With Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's 15 minutes of infamy for proclaiming April to be Confederate History Month about to run out, this veteran is pondering whether there is a way to commemorate the Confederate soldiers who served and died without commemorating the vile institution of slavery that they fought to preserve.
While the conservative Republican quickly reversed field and apologized for implying that he supported slavery, the question is well worth pondering because very few of the men who went to war for Dixie owned slaves and it can be argued, albeit using a sort of pretzel logic, that they fought to preserve a way of life that just happened to rest on the backs of four million indentured men, women and children. There also is the fact that slavery was only one of several issues, including states rights, that tore the Union apart. And in one of the more muddled aspects of the conflict, General Robert E. Lee and some other Confederate generals actually were opponents of slavery.
So if slavery can be put in an historic context, why can't the bravery of the men in gray? Why, as I and other vets have argued, is it so difficult for many people to separate the men (and women) from the war, Vietnam and Iraq being Exhibits A and B?
The answer, I believe, is twofold:
Plausible arguments can and were made in support of going to war in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but slavery was and remains indefensible.
And so long as the Republican Party -- not all Republicans, mind you, but a good many prominent and vocal ones -- pander to racists by aligning themselves with defenders of a war they won't stop fighting nearly 150 years on then Confederate soldiers will never get their due.