Not Today, Memorial Day, New York Times

On another day, it would be controversial for a fairly lengthy list of reasons. This isn’t to say the point is without merit. It is. But like most points, it’s not that simple and, as has become the way of the New York Times, the argument is made dishonestly.

The white supremacist who murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., five years ago dispensed with the fiction that the Confederate battle flag was an innocuous symbol of “Southern pride.” A murderer’s manifesto describing the killings as the start of a race war — combined with photos of the killer brandishing a pistol and a rebel flag — made it impossible to ignore the connection between Confederate ideology and a blood-drenched tradition of racial terrorism that dates back to the mid-19th century in the American South.

That one crazy racist, Dylann Roof, thought so does not dictate meaning for everyone any more than Roof using a gay pride flag would dictate its significance. The confederate battle flag may well deserve to be excised from our culture, but not because of Dylann Roof. Yet, this was the lede paragraph of the Times’ editorial, arguing that it made it “impossible to ignore.”

I’m no southerner. I have no confederate battle flag hanging in the garage or displayed on the rear window of my pickup, nor would it ever occur to me to do so even if I had a pickup. It’s of no meaning to me, and its eradication, per se, wouldn’t make any difference in my world. I am fully prepared to accept the premise that it’s a brutal reminder of slavery. I am also fully prepared to accept the premise that to others who are southerners, that it’s also a historical artifact of their heritage. Those with a horse in the race can argue over it.

But when statues of confederates were torn down, the argument was made that it would end there, and was not the first step on a slippery slope. It didn’t turn out that way. This isn’t an argument as to why the slippery slope was the right way to go, which might well be the case, but that the eradication of the remnants of the confederacy should be acceptable to all without dispute because it would not be used to eliminate a huge swathe of American history. It was a lie. It was just the first step, and they lied to make it happen, and once it happened, it led inexorably to the next step.

It’s also reminiscent of the logical fallacy used whenever a cop wrongfully kills someone. Whip out his rap sheet to taint the dead guy. Whatever he might have done years before is logically irrelevant to why he’s dead now, but that doesn’t matter. More to the point, by revealing that the dead guy was no angel, his life, and death, is no longer as valuable to society so that we don’t feel that his wrongful death is such a significant loss. We valorize heroes. We demonize villains. If we vilify the dead guy, then we just can’t get nearly as worked up about a wrongful, needless murder.

The New York Times’ lede did the same thing as every murdering cop. Start out with demonizing the confederacy by Dylann Roof’s connection, and taint it before getting to the buried point.

The federal government embraced pillars of the white supremacist movement when it named military bases in the South. Consider, for example, Fort Benning, Ga., which honors a Confederate general, Henry Lewis Benning, who devoted himself to the premise that African-Americans were not really human and could never be trusted with full citizenship.

The name, Fort Benning, was made official in 1922. I wasn’t there so I can’t say why they chose the name of a confederate general. It certainly seems like a terrible choice, and it may very well reflect some racist purpose, or at least a lack of racist concern. But the New York Times editorial board, attuned as it is with the sensibilities of military vets and recognizing that not everyone is devoted to critical theory, offers an alt justification.

The first problem with this argument is that, as individuals, these men were traitors. These rebel officers, who were willing to destroy the United States to keep black people in chains, are synonymous with the racist ideology that drove them to treason.

Of course, they were traitors, rebel officers, back in 1922 as well, when we were much closer to the Civil War such that many were still alive who lost family at the hands of the rebels. And the Yankees in the War of Northern Aggression. Why they didn’t realize this at the time would be a mystery, except the New York Times has an answer.

The second difficulty is that the base names were agreed upon as part of broader accommodation in which the military embraced stringent segregation so as not to offend Southerners by treating African-Americans as equals. The names represent not only oppression before and during the Civil War, but also state-sponsored bigotry after it.

If true, this is awful. And even though there is no proof, it could be true. Or it could be an accommodation to the post-Civil War conciliation of brother fighting brother, which is no longer an acceptable belief, even though people believed it.

But there is one point that goes entirely unmentioned in this lengthy attack on the United States military for its racist history, its retention of names of Confederate generals for its bases, its history of segregation and oppression of black people. The New York Times chose today, Memorial Day, to make its stand.

Military installations that celebrate white supremacist traitors have loomed steadily larger in the civic landscape since the country began closing smaller bases and consolidating its forces on larger ones. Bases named for men who sought to destroy the Union in the name of racial injustice are an insult to the ideals servicemen and women are sworn to uphold — and an embarrassing artifact of the time when the military itself embraced anti-American values. It is long past time for those bases to be renamed.

They could have said this six months ago, a week ago, a week from today. The New York Times chose to publish this on Memorial Day, the day set to honor those who died in battle for their country.

