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Daniel Ruth

Historical amnesiacs

First, let's dispense with the obvious issue. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, including the freedom to publicly proclaim that one is a complete, certifiable, illiterate dimwit.

You can shout it from the rooftops. You can wear it on your arm. You can fly it proudly at the intersection of Interstate 75 and Interstate 4. And you can even have a license plate advertising you have less knowledge of history than a sack of juleps.

So it was perfectly appropriate for U.S. District Judge John Antoon to rule that it was unconstitutional for the Florida Legislature to decide which groups, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, should be permitted to have their own specialty vanity license plate. But it must be noted that wanting to promote one's ignorance about the Civil War is a rather perverse definition of vanity.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans got their hoop skirts in a wad in 2008, when a bill was introduced in the Legislature to create a specialty plate hyping "Confederate Heritage." In a state with hardly the most sterling record of race relations, this went over about as well as having an Andrew Jackson Trail of Tears license plate created just for American Indian reservations.

Even the Florida Legislature, which has never been averse to exposing itself as a carpetbag of special interests, found a license plate honoring the stain of slavery about as misguided as creating a University of Georgia Bulldog Day and allowed the bill to die.

But because of Antoon's ruling, based on the same U.S. Constitution that Jefferson Davis would have used to line a birdcage, the "Confederate Heritage" plate could be coming to a pickup near you.

The timing couldn't be more ominous. In a few days the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War will be marked. We are about to be exposed to more delusional revisionist history. The Sons of Confederate History? We Don't Need No Stinking History! They will be going into a full Pickett's Charge of denial in propagandizing that the Civil War was a noble crusade to preserve some obtuse definition of Southern honor, a courageous defense of states' rights against a villainous oppressor and a fight-to-the-death struggle against onerous economic sanctions by that big meanie Abraham Lincoln.

And, oh, yeah, the whole slavery thing? Nothing more than an unfortunate disagreement over the minimum wage.

It's all a huge steaming pile of hooey, fiddle-faddle and balderdash.

Southern states are going to be crawling with oratory about bravery. There will be more battle re-enactments than the Oberammergau Passion Play. But maybe this time Gen. U.S. Grant will do the surrendering at Appomattox.

And what of slavery, the issue at the forefront of the causes for the Civil War? Pushed to the back of the historical bus.

To be realistic, that only makes some sense. After all, if your organization is grounded in the predicate that your forefathers were so high-minded they make St. Francis of Assisi look like a war criminal, you can't very well admit your great-great-great-great-grandfather Festus T. Billy Bob Billy Ray Billy Joe Beauregard supported and defended the enslavement of people. Very problematic genealogical marketing.

What is most troubling about treating the Civil War as an event that killed more than 600,000 people merely because of a tiff over tariffs, is that there is no shortage of folks who believe this piffle. In America today subjects such as history, civics, social studies and government get less attention in our schools than the teaching of Urdu.

That is a sad commentary on the quality of education. It is also a tragedy of citizenship.

We hear all the time about paying tribute to the fallen in war so that their lives will not have been sacrificed in vain. It's a lovely sentiment.

So it is more than proper after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter 150 years ago to take note of what happened. The why, however, can't be ignored no matter how hard the Sons of Confederate Veterans want to view their ancestors through the prism of a historical fantasy.

Historical amnesiacs 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 8:02pm]

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