Richard W. Hoover: Harmony of reconciliation is being challenged

Richard W. Hoover

I know what it’s like to be engulfed heart and soul in the American Civil War.

It all began, age 6, with my first sword. And even when my life was tragically turned upside down by years of school and work, I persevered with independent reading and travel. Eyes closed, I could imagine countless scenarios from the hanging of John Brown to Lincoln’s assassination. I paid regular homage to Civil War monuments, whether in Richmond or in Cleveland where I grew up. A moment of 1955 glory: sitting around the TV with parents and neighbors watching the “$64,000 Question,”  we watched an acclaimed Civil War expert go down in flames when asked to name five (of the six) Confederate generals killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. “Cleburne, Gist, Strahl, Adams and Carter,” I blurted out to the stunned amazement of my elders.

Suddenly, however, we’re told that the southern monuments and heroes I venerated (together with their northern counterparts) are “offensive”and “racist.” My fellow alumni even fear that the name of “Lee” will be expunged from that of our old school in Lexington, just as it was from the nearby Episcopal church, just as he was from the windows at the Washington National Cathedral.

In other words, the glorious harmony of North and South reconciliation created by the veterans of both sides, a reconciliation that has seen America through so much prosperity and testing, is seriously challenged.

And here I believe I speak for millions, North and South, who share my historical passions and are not happy to find them politicized and disrespected. We see that the politicization of historical events and players (meaning that their story is told in terms of modern values and politics) is not only academically slovenly but speaks volumes about the ignorance of those who reduce the telling of history to race. Driven by ambition for partisan gain, skin color is all they seem to know.

In fact, our Civil War passions have nothing to do, as alleged, with racial hatred, white supremacy or treason against the U.S. government (which I have served faithfully). Rather, such charges are deliberate impositions cooked up in order to promote yet more national division. Can we now add “regional” and “patriotic” to the list of racial, class and gender divisions that the left has worked so hard to create? Division and its tactical companion, disrespect, are political industries that have recently focused not only on monuments to southern veterans but, as we have seen in the recent NFL take-a-knee controversy, upon the National Anthem and America!

However, there may be a very human way of “binding the wounds,” of dealing with division and misunderstanding. Recently I emailed a not terribly brilliant message to members of the Richmond City Council: please vote “No” to tearing down the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. Instead, Councilman Hilbert, who is certainly no fan of Confederate monuments and commemoration, responded with something thoughtful: Richmond, he pointed out, was the 2nd largest slave trading market in the U.S. The whole story of Richmond’s role in the Civil War needed to be told. He asked: would those who oppose the removal of these statues support the building of a museum to recognize and honor those people who lived under slavery and were openly sold and bought in our city?

I responded that I saw no conflict between the preservation of Confederate monuments, museums and libraries, and the establishment of monuments, libraries and museums to slavery victims in Richmond. Patriotic Civil War enthusiasts, whether of Union or Confederate “orientation,” I thought, would welcome taking educational and commemorative steps with fellow Americans to ensure that, as Councilman Hilbert put it, the “whole story of Richmond’s role in the Civil War” could be told. If political truth be told, I added, both the preservation of Confederate heritage and the building of a museum to American slaves would probably be best promoted by their mutual success!

Does this not sound like a possible grand bargain? Stay tuned!

Richard Hoover, a retired Foreign Service officer, resides in southern Warren County.