Governor Bob McDonnell, not to be outdone by his Attorney-General Cooch, has declared April to be Confederate History Month. As one might expect this has caused those who seem to fail to understand that the Confederate States of America lost the war to cheer and gloat; and those who find the mere mention of the Confederacy to froth at the mouth and cuss.Declaring April Confederate History Month is a grand tradition in Virginia, in fact, as far as I know, every Governor in modern times except Mark Warner and Tim Kaine declared it so. But in declaring Confederate History Month, Governors were sticking their fingers in the eyes of many Virginians who find the whole notion of celebrating a rebellion as reprehensible.
At the heart of the issue, is whether we should be celebrating a rebellion against the constituted Government of the United States. First we must remember that rebellion is a part of the History of the United States. While our history is good at remembering the heroes of the American Revolution, we do a horrible job at remembering that if they had lost they would have hung, and that not everyone in the colonies supported the American Revolution. We have selective memory when it comes to our history.
That is true for the Civil War. There is one group who wishes to argue it was solely about slavery; there is another group who wishes to say it was about states rights. The problem with the first approach, and the one which Ken Burns emphasized in his epic Civil War, it is an oversimplification. The second view is equally simplified and assumes that all who supported the Civil War did so out of a belief in states rights. Unfortunately both of these simplified versions miss a more complex truth that the Civil War was about many issues. It was about slavery, it was economics, it was about differing view of our Constitution, it was fight between a rural region and increasingly urban and industrial region, it was about differing views of what our nation was and meant to its citizens.
We forget however that many who fought for both sides did not fight for any of the aforementioned reasons; they fought because it was the right thing to do.
By proclaiming Confederate History Month, Governor McDonnell opened old wounds. He is provoking a fight that does not need to be fought. Simply proclaiming it Civil War Heritage Month, Governor McDonnell could have included those who fought for both sides. He could have honored those who as Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of their 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.”
Men and women who fought and died in a brutal hellish war that affected the lives of the citizens of both the North and South in a profound and lasting way.