The Blame Game

During the 1960s there was a cute little ditty called “The Name Game” that made a rhyme out of any name (or so it suggested). The deep and moving lyrics (well, as deep and meaningful as anything that came out of the 1960s) went this way:

The name game. Shirley! Shirley, Shirley
Bo-ber-ley, bo-na-na fanna
Fo-fer-ley. fee fi mo-mer-ley, Shirley!
Lincoln! Lincoln, Lincoln. bo-bin-coln
Bo-na-na fanna, fo-fin-coln
Fee fi mo-min-coln, Lincoln!

It was a fun song, and during the 1960s it enjoyed some popularity, or at least until you tried it with a name like Buck, or Chuck, where the Fee fi , fo part of the lyric got a bit too racy for the airwaves.

Today we’re playing a different game. That game is the blame game. But the premise is the same, we can blame anyone for anything if we just give it enough thought. Of course, we might have to twist history, or forget history, to get that done. Take for example, the Civil War.

It is a popular and widely held belief that the Civil War was fought for one purpose: to free the slaves. This explanation withers under examination, because the North had nothing to gain by freeing the slaves. In fact, the emancipation proclamation didn’t come until later in the war as a way to deprive the South of the use of its slaves in battle. And our history suggests that slaves that headed north after the war were not greeted with the warm smile of welcome any more than they had been in the South. This History Learning Site sums it up nicely this way:

A common assumption to explain the cause of the American Civil War was that the North was no longer willing to tolerate slavery as being part of the fabric of US society and that the political power brokers in Washington were planning to abolish slavery throughout the Union. Therefore for many people slavery is the key issue to explain the causes of the American Civil War. However, it is not as simple as this and slavery, while a major issue, was not the only issue that pushed American into the ‘Great American Tragedy’. By April 1861, slavery had become inextricably entwined with state rights, the power of the federal government over the states, the South’s ‘way of life’ etc. – all of which made a major contribution to the causes of the American Civil War.

In other words, if we look to root causes, there is no one root cause. Yet, because people believe that the war was fought “over slavery” there is a belief that the confederate flag, statues honoring confederate generals, and all manner of similar shrines to a way of life gone by are somehow racist or offensive to blacks. Let’s be honest. No person alive to day was ever a slave in the United States. And any damage that was done was done to persons not now alive. It’s time to move on. But some people cannot let their anger at something they have only read about (in history books, ironically enough) go unmitigated.

Here’s the question that folks need to answer: what about tomorrow? If our views on race and religion and tolerance change, will our views of today’s heroes be cast aside, their images burned and destroyed, in an attempt to wipe out their history? If so, the devil must be laughing at this because the one sure way to repeat history is to ignore its teaching. If you want more war, more violence, and more dissent in this country, then understand first and foremost that there are always at least two sides to an issue.
The phrase “chinaman’s chance” comes from the way that immigrant workers from China were used to tamp down charges while blasting to build railways. Hundreds of Chinese died in the move west. Should we tear down our nation’s rail system, most of which is based on the routes blazed during the 19th Century?

George Takei continually rants about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It was shameful and he has a right to be pissed. It was wrong. And the Supreme Court said as much. It happened on Roosevelt’s watch. Should we throw all his statues into the sea? Should we close the little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia where he passed away?  Should we disavow Mr. Truman too?  After all, he was on the ticket later?

John Kennedy gave us the Bay of Pigs disaster. Jimmy Carter gave us the debacle in Iran. Reagan gave us Iran-Contra. Nearly any great man or woman who climbs to the top does so while making mistakes – lots of them. Do we wash away the good in our attempt to purge history of its evils?

We could wash away the sins of the past.  We could excuse the Nazis their war crimes, Stalin his megadeaths, Pol Pot his genocide.  We could forget at the Hutus and the Tootsies.  We could whitewash what happened to the Zulu tribesmen, or ignore the fact that 2/3 of the population of Luzon Island was killed during the Philippine Insurrection.  We could just consign all that history to the dustbin.  And then we would have no benchmarks when the next petty tyrant set up shop.

Maybe it’s better to learn from those historical mistakes.  Preserve them.  Protect them while honoring victims and calling out the wicked.  We need to do that, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

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