Bob McDonnell might have made H. G. Wells a very happy man in some respects. In Wells’s book The Time Machine, the protagonist uses a secret device to zoom back and forth over millions of years. McDonnell hasn’t taken on anything that vast and doesn’t need a secret device – he’s just using his new-found gubernatorial power to move Virginia back to the 1850’s. He recently declared April to be “Confederate History Month“, complete with an official proclamation.
This latest achievement has been one in a string of busy time-travelling for Governor Bob. Shortly after taking office he was tapped by Republicans to deliver the party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. He then set his sights on gay rights, first removing protections against discriminatory practices (transporting Virginia back to the 1950’s) then suddenly re-instating them (whoosh – back to the present). Who knew there were ideological u-turns in time travel? And it’s the ideology in Governor Bob’s proclamation that warrants scrutiny (analysis mine)
Confederate History Month
“WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and
(The “war for independence” was a war fought for secession by the self-declared CSA, and the word “concluded” means lost the war and signed the papers of surrender in the Appomattox Courthouse)
WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and
(Yes, a time very different than today, where slavery was the chief profit making method used to support the seceding states’ economies and quest for secession)
WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present; and
(That, Governor Bob, is called “history” or “American History” and has been a staple of your state’s core curriculum for many, many years; no one has ever suggested you shouldn’t learn from the confederate’s mistakes)
WHEREAS, Confederate historical sites such as the White House of the Confederacy are open for people to visit in Richmond today, and
(And would have been open without your proclamation, and your collection of fees from said visitation would still be collected by you and your state government)
WHEREAS, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”; and
(Ultimately overwhelmed means outfought, and General Robert E. Lee would be offended with your interpretation of losing the war and your penchant for distorting entirely his wise and gracious desire for the obliteration of war’s hateful residue)
WHEREAS, this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;
(Governor Bob, this hardly sounds like you’re rolling out the red carpet of tourism which will benefit Virginia in the pocketbook)
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.”
One of the most important tasks of this generation is the restoration and preservation of the Civil War battlefields, lore, and the lessons we learned from it. The American Civil War was one of the most important struggles humankind has ever faced. One cannot visit Gettysburg or Antietam or Bull Run without understanding the clash of ideas and ideals that led to such a tremendous loss of life. Within the examination of those ideas we need to face our mistakes (and the mistakes of our ancestors) and forge new bonds or equality and respect.
I wholly support the respectful and reverent treatment of the legacy of the American Civil War; what I do not support is Governor Bob’s glorification of the secessionist aspect of the Confederacy. Slavery was wrong from its very beginning. The use of slavery to meet economic goals and exercise “state’s rights” was wrong in 1860 and glorifying those same reasons to undermine progress and social growth is wrong in 2010.
H. G. Wells also said “history is a race between education and catastrophe”. Governor Bob wants to focus on recreating a castastrophe by rewriting history with just enough ambiguity to revive the spirit of hate, opposition, and defiance that led to the greatest loss of life on American soil. His proclamation comes wrapped in the Confederate flag and the contemporary meaning of that is not lost upon diverse groups of people or this tourist. I, for one, will find other states in which to spend my tourism dollars unless Governor Bob manages to time-travel the great state of Virginia back to this millennium.