One Sunday morning many years ago, I sat in a pew, listening to a minister who preached that God loves all people, even bad people — because every person has some good in them. Unfortunately, he went on to say God even loved Hitler. Everybody sitting in the pews immediately straightened their back and listened. The minister smiled, waved his hand, and said “Hey, he liked dogs.” There was a nervous laughter, but I remembered the lesson.
I understand the current campaign to remove statues of Confederates, whose defense of slavery was unforgivable. No question, slavery has been a cancer on our body politic and a stain on our national soul. Yet, I wonder — at what point do we go too far?
One of my ancestors, also named Jim Flinchum, served in the Confederate Army. An illiterate farm boy from southwestern Virginia, he was given a grey uniform, just like an illiterate farm boy from western Pennsylvania was given a blue uniform. He served as a bugler. When an incoming cannon ball landed too close, they say he lost his mind. Years later, he would wander through the woods playing his bugle all night. I assume it was PTSD. Eventually, he hung himself from a tree by his house. Was there no good in this person? Should I disown my namesake ancestor, simply because he wore the wrong uniform?
Robert E. Lee was a top graduate of West Point and a Colonel in the Union Army, who was deeply opposed to the Civil War or the War of Succession and very “disgusted with slavery.” After consulting with his family, he found he could not fight against his beloved state of Virginia and eventually commanded most Confederate forces. After the war, he was a remarkable success as President of Washington & Lee University and famously said “The education of a man never ends until he dies.” Was there no good in this person?
As always, winners write the history, and they have written Confederate soldiers were as despicable as slavery itself, maybe worse. Nonetheless, if destruction of these statues will help wash away any of that stain, then I hope they are destroyed and destroyed quickly. It is a small price to pay! Those who read seriously will always find that some good and decent people really did wear grey uniforms. Not that it matters . . .