Tag Archives: civil war

Tennessee, Goddamn: Memphis Fights To Remove Its Confederate Monuments

MEMPHIS, TN - AUGUST 13: Protesters attend a rally protesting against the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in front of a statue bearing his likeness August 13, 2005 in Memphis, Tennessee. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Civil War General who led troops against the north. Forrest was originally buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. In 1905 Confederate veterans arranged to move his remains and those of his wife Mary to a new site, named Forrest Park, which is adorned with a statue of him riding a horse. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

Despite the bloodshed in Charleston and Charlottesville, and the national embarrassment of President Trump’s not-so-subtle exoneration of white supremacist terrorism, the fight over the removal of Confederate monuments continues.

Statues of Jefferson Davis and General Nathan Bedford Forrest stand in visible spots near downtown Memphis. The city has long had a majority black population. Earlier this month, the City Council voted for the removal of the monuments, but the state legislature, a body of mostly white Republican men from the middle and eastern parts of the state, invoked the Heritage Protection Act, which prevents the removal, rededication, or renaming of monuments to any “military conflict” without a waiver. The state refused the city’s request for a waiver last year and will vote again this October. The Memphis Flyer calls this reckoning the “Battle of Memphis.”

At the Intercept, journalist Liliana Segura details the crimes of General Forrest, who traded in slaves before the Civil War, and led a massacre of mostly black Union troops that led to his censure after the war. The state needs to ask itself serious questions about why Forrest was ever honored. Segura shows the agency of the Tennessee’s black citizens, and reveals the state’s disdain for the citizens of Memphis.

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American Sphinx

Illustration by Katie Kosma

Colin Dickey | Longreads | August 2017 | 14 minutes | 3380 words

We had come to a place muted of light. Every day felt like a potential backsliding, the news unrelenting, as though the nation had finally given up pushing back against its own savagery — and every day felt like the held breath before the fall. I thought increasingly of Stefan Lux, a Jewish journalist from Slovakia: Aghast at the rise of anti-Semitism during the 1930s, and at the inability of Europe’s bureaucratic governments to respond, Lux walked into the General Assembly of the League of Nations and, before the gathered diplomats, fatally shot himself. His last words were “C’est le dernier coup.” This is the final blow. It was only July 3, 1936; the blows would keep coming long after Lux’s death.

The center was not holding; there hadn’t been any center for decades. It was a country of bankrupt politicians, of killings by police so commonplace they barely made the news. It was a country in which families were routinely broken up by early morning immigration raids, where men abducted for traffic violations and women arrested for misdemeanors were sent off to countries they hadn’t known for decades. It was a nation where young white men found solace drifting through rage and irony, and felt alive only by terrorizing others. It was not a country in open revolution, but more and more its people felt revolution would at least be the exhalation they’d been waiting for. It was a country waiting for the final blow.

Whatever rough beast Yeats had seen had already slouched its way out of the desert, laying waste to everything that fell under its pitiless, blank gaze. The body of a lion and the head of a man, the indignant desert birds circling around its slow thighs, it has laid waste to the veneer of civility and decorum that had once been papered over the country.

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These Are the Locals Who Get The Story of Charlottesville Right

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stands in the center of Emancipation Park the day after the Unite the Right rally on August 13. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Last Saturday evening, Charlottesville police chief Al Thomas held a press conference about the events that day that unfolded under his watch “We love our city,” he said in conclusion. “Let us heal. This is not our story. Outsiders do not tell our story.”

I was born and raised in Charlottesville. I attended and graduated from its public schools; I still live in the city and call it home. After a weekend in which the national media descended upon our downtown and broadcast the unfolding story with the nuance of a parade of elephants, Thomas’s sentiment was welcome. Aside from being heartbroken and outraged, I was tired. Tired of talking heads calling our town Charlotte, of “The South” appearing in print as some strange monolithic mystery region somewhere below Philadelphia, of factual errors confusing the city with adjacent poor and rural counties, of accusing fingers pointed without question at the police and the local government, of former UVA students who spent all of four years here weighing in as if experts, of a lack of context, a lack of understanding of the city as a specific place with a specific history at a specific moment in time.

