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Hark Back to the Past: VA and Cemeteries of Confederates

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.

Confederate memorial

Confederate memorial


The National Park Service (NPS), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of the Army all administer federal cemeteries that sometimes display the Confederate flag. There are 147 national cemeteries in the United States. Fourteen are maintained by the NPS, in the Department of the Interior. The VA, through its National Cemetery Administration (NCA), administers 131 cemeteries.
America is changing.

The civil war is over and 156 years have elapsed. During this war, the south wished to secede from the Union on the issue of slavery, but after 4 years of an intense battle was defeated. The department of Veteran Affairs manages 135 cemeteries out of which 29 hold the remains of soldiers who fought for the Confederate army. The Dept of VA has now decided that flags of enemy soldiers will not be displayed on these 29 cemeteries as a matter of policy. This decision has been enforced from 2017.

Black soldiers  never found a place with whites

Black soldiers never found a place with whites

VA actions

Dept.VA now restricts Confederate flags in National cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried.
This step has come in the 21st century and one wonders why it took the VA over a century and a half to realize that the Confederates were enemies of the Union and the American army. Nobody had ever raised this point earlier and Confederate flags were allowed and flown. The new policy will allow only small flags on individual graves, but glorification with large flags all over will not be allowed.

In the surcharged political atmosphere, many supporters of Donald Trump were seen holding Confederate flags at the Republican rally. Many feel that these flags are a sign of white supremacy and a racial divide. The confederate flag was held by Dylann Roof the accused who shot dead 9 black worshippers at a church in Charleston. It's a mystery why the Confederate flag which is basically the flag of separation is raised by many. I wonder if it's just a coincidence that the flags are raised only by white supremacists at Republican rallies and that too when Trump was having his rallies. Trump has gone but the mindset has not changed. In a nutshell, the Confederate Flag is viewed today as a symbol of slavery, racism, and white supremacy, although in the past it was predominantly a symbol of Southern heritage.

Symbol of white supremacy?
The ban came after the National Park Service had advised all its affiliated cemeteries to stop flying the Confederate flag. This had been prompted by the slaying of 9 blacks on June 17, 2015. All stores at the parks were advised not to sell or display the Confederate flags as a stand-alone feature.

The Confederate flag even after a century and a half of the end of the civil war is still regarded as a symbol by white diehard racists. One wonders how nobody took any offense for over a century. Times are changing and in the words of Rep.Keith Ellison the flags symbolize "racial hierarchy with blacks at the bottom". He would like even the small flags to be banned.

The unequal soldier

The unequal soldier

A divided nation

Despite the actions taken by the VA as far as confederate graves go, it is felt that it is too little and too late. The history of the Confederate Memorial shows the divisive legacy of the Civil War. Arlington National Cemetery is an example of this and shows that blacks have not yet been accepted as equal to whites. This is the real American culture. Many deny it but one can't run away from it.

It is worth noting that after 35 years of the end of the civil war In 1900, Congress authorized Confederate remains to be reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery. A special section was created for these graves. It was followed in 1914 by the Confederate memorial This was done in the spirit of 'reconciliation' as American culture and pride began to develop. It is sad but this spirit of reconciliation did not extend to Afro-Americans. Many petitions were filed by Afro-Americans but they were denied and only in 1948, President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces by executive order and this applied to the cemeteries. There is a segregated memorial for black troops; this shows the divide in America.

Reconciliation was granted to the Confederate or Union, but not to African- American soldiers who had served their country. Arlington National Cemetery gives us an understanding of the history of America, where white supremacists still rule and I don't think it's going away.

I will end with another poignant message. When I visited the Arlington cemetery I was surprised that the war memorial for Confederates shows two figures ( out of 14)portrayed. The first is an enslaved woman shown as a 'Mammy' nursing a child of a white officer and an enslaved man following his owner/master to war. An inscription of the Latin phrase “Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Caton” (“The victorious cause was pleasing to the gods, but the lost cause to Cato”) construes the South’s secession as a noble “Lost Cause.” Why has this not been removed?

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