I am reprinting this in its entirity as it appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser in 1961. It is longer than our usual blog but I know you will find it of great interest. It was also reprinted in the Montgomery Independent last week.
AN EDITORIAL: SONS GRATEFUL
By Grover C. Hall, Jr., Editor of the Montgomery Advertiser
Why should the South “celebrate” the centennial of its defeat?
Why should we freshen the memory of slaughter, torch, and hatred?
Why should the descendants of vanquished Confederates steep their galls in brine?
One hears these questions raised sometimes by persons who have the imagination of an ant.
The South is not “celebrating” its defeat. The North and the South are commemorating the origin of a tragic but noble heritage. We are, as Isaiah exhorted, looking to the rock whence we are hewn.
The North and the South, reconciled, are looking with pride and reverence to that which shapes us.
No combative spirit is aroused by this rehearsal of our past, which has inspired and informed the whole world. The North is as proud of Robert E. Lee as we Southerners. His home at Arlington is a national shrine. And the preceding President (Eisenhower) kept his picture upon his office wall to worship.
It is true that descendants of Confederate forebears are forced to regret that the South did not win the war. It is true that they wonder if this was not the only war ever worth fighting. But they expect a Northerner to be glad his forebears won the struggle. They would regard him as a bounder if he didn’t.
Yet Southerners are reconciled to the result of the war, and they are too busy marching to prosperity in their gracious land to brood over the crime of Reconstruction. The South had the highest standard of living before the war and has it in mind to regain that status.
The Reasons Why
There are three unassailable reasons for this commemoration in which North joins South:
? It was an extraordinary war in terms of battle.
? The result was extraordinary.
? We Americans in a great measure are creatures of the Revolutionary War and all our national wars. But we Southerners are more shaped by the Civil War than the others, and perhaps all the others together.
As for the battle phase of the war, there were 23 Northern states with 22,000,000 people. The North’s adversary was a confederacy of 11 states and but 9,000,000 people. Be certain that we do not say it to boast or gasconade, but it took the 22,000,000 four years to subjugate the 9,000,000–and there you have one measure of the singular nature of the war. All the world’s military academies claim this war as their very own laboratory.
The war’s result was extraordinary. It was so hard fought that it is painful to regard it even at this distance. The South was occupied afterwards in a fashion called villainous and cruel by Northern historians.
This War Settled Something
Despite that, the war was conclusive. It is infantile to say that “wars never settle anything”. The war was followed by reconciliation in a remarkably short time.
Consider how the Irish continue to hate the British so long after the conflict.
Consider how the horror of the French Revolution settled but little and never until this day has France achieved the stable government we take for granted in this country.
Gratitude For A Heritage
But above all this, we Alabamians commemorate this centennial because it would be indecently callous if we didn’t. We do it in gratitude for a heritage that the whole world admires and embosoms.
We commemorate for the same reason that Pericles made his immortal funeral oration on the Athenian dead, and for the same reason we decorate brave soldiers.
We commemorate for the same reason that we mark the graves of our mothers and fathers. The Confederate generation is not to us “the flies of a summer”.
We are festive and smiling in the course of our week of pageantry here under the impatient bright sun of the Deep South.
But inwardly we are in solemn awe of the skill and valor of the men of the nation which survived only long enough to win deathless renown.
The Present Is Part Past
We commemorate because we understand what the great German poet Goethe meant when he said of memory:
“There is no Past that we can bring back to us by the longing for it. There is only an eternally new Now that builds and creates itself out of the elements of the Past as the Past withdraws.”
We commemorate because we understand Justice Holmes’ observation, “Continuity with the past is a necessity, not a duty.”
A Southerner who can belittle or say ho-hum to this commemoration is a man who really hasn’t got much respect for himself.
From the Montgomery Advertiser, page 1, Sunday, 19, 1961