RICHMOND, Va. – “You can’t handle the truth!”
Jack Nicholson’s tells Tom Cruise in their climatic courtroom confrontation in the super movie A Few Good Men. So I am not sure how many of us can handle the following truth:
A stand-alone Museum of the Confederacy lacked the necessary public interest to have survived past the next generation.
That’s a cold-hard political, social and economic fact of 21st century life, essentially conceded by S. Waite Rawls III, head honcho at the Museum of the Confederacy in the RTD story about his decision to merge with the Tredegar Civil War Center to form a new Confederacy/Civil War Museum.
The two merged groups claim to already have most of the money needed to complete their new $30 million complex at the current Riverfront site for the Tredegar American Civil War Center.
The leaders of the two merging organizations will be co-leaders for the new entity, with highly respected UR President Ed Ayers, a civil war expert, chairing the now combined boards.
“It is going to be a great thing for people who care about the Civil War,” Ayers was quoted as saying in the RTD.
The current “White House of the Confederacy, at 1201 E. Clay St., will continue to tell the story of Jefferson Davis and his family from 1861 to 1865 while he served as president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War,” according to the Times Dispatch.
“I think this moves us from trying to survive to trying to excel,” Rawls said.
SURVIVE: Mr. Rawls is right. But he is under much criticism for his decision from “confederate heritage” groups who feel he has sold out their ancestors and Virginia’s heritage.
Quite the opposite: He made the only practical, logical decision available.
THE HARD TRUTH: Too many, even now 148 years after the Civil War’s end, refuse to acknowledge the fundamental truth about the origins for the conflict. By modern numbers, 6 million Americans dead in combat, millions more maimed and crippled and damaged for life in one way or another.
The carnage is, I submit, incomprehensible to the U.S. today.
Moreover, from a purely political level, the Civil War would have been the easiest thing to avoid. Contrary to the claims of so many even today, the 1860 GOP platform of Mr. Lincoln’s party DID NOT call for the abolition of slavery. Quite the contrary, it pledged to allow slavery to continue in the Southern states.
The platform wanted to ban the expansion of slavery into the territories. If the South had accepted this policy, there is no Civil War.
But those in power in the Southern states – who had used slavery to get the personal benefit of enforcing a certain economic, political and social order on a far bigger percentage of the population than many still are willing to admit – saw Lincoln’s policy as ultimately leading to slavery’s fatal demise.
They were right, Lincoln regarded slavery as inhuman, an abomination; but immorality alone would not end it. He opted for his version of “with all deliberate speed” figuring politics at the national level and economics at the local level would end slavery over time, too slow for him personally but at least it would end.
A Civil War had never been the North’s choice. The Southern rebels choose a war believing the North didn’t have the will to win.
This is great irony of Civil War history, had the slave owners in the South truly believed in the social, political and economic viability of their policy, Lincoln was prepared to stand down and let them compete in the free market place. But the South rebelled, claiming Lincoln wanted to use federal power to “enslave them” to the federal government.
This is not true then and it doesn’t become any more true by making the claim for 148 more years.
This is why the Confederate Museum is doomed, a refusal to face the larger truth.
Like General Grant, I have no quarrel, indeed a certain admiration, for the young men and women who died for the Confederate side believing in their hearts and minds they were protecting their families and states from Lincoln’s oppression. They were wrong, but as in the Vietnam War a 100 years later, young men and women do what their political leaders demand, at least for the most part.
They listen to their elders, their parents, and do their duty, “to die and not ask why” according to the old adage.
It is what young men and women, along with their Generals and officers, have always done since the days of Pharaoh, likely tens of thousands of years before.
General Grant showed admiration for General Lee and the rebel army. I don’t know how we can do any less than those who fought each other. Grant despised the Southern political leaders for causing so many good men to die needlessly, on both sides.
Let’s cut to the chase, those whose power economically, politically and socially flowed from the “slave nation” forced this horrible tragedy on millions of Southerners who could have easily supported Lincoln’s platform. Virginians on several occasions rejected joining the Deep South rebellion.
The “whole South” therefore never wanted to fight a war to the death against the North. But their economic, political and social leaders did, for their own selfish reasons.
BOTTOM LINE: The refusal of Confederate Museums to tell the larger truth, to accept the true origins of the war, to know who to honor and who to condemn, has made their story less and less relevant to succeeding generations.
One can tell the truth about Slavery in the South, the truth about the origins of the Civil War, and the truth about the conflict itself at the same time, from the same collective truth.
“Truth crushed to earth will rise” said the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He didn’t merely mean facts long buried will eventually see the light of day to expose the sinners. Rather he meant, in a large sense, truth will free us to bloom anew, to join to build a new world, to not be ruled from the grave.
As a history buff, all history is interesting to me, and all history needs to be told, as honestly as possible. The Confederate history to be told that all Americans should learn, that is for sure. But unless told honestly, it only continues to add to the casualty list.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.