Our nation is scaring me. Why are we fighting each other? We all want the same thing. Our nation’s history, which is young compared to the rest of the world, should be preserved. We must face our wrongs and be proud of how we made them right. We became a great nation not through hatred, but through forgiveness, courage and engagement.
“We forgive by preserving the symbolic reminders of the victims of the past with our ability to change and to celebrate the elimination of those wrongs as we remain united.” — Linda Breeden, Author
On June 6, 1944 over 100,000 soldiers were killed in an invasion on French soil on Normandy Beach, known as D-Day. Many of us have grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends who served in that war, of all races and beliefs – all heroes for their sacrifice. Many of them remain there today, buried in war cemeteries which also include the graves of over 21,000 German soldiers – the very people they were fighting.
Many American WWII veterans say today that they feel no animosity to those German soldiers, seeing them as another segment of the victims of Hitler. German visitors to these cemeteries are reminded of the memories of their grandparent’s war record, confused and, at the same time, ashamed of their confusion.
One British veteran, David Edwards, said it had taken years to feel at peace about the Germans who were killed there, saying, “These German boys never wanted to fight us, any more than I wanted to fight them.”
Many of the European children today have been raised in a unified world and they ask,“Why did people hate each other?” They deserve to know about the reasons that fueled a war of opposing beliefs so they don’t let history repeat itself and in the doing, achieve peace through forgiveness of a time that’s hard for generations today to comprehend because they didn’t experience it.
“For in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, ‘hold office’; everyone of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.” — President John Kennedy
In the 1950s, Atlanta native Ivan Allen Jr., the grandson of a confederate soldier, ran for governor of Georgia on a platform of pro-segregation. He lost the election.
In 1961, as a businessman he brought together black leaders and white businessmen to discuss ending segregation occurring at a downtown lunch counter. The agreement was reached. Later, when he was elected Mayor he removed the “colored” and “white” signs from City Hall, he gave black policemen the power to arrest whites, appointed the first black firemen and ordered the desegregation of city parks.
John F. Kennedy asserted in his book, Profiles In Courage, that the duty of elected officials is to “lead, inform, correct and sometimes even ignore constituent opinion” – if it serves the nation’s best interest. He called upon Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. to testify before Congress in support of the civil right legislation he wanted enacted. Mayor Allen consulted with local civil rights leaders about agreeing to the President’s request. They opposed his testimony saying he was, “too valuable to sacrifice”.
Putting aside his political jeopardy, Mayor Allen testified in support of the bill because he felt it was in the best interest of the country. The media attacked, calling him “Benedict Arnold”. A year after his testimony and eight months after President Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. Mayor Allen was also reelected by majorities from both the black and white voters of Atlanta.
Mayor Allen is known as a “human bridge”, his courageous actions enabling Atlanta to become “the city too busy to hate.”
“Confrontation doesn’t change minds. Engagement does.” —Andrew Young, Civil Rights Icon and Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia
The United States of America was built by a unified resilient work ethic, a unified dedication to the pursuit of freedom and equality, and a unified faith, hope and belief in our nation’s identity. It is sad that the definition of any of these three are often defined today by emotional outrage of “what the other side says”.
Today, symbols seem to be fueling this outrage. Free speech rights have become a battlefield where there is no engagement – divisions often resulting in injuries and death. Public shaming has further divided our nation as evidenced by the reassignment of an ESPN sports announcer because of his name, Robert Lee. Mr. Lee is a young, Asian-American man doing what he does best – sports announcing. Outrage to ESPN’s action highlighted the lunacy that is dividing us further and breeding fear that this can happen to any one of us, regardless of our beliefs.
One of the most contentious symbols remains the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial. In 1915 a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned a sculpture of three confederate leaders to be carved on the side of the mountain. The project had starts and stops and it took about 57 years to achieve, with the final work resuming, oddly enough, in 1964 with completion in 1972.
In a recent interview by NPR with civil rights icon and former Atlanta mayor, Andrew Young, he provided the same leveling that Mayor Allen did back in the 1960s. Mayor Young opposes the fight to tear down confederate memorials, calling them a distraction to how far our nation has come.
When asked about the Stone Mountain carving, he responded with a voice of reason based on his many sacrifices over the years, “I think it’s too costly to re-fight the Civil War. We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together. I would only consider addition to it – a freedom bell; because Martin Luther King, in his speech said, “let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia.”
What a celebration the ringing of that bell would be as we view rather than wage war over these symbols of the mistakes of our past so we don’t repeat them.
Sources: Time World Magazine DDay, Profiles In Courage, NPR interview with Andrew Young.