“Defeated cultures behave strangely.”

(I set out to blog about a paragraph I liked from The Quantum Spy, a novel by David Ignatius. My thoughts, as usual, took me in some unexpected directions.)

As I write this on Sunday evening, the one-year anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia is being remembered across the United States and marked by demonstrations in Washington, DC. Heather Heyer was killed while peacefully protesting against the white supremacists who were marching and spewing vile racist chants at the base of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville last year.

Our nation’s president said, “Very fine people on both sides.”

No, Mr. Trump. Nazis and white supremacists are not fine people. Fine people are not Nazis and white supremacists.

A quote from a novel

I have come to understand that fiction can be used to shine a light on reality. Ideally, a history book presents documented facts. A work of fiction allows an author to present differing opinions on an issue in a creative way. In a novel, a character can voice an opinion or a truth in a way we usually don’t find in a history book.

The Quantum Spy
The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius

As I thought about the protests in Washington, DC this weekend, I was reminded of a paragraph from The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius, quoted below. It is written in the point-of-view of a character named Chang. A statue of a Confederate soldier moves Chang to a clearer understanding of the American Civil War.

“There was a curious statue in the middle of the intersection…. It portrayed a Confederate soldier, hat in hand, head down, shoulders slouched as he looked south. It was called ‘Appomattox.’ An inscription under the figure said:  ‘They died in the consciousness of duty faithfully performed.’ It was a monument to defeat. Chang had never admired the Confederacy, but in that moment, he empathized. Defeated cultures behave strangely.” ~ from page 265 of The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius.

Letting go of the US Civil War

It seems like Americans will forever fight the Civil War, which officially ended in 1865 with the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to United States Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.

We as a people need to learn from the Civil War and not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to stop using the Civil War as an excuse to hate. The Confederate flags and swastika-emblazoned arm bands belong in museums, not on our streets.

Putting away the symbols of division and hate will not solve the problem, though. Taking down Civil War monuments won’t solve the problem. Only honest conversation and empathy can solve this problem.

I am a Southerner. I was born in The South and have lived here all my life. All four of my great-grandfathers and one of my great-great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Each of them must have felt like they were doing the right thing.

I cannot get into their heads to know or understand their thinking. They were products of their times, and they were prisoners of their times. They did not have the advantage of hindsight.

Defeat is a difficult thing to take and pride is a difficult thing to swallow, but I have to wonder if most of those Confederate veterans even came to believe that it was a good thing the Union won the Civil War.

Distrust and Fear: A national problem

There is a problem within America. A facet of it is racism, but it goes beyond racism. There is distrust between many people of different races, religions, and political views.

For reasons I don’t understand, a lot of people in the United States distrust and fear people who don’t look like them, worship like them, dress like them, vote like them, or talk like them.

Although the United States has been called a “melting pot,” that process has been fraught with strife and misunderstandings. As each new group of immigrants entered the country, they faced discrimination and ridicule; however, eventually, they found acceptance. The following words inscribed at the Statue of Liberty meant something.

“Give me your tired, your poor,                                                                                                   Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;                                                                     The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Statue of Liberty vertical photo
The Statue of Liberty, New York, New York

(Photo by Juan Mayobre on Unsplash)

For reasons I don’t understand, some people can’t get past the Civil War. Some people no longer accept the words of this poem as the embodiment of the American philosophy.

Let the conversation in America begin so the hatred, distrust, and fear can end.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading several books, none of which is compelling me to read to the point that I’m skipping meals or losing sleep. Rule #1:  You don’t have to finish reading a book. I’m still trying to embrace that rule.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Have you had an honest conversation about race, hatred, or distrust with someone of a racial background, religious beliefs, or political stance different from yours?

Let the conversation in America begin so the hatred, distrust, and fear can end.

Janet

6 thoughts on ““Defeated cultures behave strangely.”

  1. Such an important topic for our times, Janet. You wrote of your ancestors, “They were products of their times, and they were prisoners of their times.” Indeed they were, just as we are products of the culture of our era too. I often wonder what folks will say about us 150 years from now. Awareness (and care) in how our behavior impacts others would go far to dissolve these walls that are going up. Thank you for a provocative post today.

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  2. Thank you so much for your comments, Janet! I struggled with this blog post. I chose my words carefully. I, too, often wonder what future generations will think about us. I’m glad you enjoyed my post today. Thank you for taking the time to make such a thoughtful comment.

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  3. A few years ago, I reviewed a book about Stonewall Jackson. Being a Scot, I really had no idea at that time that the Civil War and the whole question of race was still resonating so much in America. I ended my review by saying that I could see why his troops followed him so loyally and that I was moved by the description of people lining the streets for his funeral procession. When I posted it on Amazon US, I got a lot of comments from people demanding to know how I could sympathise with a leader of the Confederates. I explained that to me he was just a historical character, like Napoleon or Julius Caesar, and that I hadn’t been making a comment on what he was fighting for, just about the way he inspired people. But it gave me a real insight into how strong feelings still run and I’ve made myself more aware of the debate since. As you say, talking open minds…

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  4. Thank you for your comment. I’ve been out-of-town (so far out that I didn’t have internet service!) since Monday morning, so I’m late responding to you. So far, only three bloggers have liked Monday’s post. I’m not sure what to make of that. I thought I might receive some negative comments, but I haven’t yet. I, too, find Stonewall Jackson to be an interesting historical figure. Plus, his second wife, Mary Anna Morrison, was a distant cousin of mine — which adds interest for me on a personal level. I appreciate your taking the time to share with me your personal experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Janet, thank you for this post. I see you feel strongly about its content, and I think it is good to feel strongly about issues that affect a person.

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