Blog 2017

Radio Leigh: Proposal for Charlottesville




RADIO LEIGH: Proposal for Charlottesville


August 14, 2017


I am not a fan of erasing history.  I am neither a fan of memorializing hatred, but history erased is the nothing gained from all the lessons we might take of it.  Vietnam was horrific.  Should we destroy that memorial?  People died for bad politics.  What value in remembering it?  Robert E. Lee symbolizes the antebellum/plantation era of the South in America, and he incarnates the economy of Slavery and the States’ Rights that were inseparable from the men, women, and children bought and sold to serve the privileged masters who owned them.  Today, I learned the park where Robert E. Lee’s statue stands is also very near where Slaves were sold in the market square of Charlottesville, Virginia.  I can’t think of a better time than to somehow merge these two points of history by forging a statue of, say, Sally Hemmings where the slaves were auctioned off.  Put plaques in both places explaining such events surrounding the lives of Hemmings and Lee.  Construct a mini-museum, tiny house style, and fill it with information about Slavery and the Civil War.  Surround both environments with white lilies and forget-me-nots.  I am a fan of preserving history and rendering its markers into something that encourages empathy instead of division. 


In 2009 I travelled to Normandy, France, as part of research I was doing for a novel.  I went to Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc, and I also visited both the cemeteries there—German and American.  I didn’t know there was a cemetery for the German soldiers of World War II in Normandy.  Both cemeteries were somber, reverent places.  Reading the markers of German soldiers I learned some were as young as 16.  Boys.  Barely men.  Youth, young minds warped by Hitler’s propaganda, having given their innocence to horror, laid to rest not far from where the ground was still deeply pockmarked by bomb craters over which shrub and grass were growing, and where the water of the English Channel pushed itself into shoreline, nothing left to see in it of the blood that drenched France’s coast. 


There was an information center at the German cemetery, and one could go in, learn of the war, read real letters; see various photographs, and certain artifacts.  While I was in the center a group of French junior high students showed up.  They were on a field trip that would bring them to both cemeteries.  I remember thinking what a great idea this was and I was impressed with how well they behaved, respectfully, and with quietude.  I should add there is also an adjacent peace garden at the German cemetery.  It’s made up of maple trees and stands as an important illustration of the need to imbue such memorials of pain with areas dedicated to the literal and figurative manifestation of peace. 


I learned today there are barracks at West Point named after Robert E. Lee.  History contains much, no doubt.  And the dominant paradigm promotes the actors on its stage.  War history contains perhaps the most since non-egalitarian paradigms rely on war to maintain their economies and existence while having a pernicious habit of erasing egalitarian cultures from their historic sites and their books.  Of course, that basically sucks.  Still, for the present moment, I can’t help but think perhaps we would do better to stop arguing about what to keep and what to leave out of America's sordid past and start using that history for focused, constructive and instructive means.  Surely, there is no better time to consider the one argument pundits seem adept at leaving out, which is the argument for education.  If you render something that is painful into something that can expand our empathy toward those who suffered and spent their lives in suffering, or to those who paid their lives for the oppressor’s undoing, whether it be the pain of war, of slavery, of witch hunt or any other oppression that kept people from their right to life, liberty and happiness, then I can only think the benefit would include site after site where the power of singular images is diffused with the telling of why the very thing such images represent/ed was stopped or changed.  In this light such places and images would no longer offer symbolic haven to those who harbor the very ideas that would bring us back into the darkness and fields of death bound to them. 


I’ll close with a poem of mine.


There Are No Memories after This One


Only the night walking away

Only the blood dried from perfection

Only the gold of the leaf’s inattention

Only the soft-needled eye in straw

Only the hand without any roots

Only the fitted groundless thought

Only the Red Flowing River knows

     of the death in the Fairy Tale Forest