“Hysteria over hate vs. heritage”

The ancient Greeks named the uterus.  In Greek, it’s called husteros.  From husteros, we get the word hysterical.

The Greeks believed that this organ unique to females caused the unpredictable, flighty behavior in women.  (As wise as Greeks were in many areas, the men were still as prejudiced as any men of ancient times.  We all have heard of Plato’s famous prayer:  “I thank god that I was created a man, not a woman.”)

Thus, today the word hysterical is avoided when referring to women.  Any use of the word regarding women signals a throw-back to the historic narrow-mindedness of men on gender matters.

But there are times when the word fits perfectly for other matters.  Like removing the Confederate flag.  People are getting hysterical — on both sides.

Those supporting the Stars & Bars cry, “They’re trying to erase history!”

Those opposing the Confederate flag cry, “The flag represents racism.  If you display the flag, you’re a racist.”

First of all, societies are continuously re-writing their own history.  Look at the difference today vs. just five decades ago regarding George Armstrong Custer.  Today is the anniversary of Custer’s Last Stand.  It seems to me the overarching sentiment connected with the Little Big Horn is not admiration or honor — but regret:  regret that the conflict got to this point, regret that lives were lost, regret that the U.S. government had an aggressive and ugly policy towards native Americans.

A movie like Dances With Wolves could never have been shown in the 1950s.  In the 1990s, it signaled a sea change in sympathies — the U.S. Cavalry was a bunch of ignorant thugs; the native Americans were intelligent, sensitive, environmentally sophisticated…

Now, let’s think about the Civil War.  We have come to the point by 2011 with the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, that easy clichés about the North vs. the South have been replaced.  A more complex, sophisticated understanding of the people involved in the war has been adequately written about by many historians.

The average Northern soldier was as racist as the average Southern soldier.  In fact, Lincoln forbade any talk of emancipation in the first two years of the war because he knew that many of the Northern soldiers would not fight if they were told they were fighting for abolition of slavery.  The emphasis was solely on:   saving the union.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1862 that Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.  The war had already been going on for over two years.  And Lincoln withheld the proclamation for several months until AFTER the North had finally won a battle.  In this case, it was the Battle of Antietem, September of 1862, and it was technically not a win but a draw.  But it was a win in the sense that the Army of the Potomac finally stood and fought as opposed to its usual tactic of building up a great mass of troops and then retreating.

It wasn’t until three years into the war — with the Battle of Gettysburg — that Lincoln converted the purpose of the war from simply saving the union to upholding the republic’s underlying principle of equality and expanding it to include ALL men (not yet women, though).  Historians commonly portray Lincoln as “hijacking” the war in its third year in order to convert its purpose to full equality for all, entailing abolition.  The 13th Amendment outlawing slavery would never have had a chance at the start of the war.  Lincoln masterfully bided his time and then moved assertively to broaden the reason for the war.   Even then, the only argument he thought viable for equality was — blacks who had fought in the war deserved to vote.

Let us not kid ourselves about the racist sentiment in the North as well as in the South even after Gettysburg.  (In fact, on the 50th anniversary of the battle, black veterans were not invited!)

Okay — so here is a conclusion we can make about most of the people who fought in the Civil War:  They did so because their government asked them to!  Northerners as well as Southerners.  Noble sentiments on both sides about saving the union, abolishing slavery, protecting states’ rights,  preserving a way of life — those may have been rallying cries, but the hard truth is — most men fought because their government asked them to.

Thus, there is something to be said for the equality of soldiers on both sides:  Both sides endured hardship, both sides showed bravery, both sides harbored feelings of pride and honor…The sacrifice made by soldiers on both sides had a commonality that deserves to be honored — not just those on the winning side.

People for whom flags of these Southern regiments and armies are reminders today of all that these men endured — are honoring the same thing for which the Northern soldiers are honored:  The commonality on both sides was evident.  When Grant accepted Lee’s surrender, the sympathy by the Northern soldiers for their Southern counterparts was immediate.  Supplies of food were provided.  Officers crossed lines to visit one another.  People KNEW what each other had been through!

If that is a reason for flying the Southern flag, that’s a genuine appreciation for what ancestors went through, and it’s simply hysterical to say such a person flying the Confederate flag is a racist.

But let’s also admit:  The backlash against the North AFTER the South’s surrender was displayed in the form of Confederate flags flying from capitol domes, Jim Crow laws counterbalancing federal laws against discrimination, and the lauding of some Confederates as heroes (like Nathan Bedford Forrest, a post-war founder of the KKK) in defiance of the North.

THIS aspect of “in your face” — we lost, but we aren’t going to change — has indeed been a reason for flying the Stars & Bars on state grounds, and everybody knows it.  Removing THAT aspect of the official sanction of apartheid in our country IS an editing of our past for the better.  It’s done by removing the symbols that were the most “in your face”, and everybody knew that was their purpose.

But lumping it all into one thing — the flag means racism — is indeed hysterical.  The Stars & Stripes has a history of racism even longer than the Stars & Bars.  We learn, we gain awareness, we do what we can to make life more just.  It’s something we ALL need to work on.  Dumping on the South is just too easy.

 

 

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