Gwen giggled when I got home from work. Cassie wagged her tail. Goldie, the more skittish of our two mutts, dribbled a little pee on the floor and yipped her high-pitched welcome.
“Apparently, for each Confederate monument New Orleans takes down, Wilmington will put one up. Bless our hearts! OK, gang, here’s the plan.” I crouched down like Moe of “The Three Stooges.” (For those unfamiliar with early 20th century slapstick, think Charlie Day from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”) “Goldie, you’re the lookout. Everybody in the car! We’re going down to Fort Fisher to take care of that new monument to the Confederacy.”
Both mutts curled on the floor, mostly because I forgot to feed them before talking about anything. Gwen sighed and pointed to the smiling mermaid on her purple T-shirt.
“That’s it!” I snapped my fingers to signal yet another a-ha! moment inspired by my daughter’s calm wisdom. “You’re right. If anybody does anything destructive to that most unnecessary interpretive marker, they will be labeled as part of the violent left. Your idea is more elegant.”
Gwen’s elegant idea is to go to Fort Fisher’s newly consecrated Confederate interpretive historical marker on Confederate Memorial Day, and erect another monument designed only to educate the public and deepen our appreciation of alternative history. The monument should be of fitting and accurate proportions, perhaps an angelic-faced woman, torso clad in a gray coat, braced nobly on her long dolphin-like flipper and tail. The educational plaque should read:
“How grand a myth this watched over! Confederate mermaids fought bravely alongside regulars throughout the War of Northern Aggression. Molly, the last-known Confederate mermaid, was killed sipping a sweet tea and defending these very bulwarks. The lost cause of mermaids was defeated only by the Union’s overwhelming material resources, grasp of science and ability to read primary historical sources, such as each Confederate state’s actual Articles of Secession.”
Growing up in the North, I was accurately taught the common Confederate soldier was uncommonly fierce, courageous and deserved respect. While some may have fought for kith and kin, the mass of these men were duped by politicians, landowners, slave owners intent on maintaining their “peculiar institution,” and personal power. I also was taught the Civil War was over. After living here for nearly a quarter-century and witnessing November’s election, I believe the results of that conflict may be inconclusive.
Southern apologists argue to this day slavery itself wasn’t the root cause of the rebellion. Like our mermaid, it’s only a myth. After living here a while, I think they may have a point. The true root cause was something even more antithetical to the American dream. The Confederacy grew from the same insidious seed that spawned nearly all empires until 1776, the proposition, “All men are not created equal.” The belief in a “natural hierarchy” is a powermonger’s wet dream. It practically demands the strong conquer the weak as a matter of natural law, permits genocide and ethnic cleansing, as well as mere human bondage and the eternal subjugation of the “weaker sex.” How many millions of lives have been wasted throughout history because somebody, or some group, firmly believed there is a natural hierarchy and they are in fact the “master race”?
There’s a staggering number of Confederate monuments in this part of the preserved Union already. Practically speaking, do we really need another? If we, American citizens, really want to honor a Southern heritage of courage, kindness and compassion to mark the nobler elements of Antebellum South, then let’s put down our sweet tea and stop crying in a warped rearview mirror. Turn our eyes forward and bring some of the honorable pieces of the heritage to the present. Outlaw wage slavery and raise the minimum wage. Overturn Citizen’s United, and fairly tax corporate plantations and the wealthiest among us. Support labor rights, women’s wage equality, equal access to education, and affordable health care. Support racial justice and work to heal the deep national scar that is a legacy of our “peculiar institution.”
We’re not likely to actually erect a monument to the Confederate Mermaid. But if we insist on raising monuments to the past, for every marker we raise to the Lost Cause, we should erect 10 monuments to the 400 years of Unknown Slaves (U.S.) that actually built swaths of the United States. We should also raise at least that many for each of the First Nations peoples whose cultures were wiped out to make room for the Southern heritage of kindness, courage and compassion.