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This article can be found in Issue 4 of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: The Patriotic Lie
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The Patriotic Lie, 2010 Vhcle Magazine Issue 4, Life
The centerpiece of the park is a giant relief carving of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and President Jefferson Davis. (Wikipedia tells me this is actually the largest bas-relief in the world.) On summer nights this is the backdrop for a laser show. Of course, it goes without saying that outdoor-laser-show and tacky go together like peanut butter and jelly, and this is no exception – a sickening medley of southern rock classics, forgotten country hits, saccharine tributes to America, and of course a celebration of Confederate heritage, ending in a truly eye-rolling sequence where the three figures come to life. These things have their time and place, it would seem. Salute your country, and then cheer for those who took up arms against it. Patriotism and treason: two great tastes that taste great together.
Maybe I’m too quick to judge. Maybe there’s something to this you can both love America as it is and honor the south as it once was, honor the Confederate lifestyle. Maybe.
Probably not.
Because the bearers of Confederate pride, of the so-called “Southern heritage” are never content to venerate the pre-rebellion culture. They seek to venerate the rebellion itself. Recall those two statues, dominating the corners of my state capital – men who did not simply exist as relics of the ante-bellum. These are men who were instrumental to war against the Union.
And that war… a war that killed a million Americans. A war that pitted American against American. A war that weakened and divided us, embarrassed us. So even if you claim that it was a war fought on principle (and it wasn’t) it was the stupidest, most wasteful principle imaginable. The character of America will always be two-fold: we are a nation formed out of violent uprising but also a nation defined by peaceful debate, and we must stay a nation defined by peaceful debate. To celebrate secession is, I think, to court destruction. As long as monuments to petty rebellion stand, America cannot truly be at peace.

Eric Garbe is a penny-ante malcontent from Atlanta. He is currently impersonating a law student but professes no ambitions or intentions regarding the future.

Other articles by Eric Garbe:
As I write this article the 2010 Elections are less than a week away. Perhaps the defining theme of this year’s campaigns has been patriotism. But a strange sort of patriotism tempered by the idea - sometimes explicit, sometimes implied, but most often alluded to and then hastily apologized for – that should patriotism alone not be enough to “fix” this country, then armed secession is the logical next step. “America, loved it and leave it.” A paradox at first blush, but not a new one. To anyone raised in the former Confederacy, this is a paradox that from our earliest education forms an essential part of our understanding of American history.
Two statues flank the corners of the Georgia State Capitol, each marking the corners of the grounds. To the left is John Brown Gordon, who rose from command of a band of irregular soldiers to become one of Lee’s top generals. To the right is Joseph Emerson Brown, who served as governor for the entirety of the war and then some: 1857-65. By contrast Jimmy Carter’s statue is tucked into a corner, and maybe half the size of Gordon’s. Both statues call the honoree a “patriot”.
The logic isn’t necessarily inconsistent. If there is some particular set of values that are essential to the character of the nation, then a serious enough deviation from those values is a threat to the nation that may require armed force to correct. But can this patriotism be recognized with the idea of patriotism tied up with loyalty to and love for one’s country, to the aspiration of coming together as one nation?
No, this is a selfish patriotism – a love that touches only through the reflection of one’s own personal worldview. By imposing his own value system on his connection with the nation, the hypocritical patriot says: “I love my country, but only so far as it does something for me.”
Of course there are always extremists willing to kill something to say it, and it’s unlikely this logic will stick around for very long. More probably it’s another symptom of the general panic surrounding this election, the force that turns the most banal hardship into the gravest tragedy. Something that will fade back into the woodwork as the panic subsides. Something boring. Transitory.
But in the South it will remain and perpetuate. Just north of Atlanta is Stone Mountain, where some irritation of the earth’s crust produced a giant rocky pimple to dominate the landscape. Not really a mountain, but not a hill either. The grounds, where the KKK once held their rallies, are now a chintzy theme park version of the ante-bellum south-historical recreation meets carnival schlock with a healthy dose of shit-you-can-buy.