24 thoughts on “Not Today, Memorial Day, New York Times

  1. Zoe Milligan

    Since the NYT wants to keep fighting the Civil War, I wanted to give a few facts about how the Confederate soldiers were treated. Yes, they were traitors, but when the War ended Pres. Lincoln saw their surrender as a “route to peace”. From History Today: “…encouraging his generals to offer generous terms”, Lincoln said, “let them surrender and go home.”
    1. they would be immediately paroled
    2. allowed to return home.
    3. given rations and transportation if needed.
    4. they would not go to prison
    5. they would not be prosecuted for treason.
    These terms are not the only generous terms, amnesty and a welcome back into the Union was the goal.
    The mendacity and stupidity of the NYT is just unbelievable! 155 years after the end of the Civil War and they are not done with it yet! Disgusting!

    quotes are from, “Surrender in the American Civil War”

  2. Edward

    A lot of Army posts are named for Confederate generals. During the Spanish American War, it was a surprise that the South answered the national call to arms. Heck, you even had ex-Confederate generals commanding troops. Out of respect, many posts were named after old foes.

    1. PseudonymousKid

      Joseph Wheeler, a traitor Confederate General and a loyal U.S. General, served in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and the Philippine-American War. He even commanded Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. It’s almost as though history is more nuanced than the NYT would have us believe. Should we condemn Wheeler too?

      1. paleo

        Robert E Lee served in the Corps of Engineers for 30 years prior to the start of the Civil War. With distinction. He was a major contributor to the US victory in the Mexican American War.

        I don’t think it’s right to call these guys traitors. They weren’t looking to overthrow the US government or change the leadership. They just wanted out. Their reason for wanting out was appalling, but that’s all they wanted. And note that at the time is was still an open question as to whether a state that had voluntarily joined the Union was free to leave.

        I mean, if these guys were traitors then someone needs to get busy and arrest the Calexit folks for treason…….

        1. PseudonymousKid

          Traitors or not, there are still examples of men who served one cause, the Confederacy, who also went on to serve the nation “with distinction” whatever that means. The past isn’t as black and white as the NYT would have you believe. That’s the point which is within the topic, I hope. Whether confederates are outright traitors or not isn’t.

          Really I just liked the contrast between loyal and traitor aesthetically. He served the Confederacy loyally as well, after all. It’s interesting and nuanced, right?

          1. Paleo

            It is definitely nuanced. Lee didn’t even really make the decision to go confederate – he said he’d go the way his state went and (I think) advocated that Virginia not secede.

            But the Times in their superiority can make complicated things simple because of the righteousness of there opinions. As Mr Greenfield points out one guy with psych issues shoots up a church and the confederate flag becomes a call to a race war, despite the fact that the millions of people that have that flag have declined to participate. That’s how the poor innocent ok sign becomes a symbol of white power. If the people you constantly rail against won’t constantly show themselves but you’re certain that they are there, then you have to draw inferences.

  3. Rxc

    It got your attention, didn’t it? Maybe they are just preparing the ground for their next offensive in the eternal war against injustice. Just saying…

  4. L. Phillips

    Whenever an election turned out badly in his opinion my father would shrug his shoulders and mutter, “I guess idiots are entitled to representation, too.” Apparently they are also entitled to their own newspaper.

    Hopefully there is at least one person on the NYT payroll who spent part of yesterday reviewing bittersweet memories of those she/he served with who remain ever young.

  5. Hunting Guy

    Screw the Times. There are many of us that remember what this day is for.

    Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie

    Original Scottish Version

    “Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

    When they come a wull staun ma groon
    Staun ma groon al nae be afraid

    Thoughts awe hame tak awa ma fear
    Sweat an bluid hide ma veil awe tears

    Ains a year say a prayer faur me
    Close yir een an remember me

    Nair mair shall a see the sun
    For a fell tae a Germans gun

    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

    English Translation
    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone
    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone

    When they come I will stand my ground
    Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid

    Thoughts of home take away my fear
    Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears

    Once a year say a prayer for me
    Close your eyes and remember me

    Never more shall I see the sun
    For I fell to a Germans gun

    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone
    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone

    Where before many more have gone”

      1. Hunting Guy

        Day is done,
        gone the sun,
        from the lakes
        from the hills
        from the sky,
        all is well,
        safely, rest,
        God is near.

        Fading light,
        Dims the sight,
        And a star gems the sky
        Gleaming bright,
        From afar,
        Drawing, near,
        Falls the night.

        Thanks and praise,
        For our days,
        Neath the sun
        Neath the stars
        Neath the sky,
        As we go,
        This, we, know,
        God is near.

  6. LTMG

    Makes my wonder what the “patriots” at the NYT have in store for readers for Veterans Day?

  7. Jack Holden

    The article does a poor job of making its point. While Dylan Roof’s attack marked a turning point in how the Confederate flag is viewed, it was the generations of use by white supremacists that actually mattered. And while it’s worth knowing how unimpressive the Confederate officers were, I’d really like to know how the bases came to bear their names. Ultimately I think this would be a waste of effort, because place names get rapidly divorced from their origins in a way that monuments don’t. This country and continent are named after an Italian explorer people barely remember.

    By the way, the piece was published on May 23rd, so strictly speaking not today.

    1. SHG Post author

      And what of the generations of use by the vast majority of southerners that had nothing to do with white supremacists?

  8. B. McLeod

    Insufferably sanctimonious asswipes like the idiots at the NYT are giving a lot of old folks the incentive to weather the pandemic, so we can be present for their ultimate financial collapse.

  9. Kathleen Casey

    That poor dog. Anyway she would fit in with the Times editorial board. Another phony. Whacky too.

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