Memorial Day Reads

Today is Memorial Day Holiday where we remember those who died in service to our country during a time of War. Memorial Day began as Decoration Day when families and survivors of Civil War Dead took time to picnic and decorate their family cemeteries with special attention to those who fell in battle. It is thought to have been originated by slaves directly after the Civil War to celebrate emancipation and to remember those who had died fighting for it.

It’s the day when I remember learning that states like Mississippi still refuse to fully honor its intent. That is one of the reasons why I’ve been paying close attention to the goings on today and wondering why it is that the current Potted Plant in the White House is always out of the country instead of laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown solider which tends to be what actual Presidents do instead of searching for reasons for more ways to get the members of our Armed Forces killed in action.

The veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic issued the call to honor those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the recently concluded Civil War, “Let us at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flower of Spring time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor” and pledge to assist their widows and orphans. Since it came from the GAR, a disciplined organization of Union veterans with many local posts, the suggestion for May 30, 1868 was widely observed.

This ancient practice of floral decoration of burial places seemed to take hold spontaneously as the Civil War battlefields and prison camps yielded their massive casualties in many areas of the United States. Communities in Carbondale, Illinois, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Columbus, Mississippi, Columbus, Georgia, Belle Isle in Richmond, Virginia, and Waterloo, New York all make legitimate claims to have begun the tradition a few years before 1868. We don’t attempt to weigh the various claims of origin here, but common in many of the early observances was the role of women in taking the initiative, gathering the flowers, and honoring both the Confederate and Federal war dead in their graveside tributes. Most recent research by Richard Gardiner and Daniel Bellware credibly trace the holiday’s origins to the “Confederate Memorial Day” observed in Columbus, Georgia beginning in April 1866. It is a suitable practice, the New York Telegram remarked in April 1869, “though it did originate in the South during the late war, and is one of the few of the rebel ideas that engrafted itself upon our blunted affections.”

The reporters present at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia that day in May 1868 reminded us that the graves occupied the grounds of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s manor. Several Union generals attended to hear one of their own, future President James A. Garfield, give the featured address. Ulysses Grant was there with his daughter, the newspapers noted, but, in keeping with the avoidance of partisanship, no mention was made that he had been nominated for president some ten days earlier. Unity was stressed, as the New York Tribune stated, “so Protestant and Catholic, Jew and Gentile, joined hand and hand [sic] above the mounds, and laid sweet offerings upon a common altar. All over the land from Maine to Florida, tears and flowers fell on the graves of heroes and martyrs.”

Meanwhile, we get this kind of leadership on Memorial Day Weekend. I’m old enough to remember over 54,000 Americans died during something called the Korean War and that North Korea is still a rogue state under murderous and cruel Dictatorship.

Only KKKremlin Caligula good make me feel some sympathy for Joe Biden. I’m sure it will pass quickly. I also remember a time when we all agreed that Fascists were bad.

But, now we see they walk among us …

“An Indiana Man Who Vandalized A Synagogue With Nazi Symbols Admitted How Far-Right Figures Radicalized Him

Nolan Brewer, 21, said he and his wife were in contact with a white nationalist over Discord, read Breitbart and Nazi propaganda site Stormfront, and became members of Identity Evropa.’

In July 2018, Brewer and his then-17-year-old wife, Kiyomi Brewer, drove 50 miles from their home to the synagogue, spray painted a Nazi flag and iron crosses on a Dumpster enclosure, and lit a fire on the ground. Prosecutors said they originally planned to break into the synagogue and destroy it with homemade bombs and napalm they brought along, but they got scared.

In an interview with FBI agents, Brewer said they wanted to send a message to Jews as a race. He cited bogus statistics, aiming to back up the racist conspiracy theory that Jews have undue political influence.

“I guess it’s just …. back down or something like that,” Brewer told the FBI, describing the message of the vandalism. He also said he wanted to make news headlines, and was proud word of the attack reached Vice President Mike Pence, who condemned it.

Brewer told FBI agents he wanted to “scare the hell out of them,” prosecutors said, and send “a message of like, get out I guess.”

His defense attorneys acknowledged that Brewer had latched onto pseudointellectual arguments for white supremacy. Evidence submitted to the court included racist memes he had shared and selfies in which he wore the iron cross associated with Nazi Germany. His phone wallpaper was an image of a swastika.

“It is clear that he has adopted beliefs based on ‘alt-right’ or white nationalist propaganda,” the defense attorneys said.

