 29, 2009 @ 11:15

    I see where the folks who started the drive to not have a wreath place at the Confederate marker are very unhappy.


    Separate but Equal Wreaths are Not a Permanent Solution to the Memorial Day Conundrum
    By James W. Loewen

    I am sorry but IMO his continued pressing of this issue and the complaints about the Press coverage seen petty and Childish at best and showing a craving for National Press exposure at worse.

  • Sherree Tannen May 28, 2009 @ 5:13


    The memorial created by Moses Ezekiel that I referenced above is, of course, the Confederate memorial. The African American Civil War Memorial is beautiful as well, in an artistic sense, and has a power all of its own that far exceeds its artistic merits because of the history that it represents, and the long road to the emancipation of African American men and women that it symbolizes. My point is that the President seems to be telling us–and more importantly, showing us–that we do indeed have to start finding a way to live together as one human family, as he said in his Notre Dame speech. Have a great day, Kevin. Sherree

  • Sherree Tannen May 28, 2009 @ 3:45

    In the President’s Memorial Day speech at Arlington, he said the following: “Not far from here, appropriately across a bridge connecting Lincoln to Lee, Union and Confederate soldiers share the same land in perpetuity.”

    By having wreathes laid at both the African American Memorial and the Confederate Memorial, our President, the son of a black man from Africa and a white woman from America; the husband of a woman whose ancestors were slaves; and the leader of all Americans who live in a nation that includes within its history vast and multiple ironies, contradictions, and paradoxes, sounded the true note of reconciliation that one would have hoped for decades ago when Moses Ezekiel created this monument that is truly breathtakingly beautiful in spite of its Lost Cause themes, as many have noted on this blog. Only Barack Obama could have brought about this moment of true reconciliation–forming a bridge of his own–and he brought it about with the help of many men and women, among them historians and intellectuals who were dedicated to telling the truth. Maybe it is time to turn the page and move beyond Lost Cause rhetoric and the fight to defeat it. The Lost Cause defenders have been defeated. Hopefully now we will begin to sort out who the other casualties were along the way, and bring all Americans back into our historical narrative. Thanks, Kevin.

  • Chris Evans May 27, 2009 @ 9:14

    I just wanted to add that when President Harry S. Truman placed a wreath ,in 1947, on the monument at Chapultepec Castle to six boy cadets who died fighting American soldiers during the Mexican War he was asked by American reporters why he did it, he replied,”Brave men don’t belong to any one country. I respect bravery wherever I see it.”

  • Chris Evans May 27, 2009 @ 9:05

    I am very glad that the President sent the wreaths to both the Confederate Monument and the USCT monument. They are all Americans.

  • mike May 25, 2009 @ 14:11

    Hoo-ray for the Pres he did the right thing for all involved.

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