Memorial Day, 2018

It is Memorial Day and I suspect that most people observe the day by taking the first camping trip of the season, going to enjoy a visit with relatives, or engaging in a variety of different recreational activities. I’m sure there are some visits to cemeteries. I know that there will be flags on the individual graves at Black Hills National Cemetery, and there will be a few ceremonies dedicated to remembering. For most people, however, it is a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. The traditional day for Memorial Day was May 30, but it is now officially observed on the last Monday in May.

The day has been set aside to remember those who died in active military service. Wars are filled with statistics, but behind the statistics are real persons with unique thoughts, dreams and ambitions. Each had a unique set of family relationships, a unique circle of friends and each loss has been mourned and grieved by those who knew them.

Memorial Day, however, is not a day that is without controversy. It took 100 years from the time that mourners first decorated graves of Union soldiers on May 5, 1866 before congress officially recognize the story of its founding.They granted recognition to Waterloo, N.Y., which first decorated graves on May 5, 1866. But there was a story behind that story as well. A Northern abolitionist who traveled to Charleston, S.C., to organize schools for freed elves, led a group of black children to a cemetery for Union soldiers to scatter flowers on their graves a year earlier on May 1, 1865.

If you consider the dates the the circumstances, you can understand why our nation has had mixed feelings about the holiday. The pain and division of the Civil War was so deep and continues so much today that there are bound to be different versions of the stories we tell and different claims to the origins of the holiday.

This has been made even more difficult by organized efforts of revisionist history. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, a cult grew up over an alternative version of the events of the war. Members of the cult of the lost cause claimed that the losing side in the civil war was a group of noble people who sacrificed and died for the cause of state’s rights and stood up against an oppressive federal government. They erected statues to the leaders of the Confederacy all over the country and tried to elevate those who fought agains the United States to the status of honored heroes. They made a point of using Memorial Day as an occasion to spread their version of the Civil War. They were very successful in changing attitudes.

The revisionist view of history forgets that in the bitter war between the states one side prevailed and the other lost - and the losing side was on the wrong side of history. Shortly before the war broke out, the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens made it clear that the Confederate cause was about painting slavery. In his famous “corner-stone speech,” he said that the Confederacy’s “corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery - subordination to the superior race - is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It was not the truth. And history now has rightly judged the falsehood of that claim. The false narrative of history that has taught that the Civil War was not a war over slavery has sought to soften the harsh, cruel and false foundations of those who rose up in treason and fought a war against the United States. And we do no favor to their memories, or to the south by perpetuating a lie. Our nation came very close to standing with the cruel practice of human slavery with all of the violence that the buying and selling of human beings as property entails. We fought and won a bitter war for justice for all people, and not just for some.

Our history demands not only that we remember the past on Memorial Day. We owe it to the 620,000 soldiers who died from combat in the Civil War. We owe it to the memories of the 12.5 million Africans who were shipped against their will to the New World between 1525 and 1866.

You cannot honor the memory of those who died without remembering the cause for which they fought. Yes, our nation was divided. Yes, families lost loved ones on both sides of the war. Yes, the bloodshed was horrific and the losses were deep. But the cause for which the Northern troops fought was the noble cause. Imagine how different our world would be had they not prevailed.

But we should not stop with that truth on Memorial Day. For there is more truth worthy of our memories. After that great war, with hundreds of thousands in their graves and millions left with deep grief, with a monumental struggle exhausting and wearing down the spirit of our land, the man who was, perhaps, the greatest president of our nation rose to deliver his second inaugural speech and led the nation towards a new recovery of national identity, purpose, and meaning: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds . . . to do all which may achieve and charts a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Abraham Lincoln left this nation with a truth based on Biblical proportions: justice and peace go hand in hand. The only possible way to peace for our broken nation was the path of justice. Had we not embraced the dignity, worth and equality of all of our citizens, we could not have been a nation at peace. In the Civil War there was only one outcome that would bring peace: the defeat of the notion that slavery was morally acceptable.

So today we pause and we remember and we grieve the loser of those in that generation and in much more recent generations who have fought and died for peace. May God grant peace to this world and may we continue to understand that the cause of justice is worthy of sacrifice and honor.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!