The details were first reported by data scientist Emily Gorcenski, who does extensive research on the far-right.

As his attorneys sought a lighter sentence, they outlined how a young man from a small town, who’d recently graduated from community college, and had no history of criminal or behavioral issues became radicalized.

They blamed his teenage wife, who they said had a troubled upbringing and would spend hours chatting on Discord, an app that had become popular among white supremacists. She then shared articles with her husband.

“According to Nolan, she began with rightwing yet mainstream views such as those presented on Fox News. She then moved on to writing by Ben Shapiro and articles on Breitbart News which bridged the gap to the notorious white supremacist and anti-Semititc propaganda site Stormfront.”

It sounds like they should be blaming Fox News and not a gullible young woman. And, btw, where is Steve Bannon today?

I’d like to share this article from The Atlantic about the Memorial Day Speech of 2017 given by then Mayor Mitch Landrieu down here in New Orleans during the year we dismantled Lee Circle and our Lost Cause Confederate statues. It’s called “The Battle for Memorial Day in New Orleans. A century and a half after the Civil War, Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked his city to reexamine its past—and to wrestle with hard truths.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans has revived the genre of Memorial Day orations. In his widely read and re-played speech of May 19, 2017, defending his leadership of the removal of four prominent public monuments, one to Reconstruction era white supremacist violence, and the other three to Confederate leaders, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P. G. T. Beauregard, Landrieu eloquently tried to pull the Confederacy once and for all – at least in New Orleans – down from its pedestals. He beautifully labeled his city “a bubbling cauldron of many cultures,” expressing its ancient roots in many Native American peoples; in at least two European empires; in African, Irish, Italian, French, and many other ethnic lineages; and of course in cuisine, jazz and “second lines.” New Orleans, he said, is a city made by all the nations of the world, but one great “gumbo” made from many.
The speech was as deeply patriotic as it was also deeply political—“e pluribus unum” carries a weight right now in Trump’s America that makes most politicians shy from such fulsome embraces of pluralism and brutally honest historical consciousness. Indeed, any historical consciousness, save for toxic forms of nostalgia, is out of style among Trump’s supporters as well as his cowed, silent enablers in the Republican Party.
Delivered a week and a half before Memorial Day, but during the stunning dismantling of the huge Lee monument in the heart of the city, Landrieu’s speech should be read against the grain of the 152 years of Decoration Day rhetoric. Wittingly or not, the mayor gave the whole country a serious lesson in how Americans should contemplate their war dead, indeed their broader past, in this divided and quarrelsome nation.
He suggested they learn some good history first, face its most troubling parts however painful, and separate “remembrance of history and reverence for it.” It is an extraordinary act for a Southern white politician to ask his fellow citizens to seriously separate heritage from history, to look down the dark tunnel of slavery and New Orleans’s infamous “slave markets,” and the “misery, rape, and torture” that followed for so many unnamed individual Africans, Creoles, and African Americans sold as property into the Mississippi River valley. Landrieu argued that ignorance or denial of this past for so long had been collective “historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.” He called New Orleanians, and thereby all Americans, to an alternative kind of remembrance for this Memorial Day. He asked his auditors to learn a more complex past and to grow some historical and moral backbone as they think about memorialization.

Today, our city has a woman of color–LaToya Cantrell–as its mayor.

I turn to the words of Frederick Douglass who reminded folks then of what is actually being remembered on Memorial Day. He spoke as the roots of that Lost Cause were being firmly planted. These roots are the ones that we try to dig up today and the ones that should remind us today of what our values should represent in the Age of Trumpism.
But in 1894, when Douglass spoke at Rochester, New York’s Decoration Day ceremonies, the Jim Crow era had taken root. 1 It had been over twenty years since racist conservative legislatures had been re-established all across the South – complete with former Confederates taking back their former seats of power. It had been over a decade since the Supreme Court had overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875, deeming it unconstitutional.
Mississippi, in 1890, had rewritten its own constitution, legally disfranchising black voters, and many other states were about to follow suit. By 1894, lynchings of black Americans were skyrocketing – there would be 134 the year Douglass spoke in Rochester. 2
The Lost Cause had been firmly implanted in the South for a full generation. Its mythos was now seeping northward, infecting and changing the memory of the war and its causes. This naturally led to a false reconciliation, with Blue & Gray gatherings happening more frequently. The focus shifted from the reasons the Civil War was fought to simply leaving the past in the past. The shared experience between soldiers of both sides was the bonding agent, and while this is understandable, the black soldiers were largely left out. 3
He saw, of course, the importance of holidays such as Decoration Days, and wished for it to not become a “heartless unthinking custom.” This was why he thought it of utmost importance to remember not only the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, but also the causes for which they fought. After all, he warned, “What has happened once may happen again.”
Douglass allowed that this Decoration Day “shall share the fate of other great days,” and be slowly forgotten, replaced by “some other day more nearly allied with the wants and events” of some uncertain future. However, he was certain that the sentiments that brought them together annually “will live, flourish and bear similar fruit, forever.”
He noted the two opposing views on how the war should be remembered. The first, he said, was to treat the Southern people as if they were “always loyal and true to the government.” They had, in the estimation of many honorable men, “repented their folly, and have accepted in good faith the results of the war, and that now we should forget and forgive the past, and turn our attention entirely to the future.”

