Contemplating Charlottesville

Everywhere you look, people are weighing in on the terrible violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In my opinion, the violent interaction is another example of the inability of extremists to discuss differences without hyperbole, anger, and physical altercation. It made me very sad to see a counter protester carrying a sign which read, “The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.” That kind of hatred only intensifies the atmosphere of violence.

I am a child of the 1950s and 60s. My dad was too old for military service when the U.S. entered World War II, but his two brothers “saw Europe on the American plan.” My one uncle was even taken Prisoner of War. I’m certain, if they were faced with the Nazi flags and slogans that triggered the backlash in Virginia, they all would have been in the front lines of the anti-Nazi protesters. So I understand the gut reaction that swastikas trigger.

I have also lived through the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Selma. I lived in Chicago during the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and subsequent to Dr. King’s assassination. I witnessed the use of the National Guard troops to keep the peace. I know the fear experienced when curfews are imposed and military vehicles and soldiers fill the streets. I had hoped that our society would learn from history and find better ways to deal with disparate beliefs. The incident in Virginia and our president’s comments in its wake prove to me that we have a long way to go. I admit the rhetoric and activity of recent days has rekindled that fear. Still, I am tapping into my inner fortitude and making every effort to step-up my vocation to be a peacemaker.

I understand the sentiment of those who still carry the emotional and psychological scars of the Civil War, generations after that conflict ended. As a Caucasian, I can’t begin to know how much pain Confederate statues can inflict. Still, I question the knee-jerk reaction of tearing down that statuary. Just as there were permits and public input when these monuments were erected, I think the removal should include a public majority vote of the city’s population. Removing a statue without permission, (especially when the artwork is destroyed) is nothing less than an act of vandalism. I’m sad that the mayor of Baltimore has felt compelled to remove statues in an pre-emptive effort to ward off outbreaks of violence and protect the historic art.

When we visited Gettysburg, we were told that it was decades before confederate monuments were added to that battlefield because Union veterans felt that the “losers” didn’t deserve monuments. It is ridiculous that people today are in conflict over statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson because, during his lifetime Lee himself opposed monuments with these words, “As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

It was more than 40 years after the war when people and veterans understood that healing could only happen with forgiveness. The time had arrived when confederate monuments could be added to that battlefield in recognition of the lives lost on both sides. These monuments also provide a visual representation of the historic positions and strategies of that awful battle.

Today, it might be helpful to contemplate the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s address on that battlefield, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The pendulum is swinging backward and we need to hold on tightly to the advances our country has made since the Civil War. We have a long way to go to live up to the ideals of a government of, by, and for all people, but hatred, anger, and violence will not advance that cause.

I am extremely saddened by the fact that our president did not clearly declare that he objected to his name being used in “Hail Trump” salutes accompanied by Nazi hand gestures. His acceptance of the former KKK Grand Wizard’s praise is also disappointing. As our president, he needs to unequivocally eliminate any suspicion that he is favoring the hateful rhetoric these separatists spew in his name.

There was no peaceful assembly in the Charlottesville demonstration. The homegrown extremists, gathered from other states, put all the people of that city in danger. From their non-permitted torchlight parade on Friday to the armored and gun carrying march on Saturday (I doubt those specifics were on the permit application) an attitude of rage, hatred, and combat were all too evident. I realize “open carry” is permitted in Virginia, but it only increased the intimidation and fear in the crowd. The city officials tried to rescind Saturday’s permit and defuse the situation to no avail.

We must remember the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” The incendiary actions of the extremists on Friday evening, caused a necessary objection that sadly resulted in personal injury and loss of life. I regret that the opposition had no time to be schooled in controlled non-violent response, but Nazi ideology can not be allowed flourish or triumph.

It is also important to keep matters in perspective. The number of separatists/extremists in Charlottesville was less than 300! The vast majority of people in this country may have disagreements, but little appetite for rage and physical violence. The abundance of commentary regarding last week’s demonstrations proves this.

Last night on PBS I witnessed an interview featuring two young leaders who provided sterling examples of the goodness and rationality we need to emulate. I hope you will access the interview and focus on the hope embodied therein. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/secessionist-black-nationalist-pledge-peaceful-dialogue-charlotteville/

Peace be with each of you!

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