It is sometimes the case, in this age of the extensive flooding of information on subjects of the day, that a particular item can be of such long standing and of frequent and vigorous treatment, that we lose sight of the original propulsion in the matter. The matter took place so long ago, and is generally known to us in almost overwhelming detail, but we have long since moved past a deeply embedded aspect of the event, even though that historical aspect was truly the principal engine at the time.
A classic case in point is the current controversy raging in the USA, one among many in the Donald Trump saga, but this one, as they say these days, having gone viral in this week following their President’s remarks about opposing factions in the rabid encounters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The uproar has been volcanic, and had been raging for about three days unstemmed before Howard Dyson, a University Professor and columnist there, turned the discussion on its head in a striking statement. Speaking on one of the flood of televised panel groups grappling with the subject, Dyson was focusing on the uproar over the removal of Confederate statues and monuments that followed the clash between white supremacists and those who opposed them in an evening conflagration in the city that led to one young woman being killed and scores injured. Blazing torches, reminiscent of the KKK, were rampant, as were neo-Nazi slogans, and vitriolic racial threats. It was one of those hang-your-head-in-shame moments for the city and for America’s seemingly obtuse President.
I wasn’t able to copy Dyson’s exact words, but the point he made was simple and almost riveting. In response to the uproar over the Confederate statues, on symbols of American history and courage, Dyson pointed out to Americans that they were attempting to rewrite or at least manipulate their history by venting their outrage. He said, in effect: “These are not people to admire.
These memorials and statues were of people who had taken up arms against their country. They had organised armies with thousands of soldiers to defy the nation’s purpose under President Lincoln.” Dyson’s point was that this was a war of one set of Americans wanting to go one way to the point of going to war with those wanting to go the other way. History calls it a “Civil War” but in fact, as Dyson emphasised, “this was a war about slavery.
One set of Americans, mainly the slave-owners and their ilk, mainly in the South, were opposed to Abraham Lincoln’s argument, mainly in the North, to end slavery.” Dyson’s point, one that has faded somewhat over time, is that while the American Civil War evolved along North-South lines, the issue that Americans went out and died for was slavery.
Both those opposed to it and those seeking to end it, and were prepared to die for their beliefs.
The war ended, with thousands of lives lost on both sides, and the South lost, and a President was assassinated, and history has tried to give us the history of that time as the solving of America’s dilemma, but the recent events in American cities show that the dilemma remains. Millions of references in speeches and articles and television shows, and even songs and poems, have been written extolling the “one nation under God”, and the “shining city on the hill” fulminations. It is a flood that has been going on for decades, with some claims of victory being vociferously made, but we’re seeing the reality of the sharply divided America clear as day on our television screens and our newspapers in recent weeks.
The divisions one is seeing in America are chilling, and they are reminding us that it was slavery
behind them when they first emerged in America’s past and the notions of slavery, with its precepts of “inferior” people who should be put aside and subjugated, even killed, is behind them again today. As one of the supremacists said to a US television journalist who asked about his reaction to the violence. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
To be fair to Trump, while he is using those US leaders who appear to be ready to accommodate them, he didn’t create this poison. It’s been there all along. Amid all the talk about far and how quickly America has come since the Civil War days in the US, take note that as recently as 1964, schools in the US were segregated, and Southern policemen were turning water hoses and even dogs on school children protesting segregation.
Seasoned commentators in the US were shouting against that mentality this week, calling for US citizens to “come together as one”. Other commentators are looking at the can of worms and predicting that more outbursts will follow, with organised groups or armed persons confronting others. Ironically, both groups are essentially reminding us that the Civil War mentality remains there still, under the surface, just waiting for the right gasoline and the right match.
Others of us around the globe should take warning from the American response, as we in Guyana
should, with our two dominant racial groups each jockeying for power.
Anywhere mankind tries to construct this paradigm of the “superior being” he is courting disaster. We see it happening, right now, but while we focus on the American scene, stop and think about our own here. Are we not also courting disaster?