I think today it’s important we that we look at the states that are blocking the votes of People of Color and limiting the rights of women as well as finding obscene ways to cage the children of asylum seekers and deport people whose only crime is to come to a country with extremely broken immigration laws to become part of its economy and future.

Did we fight these wars against slavery and fascism sacrificing the lives of so many to go turn the clock back to oppression?

Today is the day we honor the people that fought to make us a more perfect union. Our fallen include folks of all faiths, colors, birthplaces, and gender identifications. I want a country that truly honors their supreme sacrifice by recognizing that civil and constitutional rights are everyone’s heritage. I want us to stay on the path to the more Perfect Union by respecting our rule of law and its inclusiveness.

Let us truly remember the reason for this day.

“I am not indifferent to the claims of a generous forgetfulness, but whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.”

Douglass’ entire speech can be read here.


Memorial Day Reads

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Good Morning!!

A few days ago, I read an article about the “true meaning of Memorial Day.” I can’t find it now, but it was in the Chicago Tribune. The author wrote that Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day,” when Southern women decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers. I Googled some more and found other writers making the same claim. Here’s a piece by a Civil War historian from Purdue University Caroline Janney:

Many may not know the holiday weekend that marks the start of summer by paying respects to veterans and remembering loved ones began when white Southern women took a leadership role in honoring their Civil War veterans, says a Purdue University historian.

“After the Civil War, southern men would have appeared treasonous if they had organized memorials to honor their fallen, so women – perceived as apolitical – instead organized tributes and events that set the tone for how the country celebrates Memorial Day today,” says Caroline E. Janney, professor of historyand president-elect of the Society of Civil War Historians. “In 1866, the men were figuratively hiding behind the skirts of these women who worked together as part of Ladies’ Memorial Associations.”

The women organized dozens of memorials during the spring of 1866 and the following years, Janney says. Historically these memorials were scheduled throughout the spring as a sign of renewal and rebirth, and each community chose its own date to celebrate.

The date usually reflected a key date in the Civil War, such as the May 10 death of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, or a battle close to the association’s individual area. Memorial Day became more unified when larger associations, such as the United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy, began organizing memorials in the 1890s. And memorial days also were observed in the North, but they were organized by Union veterans beginning in 1868, two years after the ex-Confederate women had established the practice.

I was surprised, because I had read years ago that the practice was begun by former slaves who wanted to honor Union soldiers. I found the above photo on Facebook–with the suggestion that it was taken on that first Decoration Day May 1, 1865; but I can’t be absolutely certain that’s accurate. Note that that dates is a year earlier than the one Janney writes about. It turns out that a number of places and people claim to have started the practice of decorating Union and Confederate Graves. Southerners designated “Confederate Memorial Days.” Kingston, Georgia claims to have held the first one.

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Yale historian David Blight wrote about the disputed origins of Memorial Day in the New York Times in 2011.

Officially, in the North, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, called on communities to conduct grave-decorating ceremonies. On May 30, funereal events attracted thousands of people at hundreds of cemeteries in countless towns, cities and mere crossroads. By the 1870s, one could not live in an American town, North or South, and be unaware of the spring ritual.

But the practice of decorating graves — which gave rise to an alternative name, Decoration Day — didn’t start with the 1868 events, nor was it an exclusively Northern practice. In 1866 the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Ga., chose April 26, the anniversary of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s final surrender to Gen. William T. Sherman, to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers. Later, both May 10, the anniversary of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s death, and June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, were designated Confederate Memorial Day in different states.

Soon the yearly practice became partisan:

In the South, Memorial Day was a means of confronting the Confederacy’s defeat but without repudiating its cause. Some Southern orators stressed Christian notions of noble sacrifice. Others, however, used the ritual for Confederate vindication and renewed assertions of white supremacy. Blacks had a place in this Confederate narrative, but only as time-warped loyal slaves who were supposed to remain frozen in the past.

The Lost Cause tradition thrived in Confederate Memorial Day rhetoric; the Southern dead were honored as the true “patriots,” defenders of their homeland, sovereign rights, a natural racial order and a “cause” that had been overwhelmed by “numbers and resources” but never defeated on battlefields.

Yankee Memorial Day orations often righteously claimed the high ground of blood sacrifice to save the Union and destroy slavery. It was not uncommon for a speaker to honor the fallen of both sides, but still lay the war guilt on the “rebel dead.”

But Blight discovered in a historical archive at Harvard University that the earliest celebration of “Decoration Day” was organized by freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865.

During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.

After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” ….

The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.

After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.

Nearly 150 years later, it’s apparently very difficult for some Americans to credit African Americans with the first Memorial Day (or with much of anything else for that matter). As Ta-Nehisi Coates showed in The Atlantic recently, it’s apparently difficult for Americans to remember much of anything about African American history–before or after the Civil War. Why would anyone feel comfortable mourning the “lost cause” of a society built on the enslavement of other human beings? I can understand mourning the dead Confederate soldiers, but shouldn’t there be recognition that they died for something shameful? We can look around us today and still see the aftereffects of the slavery and the war that ended it. Will we ever get over it? One more quote from Blight’s article:

The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.

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On Memorial Day in 2014, we honor the dead of all wars, but we treat our living war veteran with disrespect. From CNN, ‘Thanks for your service’ not enough, by Sebastian Junger, Jim McDermott and Karl Marlantes.

According to current Veterans Administration estimates, 22 American veterans take their lives every single day.

High rates of unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress are decimating our community of veterans. With the wars of the past 13 years in Iraq and Afghanistan coming to a close, we are seeing too many casualties among American soldiers in this transition to peace.

In light of this crisis, we need a new kind of Memorial Day.

Many veterans are desperate to talk about their experiences with fellow Americans who accept shared responsibility for what is done in war, particularly the killing. Yet these conversations rarely happen today. How can a veteran truly come home unless we acknowledge that our nation’s wars are something we all chose and paid for?

Returning Vietnam veterans were treated shamefully. That, thankfully, is behind America. We’ve moved from outright hostility to awkward, if well-meant, expressions of “thank you for your service” and the creation of a number of new veterans services organizations.

However, there remains an abiding sense of national indifference, or worse, a sense that somehow veterans are victims. This must change.

A great deal needs to change for the United States to be “one nation indivisible.”

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In the News

 

Isla Vista Mass Murder:

The horrible murders in Santa Barbara are still at the top of the Google News page today. A few links:

NBC News: What Do We Know About Elliot Rodger’s Rampage?

Little Green Footballs: Echoes of Montreal – Isla Vista shows us 25 years doesn’t change much.

NY Daily News: Social media strikes back with #YesAllWomen after deadly Isla Vista rampage.

Slate: The Pick-Up Artist Community’s Predictable, Horrible Response to a Mass Murder

CBS Los Angeles: Rodger’s Family Friend says Killer’s Parents Tried to Get Son Mental Help.

Village Voice: Rightbloggers: Santa Barbara Killer Elliot Rodger’s Sexist Rants Have Nothing To Do With Sexism (Or Guns).

Fox News: Sheriffs never saw menacing videos before California rampage.

NY Daily News: Santa Barbara killer’s parents raced to stop him after receiving disturbing emails

 

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Other News:

The Washington Post: White House mistakenly identifies CIA chief in Afghanistan.

The New York Times: Pro-European Businessman Claims Victory in Ukraine Presidential Vote.

Reuters: French far right in ‘earthquake’ win as Europe votes.

Raw Story: It’s all in your head: Scientist now believes his pioneering work on gluten allergy was wrong.

Raw Story: SC pastor accused of turning Bible college into forced labor camp for foreign students.

The Hollywood Reporter: Walt Disney Family Feud: Inside His Grandkids’ Weird, Sad Battle Over a $400 Million Fortune.

Politico: The ‘Wary of Hillary’ Democrats

What else is happening? Please post your links in the comment thread, and enjoy the holiday!