Paul Andersen: Neo-Nazis and KKK need history lessons
My friend Dave called last week. He was in a fit of pique over the neo-Nazi presence in Charlottesville. Dave is a Vietnam veteran whose father flew missions during World War II.
“I was looking at an old picture of my dad in the gun turret of B-17. I thought of him fighting that war against Nazis, and the risks he took. I said, ‘F— the neo-Nazis!’ We won that war and shouldn’t have to fight it again.”
Dave threatened to put on his Army uniform and stage a one-man protest on Capitol Hill. “Trump needs to hear what I have to say!” he said.
History lesson No. 1: The Holocaust is over. The Nazis were defeated by “The Greatest Generation.” Neo-Nazis have no right to repeat history and nullify the national sacrifices made during WWII.
Here’s another history lesson, this one for the KKK: The Confederacy was defeated in 1865. The uproar over removing statues of Confederate “heroes” in the South represents the warped embrace of racial hatred and a denial of the Civil War.
White nationalists who know how to read should delve into “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), by W.E.B. Du Bois, who decried the plight of his people under slavery and reviled the living hell of Reconstruction.
“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line,” concluded Du Bois, the first black doctoral graduate from Harvard. Du Bois traveled the South at the turn of the 20th century and described what he saw.
“Despite compromise, war and struggle, the Negro is not free. In well-nigh the whole rural South the black farmers are peons, bound in law and custom to an economic slavery. Negroes are a servile, segregated class, with restricted rights and privileges.”
Du Bois cast shame at the militantly unapologetic Southerner who made the South a shameful place for any white person of conscience, and a terror for blacks who suffered then and suffer today the bitterness of racial hatred.
“Be content to be servants, and nothing more,” Du Bois warned his black brethren who aspired to education as a means of improvement. “What need of higher culture for half-men?” he asked cynically.
How tragic that the Civil War had to underscore in blood the Emancipation Proclamation and yet did little to protect the rights of freedmen. How tragic that Reconstruction enslaved blacks as debtor farmers condemned to live in atrocious hovels while serving carpetbaggers who owned the farms on which their slave forebears had labored as human chattel.
“How hard a thing is life to the lowly, and yet how human and real!” mourned Du Bois, explaining that it was the white Southern slave master who brought the objects of hatred on himself by sanctioning the slave trade and profiting from the degradation of fellow humans.
“O, Southern Gentlemen! If you deplore their presence here, they ask, ‘Who brought us?’ And when you fasten crime upon this race as its peculiar trait, they answer that slavery was the arch crime, and lynching and lawlessness its twin abortions; that color and race are not crimes.
“The rape which your gentlemen have done against helpless black women in defiance of your own laws is written on the foreheads of two millions of mulattoes and written in ineffaceable blood,” charged Du Bois.
History lesson No. 2: The Confederacy is done. Racism has no validity in our national character. Penance is due to those who endured the brutal yoke of slavery as do their long-suffering offspring, many of whom still endure racism on the dark side of the color line in America.
Du Bois was right: The color line remains a problem in the U.S. In spite of guaranteed rights and freedoms, one cannot legislate mandates for kindness, generosity and intelligence; or legislate away hatred, bitterness and prejudice.
The history lesson that must be formed today, for the benefit of the future, is the moral necessity of marginalizing white supremacists, of criminalizing neo-Nazi fear-mongering actions, and of shaming those who support their assemblies, their armed intimidation and their revival of the grim horrors of history.
Otherwise, we may have to fight those wars again.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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