Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Celebrating Secession

The Chrysler Corporation still makes cars, but it's no longer American-owned. This last little fact doesn't get in the way of one of their latest TV commercials. A group of formidable-looking British redcoats are lined up waiting to open fire on a group of American rebels. Their plans are forgotten, however, when the Yanks hit the battlefield behind some brand-new Dodge Challengers, one of them driven by George Washington himself. The Brits are quickly routed, then a voice breaks in, declaring "Some things America got right. Cars - and freedom." It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but I wonder what our first president would think of this use of his persona. Maybe he'd think it was funny.

Charleston, S.C. is one of those places that is so historic than when the phrase "after the war" is used, it's assumed that the war referred to is the Civil War. You could say the same of a few other places: Richmond, Gettysburg, Vicksburg. I've never been to Charleston, but I understand it's quite a beautiful city, war and hurricanes notwithstanding. No doubt it has plenty of friendly people anxious to point out the city's chief attractions.
These days Charleston is hopping with events marking 150 years since the conflict started, beginning with South Carolina's secession from the Union and the siege of Fort Sumpter, just off the S.C. coast. But what's the proper way to observe such an event - one that lead directly to our country's worst prolonged disaster? Do you gather to hear a speech? Play Mozart's Requiem? Hold a shooting contest using vintage rifles?
A group of Charlestonians, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, decided to mark the anniversary with - a ball, complete with vintage costumes. Charleston mayor Joe Riley described the event as "the opposite of unifying."
I think it's right to remember your ancestors, and I think Confederate soldiers, though on the losing side of the war, could be admired for those soldierly virtues we honor three or four times a year now. But holding a ball? That pushes me towards the mayor's side of this controversy. I can't help wondering: Who served the appetizers? Who played the music? Who got the tips at the hat check window? Did they dance the Virginia Reel? My head spins trying to think of all the ways this gathering of slavery opposers (which is supposed to be all of us since the war ended) could have gone very wrong.
The NAACP led a protest against the ball, but they didn't come out looking so great. The partiers simply ignored the protest, then self-righteously claimed that they hadn't bothered anyone and expected, in turn, to be left alone to party, thus neatly managing to equalize their status with the protesters. Too bad no one at the NAACP office had the idea to buy up all the tickets and hire local rappers to tell the Rebel wannabes where they could go. Now that, as they say, would have been epic.


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