“Reunited – One Country Again and One Country Forever.
–President McKinley, Atlanta, Dec 15th 1898
Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation
wish for another to suffer.
— The Metta Sutta, translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A few years ago I had a business trip in Tennessee and visited the nearby Chickamauga National Military Park in northern Georgia.
Unlike the statues that glorify the antebellum South and the Confederacy, the war museum focused on a spirit of reconciliation and highlighting the horrors of war because the Battle of Chickamauga was incredibly bloody even by standards of that war. A lot of young men died that didn’t need to.
A lot of the Confederacy statues that exist now and are subject to controversy were erected decades after the Civil War, often during a revivalist movement in the 1910’s and 1920’s, which not coincidentally was also one of the most overtly racist periods in American history. The 1920’s had many race massacres and extra-judicial lynchings and the Jim Crow laws had reached their peak.1 There is a definite connection between those statues and the horrors of post-WWI racial discourse.
It’s important to remember the Civil War and the South but for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. The Chickamauga Museum shows how reconciliation and respect for the sanctity of life is much more admirable than war heroes who represented and dying and dubious cause.
If people wish to remember the Civil War (and we should) it’s important that they ask themselves why they are doing it? By this they are truly known.
The Buddha strongly warned against divisiveness: divisive speech, factionalism, and so on. Buddhism is all about harmony. You don’t have to necessarily like other people, but in following the Eightfold Path, particularly Right Intention, you also give up any ill-will or intention to harm them. It’s also the spirit of the Metta Sutta quoted above.
Reconciliation and harmony are much more powerful and beneficial in the long-run than divisiveness and elevating one group at the expense of others. In the famous Dhammapada the Buddha said:
5. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.
6. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.
If we wish to uphold any ideals, this is the ideal we should uphold.
P.S. Speaking of the power of reconciliation (sorry for reposting this again Facebook followers).
1 Somewhat tangentially related, but definitely read about the Harlem Hellfighters of WWI. This was the famous, decorated all-black regiment that fought in the trenches of France, but faced unjust conditions at home.