In an op-ed entitled "Misplaced Honor" in The New York Times of May 26th, Jamie Malanowski describes as "egregious" the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals:
"Today there are at least ten of them. Yes - the United States Army maintains bases named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers..."
These are memorials to the great and not-so-great Confederate generals: Fort Lee (understandable) but also Fort Bragg. I do not object to such a practice, as it is a recognition that both sides suffered during the war --just as Memorial Day honors the dead of both Union and Confederate soldiers. (Though at the beginning, Memorial Day was solely a Northern commemoration.)
This joint mourning has been central in achieving a reconciliation between North and South that has been truly remarkable - to the extent that talk of re-secession is never taken seriously. Indeed the South has become the most "patriotic" and military-oriented section of the country - partly due to its long and pre-bellum tradition of military honor.
But while we can hardly object to the South's honoring of its Pantheon of Civil War generals and of the thousands who died in the service of the Confederacy, we should not lose sight of the underlying imperatives of the Civil War: the preservation of the Union, and the abolition of slavery.
In a festschrift in honor of the late Professor Ernest May, I wrote an article about his first book, the entry of the United States entry into World War I, and the deep memory of the Civil War that had extended to that time. I wrote: "The South's war, brilliantly fought, was not only a lost cause, it was a bad cause."
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