Man Without Qualities

Sunday, January 26, 2003

... that these dead shall not have died in vain ...

Maureen Dowd just can't seem to understand what has been going on in Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day, and it's further confusing her already confused misunderstanding of what's going on in Michigan.

Big Mo admits: In my last column, I cited a Time article reporting that the president had "quietly reinstated" a custom of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial. Time has since corrected the story, saying he didn't revive the custom, but simply continued it.

Fair enough. But she just can't help herself, and again plunges into howling error when she writes:

Why keep a tradition of honoring the Confederacy while you're going to court to stop a tradition of helping black students at the University of Michigan?

The Arlington memorial to the Confederate Civil War dead is just that: a Memorial to certain Civil War dead. It is not a memorial to the Confederacy.

Sending those wreathes is not a tradition of honoring the Confederacy. It is a tradition of remembering and honoring that class of Civil War dead.

That tradition follows the great insights of Abraham Lincoln, who understood, in one of his most inspired strokes of graceful political genius, that after a civil war it is urgent that people set aside their vindictiveness, differences and hard feelings, no matter how justified - as much as possible. The dead Confederate soldiers should be honored despite their false cause because it is possible to honor these dead and not honor their cause. We can love and remember even those whose cause was wrong, and send wreathes to their graves, without honoring their cause. Thank God for that miracle, for it also makes our love and honor of our own parents right, even when they cleave to a false cause. We tolerate ignorance of such matters in our less insightful young. But people who do not eventually make peace with such aspects of human life become sad, permanent juveniles.

Not honoring the Confederate dead would also rub the noses of their people in their defeat and impose unnecessary obstacles on their again being part of the Union. Extending our grace to the Confederate dead helps to honor and preserve the very Union that defeated and negates their cause. Lincoln understood that. The Radical Republicans didn't understand, and advocated a vindictive Reconstruction largely consistent with Big Mo's harsh approach - but even the Radical Republicans didn't go so far off track as Big Mo, and they didn't have all the advantages she has had.

These Confederate dead didn't just die - they were killed by Union soldiers - many of whom also died for that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion: the preservation of the Union through extinguishment of the Confederacy and its principles. These Confederate soldiers fought and died in a war largely waged by the United States to defeat the principle that government may favor people because of their race. To reject that false principle is to assure that these Union dead shall not have died in vain.

Michigan's government may not favor people because of their race because that policy maintains false and defeated principles of the Confederacy.

Big Mo asks us to stop honoring the Confederate Civil War dead as ordinary soldiers we remember for the unity of the nation, and instead honor a disgraced portion of their false and divisive cause.

I decline. I hope everyone will.

MORE: Fritz Schranck has more on Big Mo's odd little column.

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