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Found in the Attic: A Decade of Climate Data on Somalia

Young and old Somali rebels in 1991, after a month of civil war. (AP Photo)

Climate change isn’t just about rising sea levels threatening polar bears, ecological disasters can have severe economic and political impacts: Witness the Somalian civil war. The man whose research could help, Englishman Murray Watson, was abducted in southern Somalia in 2008, and hasn’t been heard from since. Laura Heaton has the story in Foreign Policy.

A few days after the abduction, Bennett-Jones started getting calls from a Somali man who spoke excellent English and claimed to be a negotiator for the kidnappers, whom the journalist by then believed to be members of al-Shabab. The man’s demands ranged from $2 million to $4 million for the ecologist’s safe return. Watson’s family couldn’t pay, his country wouldn’t, and the trail has been quiet ever since. No group has claimed his killing. No remains have ever been found.

For years after the kidnapping, the small cadre of environmentalists still working in Somalia had assumed that decades’ worth of scientific knowledge compiled by Watson had also been lost. Without vital land surveys that vanished during the civil war, it would be hard to determine precisely how or at what rate the country’s climate was changing — and therefore difficult to design measures that could limit the damage. But a recent discovery, made more than 4,000 miles away in Britain, has suddenly resurrected the possibility of continuing Watson’s environmental work. It has also revealed the extent to which his legacy may be intertwined with the fate of Somalia itself.

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The High-Water Mark: The Battle of Gettysburg, the Jersey Shore, and the Death of My Father

Dane A. Wisher | Longreads | April 2017 | 36 minutes (10,142 words)

 

2013

* * *

“What kind of commie bullshit is that?”

“I’m telling you, listen to the album again.” I jam my finger into the bar top for emphasis.

“I don’t need to. It’s called Born in the USA. It’s about good, honest American people. You’re defiling a New Jersey hero.”

“It is about America. But the flag and blue jeans on the cover, the upbeat sound on the title track—it’s all ironic.”

“Here we go. It’s ironic.

“It’s the definition of irony. Apparent surface meaning conveying the opposite of the actual underlying intent of the message. The album is about how people can’t catch a break, how hollow all the patriotic fanfare is.” My speech sounds less pompous in my head.

“This is just like your thing with Forrest Gump.”

I roll my eyes. Forrest Gump has become his latest culture war litmus test. Still, it’s good to see my brother. I’ve been teaching in Qatar for two years and he works odd hours as a cop at the Monmouth County Prison and so the nights when we can shoot the shit are rare. When we do, we eat a lot and drink a lot and tell a lot of stupid jokes and get a sick enjoyment out of fighting with each other. Read more…

The Moment Firestone Teamed Up with a Warlord

Below is an excerpt from ProPublica and Frontline’s investigation into how the U.S. tire and rubber company Firestone ended up partnering with warlord Charles Taylor, who was taking over Liberia during the civil war in the early 1990s. In 1992 the company agreed to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government, and “over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor”: Read more…

How to Spell the Rebel Yell

Elena Passarello | The Normal School | 2010 | 14 minutes (3,470 words)

The Normal SchoolOur latest Longreads Member Pick is a deep dive into the sounds of history, from Elena Passarello and The Normal School. The essay also is featured in Passarello’s book, Let Me Clear My Throat.
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“Yee-aay-ee!” “Wah-Who-Eeee!” -Margaret Mitchell

 

“Wah-Who-Eeee!” -Chester Goolrick

 

“Rrrrrr-yahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip!”

-H. Allen Smith

 

“More! More! More!” -Billy Idol

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An artist recreates Gettysburg with a lifelike cyclorama—and the painting changes how many people viewed the battle:

“No person should die without seeing this cyclorama,” declared a Boston man in 1885. “It’s a duty they owe to their country.” Paul Philippoteaux’s lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.

For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.

“The Great Illusion of Gettysburg.” — Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic

More Atlantic: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, Dec. 4, 2011

In my study of African American history, the Civil War was always something of a sideshow. Just off center stage, it could be heard dimly behind the stories of Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King Jr., a shadow on the fringe. But three years ago, I picked up James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and found not a shadow, but the Big Bang that brought the ideas of the modern West to fruition. Our lofty notions of democracy, egalitarianism, and individual freedom were articulated by the Founders, but they were consecrated by the thousands of slaves fleeing to Union lines, some of them later returning to the land of their birth as nurses and soldiers. The first generation of the South’s postbellum black political leadership was largely supplied by this class.

“Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

See more #longreads on civil wars