“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

X is for Xenophobia

I’ve had five or six weeks to come up with a word beginning with the letter “X” that has something to do with writing. This is Day 24 in the 26-Day 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge. Hence, the letter “X.”

Xenophobia

Not finding an X-word that has anything to do with the craft of writing, I decided to write about xenophobia. It has been a topic of conversation in the United States during and since the 2016 presidential election season.

Xenophobia is not a pleasant topic to write about and, in choosing it as today’s topic, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say.

The Tenth Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines xenophobia as follows:

“fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”

The word’s origins

The word first came into usage in 1903, according to Merriam-Webster’s. I couldn’t help but wonder about the word’s etymology. It comes from xen or xeno. It has its origins in the Greek, xenos, which means stranger. A second meaning the dictionary gives for xen or xeno is “strange” or “foreign” with the example being “xenolith.”

That led me to look up the word “xenolith.” Xenolith came into usage in 1894 and is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as

“a fragment of rock included in another rock.”

I probably should have remembered that from the year of geology classes I took as a college freshman 46 years ago, but geology is like a foreign language. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

As far as I could find, xenolith was the first word used in the United States that had “xen” or “xeno” as its root. A decade later, xenophobia was first in common usage.

Getting back to the 2016 US Election

Xenophobia reared its ugly head during the 2016 US Presidential campaign. The nominee of the Republican Party was outspoken about foreigners. His rhetoric brought out the worst in a lot of people. When someone in that position freely spews hatred and fear of another group of people, it emboldens other citizens to express their fears, distrust, and hatred of groups of people different from themselves either in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin.

Is the USA still a melting pot?

I naively thought Americans were a tolerant people, so I was blindsided by the xenophobia that last year’s election exposed. We are taught in school at an early age that the United States of America is a “melting pot.” People have come here from all over the world and have been accepted and assimilated into American society.

Give me your tired, your poor”

The words on a plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York famously say,

“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.”

I type those words from memory. I learned them in elementary school. We even learned a song composed by Irving Berlin that included those last words of a sonnet, New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus.

Many times when there is an influx of people from another country, they are looked down upon and are slow to be accepted. I have never understood this. People generally come to America seeking a better life. I’m sure that’s why my ancestors came here from Scotland in the mid-1700s.

Few people come here wanting to do us harm, but the rhetoric of the Presidential campaign last year made many people think that everyone coming from certain Middle Eastern countries were terrorists. I’m afraid we will reap the results of that rhetoric and the fear it incited for many years to come.

Call me naïve, but, as a Christian, I just don’t understand other Christians who are xenophobic.

Until my next blog post

I need to find “Y” and “Z” words to write about for my blog on Saturday and Sunday, and I don’t apologize for “stepping on the toes” of any of my readers in today’s post.

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet