Jan 19, 2011

The Invisible Holiday

Earlier this week our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr Day. We remember the sacrifices made so that our nation could become more fully what it was intended to be, a place where all men are equal, and are not ruled by others but are the determiners of their own future.

Unpopular though the remembrance may be, today as a state we also celebrate Confederate Heroes Day. We remember the sacrifices made so that our nation could become more fully what it was intended to be, a place where all men are equal, and are not ruled by others but are the determiners of their own future.

There are some who find the thought of this war distasteful. The thread of slavery is undeniably wound throughout the cloth. The fact that our state was involved in what proved to be a lost cause stings. Almost 150 years have passed since the war, six generations or more have come and gone. Embarrassment and the threat of being called racist or redneck have served well to silence those who find pride in their heritage leaving only those who write the history books to determine how we view our past. I think this is unfortunate. When we deny our heritage it serves to ensure two facts. One, that we will not take pride in and learn from that which is good and noble in our history and two, that we will not sorrowfully learn from that which was ignoble so that it may never be repeated.

To many in the South, the War for American Independence was still fresh in their mind. They recalled the stories told by their grandfathers of the battles and sacrifices made. They knew well the principles upon which the war was fought, to achieve freedom and self determination from a despotic government. Now they felt themselves to be embroiled in the same kind of struggle. They saw the increasingly heavy demands and controls by the federal government as akin to the tyranny that they experienced under England. The pivotal question to be answered was whether according to the Constitution the individual states or the federation of states as a whole were the higher arbiter. This was actually not the first time that states had claimed the right to secede and it would not be the last (if you doubt this, simply google the words "secede" and "states" and you will even find current secession movements).

In this time of questioning many men of Godly character found themselves facing unimaginable decisions. Just as their forefathers had to decide to follow the path of security at the sacrifice of their conscience or to follow what they felt to be right at the risk of their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, a new generation was called upon to make a similar decision. One of the most notable and visible in that generation was Robert Edward Lee. Lee was the son of cavalry officer Light Horse Harry Lee who was decorated by Washington for his service during the War of Independence. Lee was also married to the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. The family history of the Lees was inextricable woven with that of the nation. Lee was honored to be offered the command of the union army against the seceding states. Lee himself did not support secession, indeed felt it to be folly, yet he felt his supreme loyalty lay not with the overarching union of states but with his home state of Virginia. It must have been with an impending sense of doom that he watched support for secession grow, yet he never shirked from what he felt to be his duty, saying “With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword..."

In a time when our society is struggling with many challenges from both within the nation and forces without, what we need are more men who have the moral integrity to stand and do the right thing even at great risk to themselves. This week we honor, in two separate holidays, men who did exactly that, stepped forward to serve in their own ways, forever changing the history of their nation. It would be a grave mistake to paint the sacrifices made with the brush of relativism. Instead I challenge the citizens of our nation to look to the needs of our time and consider the words of Lee when he said “Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.” It is by recognizing honor and duty in those who have gone before us that we will be inspired to serve honorably and dutifully ourselves.

(This post revisited from 2009)

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