Still fighting the Civil War

By Stephen Harris

May 5, 2014

Yes, they are STILL fighting the Civil War.

News of the latest skirmish comes from north of the border. A group of law-school students at Washington and Lee University in Virginia want to remove the Lee.

As in Robert E. Lee, commander-in-chief of the Confederate Army during the war. The school added Lee’s name to Washington’s, as in George, after Lee served as college president following the Civil War.

Lee’s roots run deep up there. He settled there after the war, and he and his family are buried in the school chapel. That’s because the Union Army confiscated Lee’s home during the war and turned it into Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

But in their letter to the university’s trustees, seven students — a mixture of white and black — called the second half of the school’s namesake “racist” and objected to Lee’s “dishonorable conduct,” according to the Associated Press.

In response, the president of the Lexington, Va., private school off I-81 promised “a thorough, candid examination,” according to the AP.

If you set out to try and stir things up around here, the Civil War would be a good topic to try. One year short of 150 years following the end of the war, emotions here remain raw among some.

As you might expect, the latest news stirred things up in Virginia, with an expected defense of Lee, who remains beloved by partisans.

The news out of Virginia stands in contrast to the news that came out of Africa just a few weeks ago and was reported here.

I had asked my cousin’s girl, a college student, to write a “Hometown” column about her experience last summer in Rwanda, where a terrible genocide slaughtered an estimated 800,000 souls (many more than during the Civil War).

People there suddenly pounced on others, with soldiers and civilians alike murdering with axes, machetes and such. Neighbor murdered neighbor, friend killed friend, husbands executed wives. Just horrible. Long-simmering tribal animosities were blamed.

My cousin once removed, Emma Pardue, was eager to tell the story to the hometown folks. I didn’t know what to expect.

She picked the 20th anniversary of the African holocaust for her first-ever newspaper column that appeared here April 7. If you missed Emma’s report in “The Tribune,” you can read it on my website: https://www.facebook.com/AllRoadsShouldLeadToStateRoad?ref=hl (Didn’t she do a good job?)

I noted that other writers in bigger publications elsewhere who similarly commemorated the Rwandan genocide anniversary concurred with Emma’s description of an amazing reconciliation among the people there following the killings.

The very best description I saw anywhere of the forgiveness displayed in Rwanda in genocide’s aftermath came from the pen (well, keyboard) of Emma, who told the story of a Rwandan man who had seven members of his extended family murdered in the genocide.

The story of Jean Guy touched the heart, or should have, of everyone who read Emma’s column.

“If I go and kill the man who killed my family,” Guy said, “what have I done? Will other members of their family come to kill me?”

Of course the Rwandan genocide was not the American Civil War and vice versa. Nevertheless, I suspect nerves remain raw in Rwanda as they do here in the South.

But we could learn a lesson from the Rwandans.

It’s right and proper to discuss, debate and examine the tragedy of the Civil War. Feelings on both sides up in Virginia are honest. Signs point to a likely, successful conclusion to the situation at Washington & Lee.

But at the end of the day forgiveness is required in the aftermath of conflict, any conflict, whether national or personal.

Forgiveness of those who waged war. Forgiveness following the slaughter. Forgiveness of the bitterness. Forgiveness of the injustice of slavery that, thankfully, ended following the conflict.

I never was one to fly or display the Stars and Bars. Some do, and I listen to their motivations and try to be conscientious in my judgment.

And I try to forgive. Because without forgiveness, healing cannot commence. May our land heal as does the land of Rwanda.

Ask Jean Guy.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.