I had the privilege of participating in Columbia’s Veterans Day parade this year along with my three young daughters. It was a wonderful experience complete with everything that makes for the quintessential parade: a perfect fall day, dignitaries, marching bands, civic organizations, cool cars, awesome military vehicles and an enthusiastic crowd. It made me proud to be an American, and I was thrilled to have my home-schooled daughters engaged in such a participatory civics lesson.
However, amidst all those perfect components, there was one element that I found to be profoundly out of place. Right behind our float was a group of Confederate re-enactors in gray wool uniforms, carrying Confederate battle flags.
Before you make assumptions about me and stop reading, let me set the record straight. I am a 38 year old white evangelical Christian, and I am conservative politically, economically and socially. I was born and raised right here in South Carolina, and I have ancestors on both sides of my family who fought for the Confederacy.
But Veteran’s Day began life as Armistice Day and was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson to celebrate the end of World War I and honor those who made our victory possible. After World War II and the Korean War, the need was felt to extend this honor to all American veterans, and thus the name was changed.
Who decided that we should include those who fought against America?
The Confederate States of America declared its independence from the United States of America, creating its own borders, military, currency and government. Those who fought for it are not veterans of the United States of America. They are veterans of a conquered adversary.
When will we realize that the Confederacy is not some nostalgic thing that we should romanticize and celebrate but rather a grave mistake that we should all be deeply ashamed of? Will we ever be honest enough to own the fact that slavery was a vile evil and that no one who fought to keep it should be honored? Will we ever be mature enough to even try to place ourselves in the shoes of African-Americans?
Being a patriotic American and being proud of the Confederacy are mutually exclusive.
I felt sorry for those African-Americans in attendance — especially the veterans. Imagine the message we are sending to them: “Thanks for your service! Today we are also honoring those who fought to keep your ancestors in slavery. Hope you are cool with that; if not, get over it!”
Think of it: Confederate soldiers were honored as they marched past the church where S.C. delegates voted to secede from the United States. They were marching through a section of town that Union soldiers thought it necessary to burn to save the country. They were just around the corner from the boyhood home of the president who started Veterans Day. You can’t make this stuff up.
If the Confederacy had won, there might never have been a Veterans Day to celebrate. The odds of the North or the South having the strength to win the World Wars as an independent nation would have been extremely slim.
Will we ever see the non sequitur of having the stars and stripes in the same parade with the stars and bars? Being a patriotic American and being proud of the Confederacy are mutually exclusive.
Rev. Martin is a United Methodist pastor serving in Lexington; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.