A little more than a decade ago I was going through a divorce. It was pretty ugly, and emotionally, it left me distracted and out of sorts. The Ex had decided on a course of action with another fellow, and I really could not stand by for that. Allegiances and oaths and vows sort of mean a lot to somebody like me, and this being the second time, that was the end of things. Somehow, however, it was I who ended up moving out of our nice home.
What followed was stereotypical for a divorce of this sort. I spent a lot of time after work going to local bars. All of them within walking distance from my apartment on a hillside known as Marye’s Heights, in the town where I lived. This was 2002.
Being disinclined to sociability at the time, when prompted by a fellow barfly into a conversation I did not feel like having, I would assess my interrogator. If he fit the profile (and so many did), I would counter-present a statement as a way of starting a “conversation.” That “profile” had nothing to do with socio-economic status, but it did have a hell of a lot to do with race, and the bugaboo of “heritage.” At least “heritage” as it is interpreted in rural Virginia anyway. Regardless of the topic he was trying to engage me on, I would parry. Then I would start a new conversation. My entree was, “I think that Robert E. Lee, as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin… after all, Lee killed many more Americans than Bin Ladin, and almost destroyed the United States. What do you think?”
Yeah, I flunked “Subtle 101” in High School. Oh well. Like I said, I was not in a good place.
But the fact is that there was nothing that any of these men, and they were all men, could say in honest denial to my assertion. They sputtered and growled, spouted and shouted, but not once did it end well for them on any level. You see, if they were “unreconstructed rebels,” well then I was something almost none of them had ever experienced, an “unreconstructed Yankee.” What is more, at the intellectual level I was not playing fair.
Not only did I have the historical facts on my side, but I was also deliberately playing upon two southern biases which are nearly independent of politics: Reverence for military service, and reverence of the concept of “honor” and “oaths.” I am a military officer, Airborne and Ranger qualified. I swore an oath, almost exactly the same as the one Robert E. Lee had, to the United States. Most of those I confronted over barstools and tables in Fredericksburg eventually just asked to be let out of the argument, because I would not let go. I was alone, and angry, and historically versed, and my own G-G-G-Grandfather had actually fought there, not 300 yards from where my crappy apartment was, in 1862. And they were stunned, at the outset, that I was saying something that defied their understanding.
Deep bitterness and outrage at treason in defense of slavery. This is my kind of person.