By Sam Burnham
On Saturday we saw a disturbing scene break out in the hometown of Thomas Jefferson. It is a scene that troubled me much of yesterday and honestly cost me some sleep last night.
The rally turned riot in Charlottesville, Virginia must be addressed and I think it needs to be addressed this way. What was packaged as a rally in defense of Confederate monuments under siege in the city turned out to be nothing more than a disgusting display of ignorance and hate. Let's address the brutal truth. This rally had nothing to do with the statue. This rally had nothing to do with the Confederacy. This rally had nothing to do with the South specifically. This rally used those monuments as a scapegoat - a vile excuse to put barbarism and domestic terror on parade. It was an endeavor to drag a spotlight onto their real cause: white supremacy.
As far as the monuments are concerned, the Southern gentlemen who led the Army of Northern Virginia would not have approved of the communications and behavior of the protesters. General "Stonewall" Jackson even refused to tolerate profanity from his officers and men. In his Reminiscences of the Civil War General John Brown Gordon tells of the Confederate Army advancing through York en route to Gettysburg and encountering a group of women who displayed fear at the advancing soldiers. Gordon stopped to assure them that the men were ragged and dirty but that they were harmless to civilians, especially women and that the people of York had nothing to fear from his troops, that there under orders of the Confederate commander-in-chief that non-combatants and private property were safe. He finished his statements, "by pledging to York the head of any soldier in my command who destroyed private property, disturbed the repose of a single home, or insulted a woman."
No such gallantry was present on Saturday. It was a high insult to the memorialized men it claimed to be defending.
In addition, The Second World War, like every American war, was disproportionately fought by men from the rural South. The idea that the philosophies and symbols of the Third Reich are somehow congruent with the Confederacy or the South is appalling. How many Southern farm boys lie in graves in France having died fighting the forces that embraced the symbols and salutes sen in Charlottesville? How many protesters had grandfathers or great-grandfathers who found themselves in brutal hand-to hand combat with a Nazi?
And then there is the fact that this rally was organized by a guy who recently relocated from Indiana. The car that drove into a crowd of counter-protesters killing a woman and wounding dozens of others was driven by a 20-year-old boy from Ohio. Like the most recent Klan rallies in Georgia, the participants are proving to be from the Rust Belt, not the Cotton Belt. This is what we've come to know as cultural appropriation. Southern history is being used to try to channel angst and disillusionment that has stemmed from the collapse of Midwestern industry. Rather than face their own issues and find solutions they choose to consider themselves part of the agrarian South. These are people who feel they have nothing to offer the world but their race. If that race is the best, the superior, the Master Race, perhaps their life would be at least a little less pathetic.
I'm not buying it. Rally in Cleveland, in Detroit, in Chicago. March in your own town, your own state, your own region. In the South we've had our share of unrest, of conflict, of war. Been there, have the monuments. It is someone else's turn. If you think it is yours, do it in your yard. Stay the heck out of mine.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire