I’m sitting in my room with my headphones on. The low murmur of CNN is still detectable. There was another shooting today. My husband needs to know. I already want to forget.
I watched with him during some of the calmer moments–SWAT teams walking around a residential neighborhood, that sort of thing. The anchor and her guests were stating the obvious things about American police tactics that they always talk about during times of action, but no information. Then they talked of Paris and radicals, terrorism and bombs. They prefaced everything with acknowledgements of their ignorance, but that did not stop their mouths.
As they spoke, the never-ending scroll of information caught my eye: United States decides to start bombing after some debate; Britain to start bombing soon; Germany gearing up to start bombing; France asking for more bombs…
I am not a pacifist though I imagine I could become one before my life ends. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?
I think of America’s Civil War and World War II and decide those were wars that needed to be fought, but I say that with the distinct advantage of hindsight. Would I have thought the same thing if I had been around at the time? Would I call them justified if they had ended differently?
How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?
We do this thing where we spend millions and billions on war, then we leave. Maybe the fighting is done, maybe it isn’t, but we leave. We leave these people that we have terrorized with ruined homes and ruined lives and expect them to fix what we have broken. We may send a tiny fraction of the money we spent destroying them to rebuild, but never enough. We leave the ones we claim to have “saved” in squalor, usually worse than where they began, and are surprised when they grow to hate us.
We contribute to the cycle of violence with every act of violence we commit, regardless of our intentions. So, how do we stop? Can we stop? Evolution is a game of getting to the top and it was a bloody rise for humans. Societal evolution has been just as bloody, but even worse, for we have been violent whilst having a conscious.
My children’s first acts of violence came long before they could speak. I regularly played games in which I and my friends imagined ourselves in situations of heinous hardship. Our entertainment is not just laced with violence–violence is often the point. Our games are purposely ‘us versus them’. Do these casual examples of violence serve as outlets or provocations of our worst traits?
Fear is such a basic instinct. It is easy to lash out in pain, easier than to spread happiness. The dichotomy of good versus evil is uncomplicated compared to the complex reasons why people deliberately cause harm. Are we doomed to rinse and repeat the bloodshed until we are no more?
Imperialism is not our answer, but neither is willful ignorance and inaction. This is not a day on which I feel optimistic about the human race.
I am from Texas, but I can’t recall ever having called myself a Texan.
I am from the United States of America, but I rarely identify as American.
One of the high-schools I attended was named after Robert E. Lee. While it was our mascot, I’ve never claimed to be a Rebel.
I was raised without patriotism and never wanted to embrace it. My lineage and birthplace are accidents of my birth. Still, the accidental nature of the life I was born into does not exempt me from examining history.
In junior high, I had a history teacher that taught me that history was really “HIS Story”. HIS being God. There was no need to explain which one. My teacher was clearly referring to the big white spirit guy in the sky. He also said that the Civil War wasn’t actually about slavery. Then we all watched Denzel Washington get whipped in Glory.
It was a weird class. I sat in the back, next to the first friend I made at that school. In fact, it was one of my favorite classes. The middle-aged, obviously Republican, leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, church-going, married with two kids, cis white man that taught it humored me.
Recently freed from religion, but also removed from all my friends, I was just beginning to form my own opinions about the world. I wasn’t an atheist; I called myself spiritual. I hadn’t thought at all about social justice, racism, or feminism. Yet, here was a man of authority with whom I naturally disagreed. I was fundamentally averse to all of the things he used his classroom as a pulpit to teach as fact. I wasn’t eloquent, but I called him out. I disrupted his class and he let me. We actually got along all right.
That was the last classroom in which I learned much of anything about the Civil War. World War I & II were duly covered, but the textbooks’ sections on the Civil War always seemed brief. If it hadn’t been for the fact that one of my high-school history teachers was actually a Vietnam veteran, I would have been taught from a textbook that thought that the near 20 year conflict deserved no more than three paragraphs.
Looking back, I realize that my formative thoughts about our planet and its history were entirely filtered through old white people, all but one of them men. How different those classes would have been under people of color, I can only imagine.
The absurdity of the fact that many of our streets and buildings were named after Confederate figures didn’t escape me as a teenager, but it didn’t make much of an impression either. As an adult, that’s changed.
While I attended Lee High, I dated a guy not-so-distantly related to Robert E. Lee. I have family members that have bought versions of the Confederate flag to wear and display. I have a diploma from an institution that took its name from a man that led the army that took up arms against its own nation.
I’ve heard it argued that these monikers are simply patriotic nods of the head celebrating American heroes. But how can that be? I may not be a patriot, but as I understand it, a patriot does not seek to disband their country. A patriot does not attack their brethren. A patriot does not enslave their fellow citizens. If not, what exactly is the point? Lee did not fight for the United States. He fought for the Confederate States. Thankfully, he was defeated.
He is not an American hero. It is neither heroic nor patriotic to revere his name or the symbol of the resistance he led. When his name, and the names of those that fought under him, are venerated as “heritage”, we are forgetting the nightmare of history — brother against brother, humans in chains, and a new country torn apart soon after its birth.
America is a country born of high ideals, ideals it has yet to live up to. We do not mindlessly look past swastikas. We do not name buildings after Gavrilo Princip. We do not build monuments to the leaders of the Apartheid. The signs of Jim Crow are locked in museums. Roads named after Martin Luther King Jr. should not share crosswalks with roads named after General Lee.
Yet, a 2011 poll showed that 10% of Americans have positive associations with the Confederate flag and 58% feel neither positively or negatively. 48% of Americans still regurgitate the line that the Civil War was about states’ rights.
It’s been 154 years. The last Civil War veteran died in 1956, less than 60 years ago. On the line of time, the Civil War has just happened. The ink of its history is only just now drying. Have we already forgotten? Has it already faded from reality to hazy nightmare, its effects still felt, but its meaning lost?
I am not a patriot. I am a humanist. No matter how we identify, it’s time to wake up and learn the lessons of our long night’s sleep.