During the last several days two commentaries struck me as offering an interesting juxtaposition of perspectives on the American Civil War. In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen called upon readers to reconsider celebrating Robert E. Lee. After all, look at what Lee fought to preserve … slavery. How can we admire that? How can we admire him?
Meanwhile, over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates offered two commentaries (here followed by here, followed by more commentary here) on why he dissented from viewing the Civil War as regrettable. After all, the war destroyed slavery, and that’s a good thing, right? Certainly one can’t see the destruction of slavery as a bad thing, especially as slavery was a Bad Thing.
I’m sure many of you have seen the following commercial, celebrating the leadership of the United States Army:
Note who’s not there.
If memory is as much about forgetting as it is about remembering, it is also as much about excluding as it is about including. So where’s Ulysses S. Grant? Where’s William T. Sherman? Where’s Joshua L. Chamberlain?
Okay, when it comes to Chamberlain, I jest … although one could argue that as a citizen soldier, he stands there with Theodore Roosevelt.
Look, I can accept that perhaps a picture of Winfield Scott would not cut it given the message, and viewers would not even know who Zachary Taylor or John J. Pershing might be. But it was under Ulysses S. Grant that the United States Army first raised Regular Army units that recruited black soldiers on a deliberate basis, and I would place Grant above MacArthur when it comes to embodying how we believe the military should function in American society.
Oh, I’m pretty sure I know why the US Army is tiptoeing around its Civil War heritage. However, let’s remember this: Ulysses S. Grant was general in chief of the armies of the United States, and the nation’s first four-star general (at a time when people have retroactively awarded additional rank, it would seem that Grant might be awarded another star). Why doesn’t the US Army want to cite him as a leader of whom it could be proud?