"What Were Those Blank Checks Worth?" (Essay)

Memorial Day, 2019.
Between my parents, at least six of my ancestors fought to preserve the Union in various regiments from the state of Connecticut. Two of them fell here in Virginia, at Deep Bottom and Weldon Railroad during Grant's relentless and costly 1864 march on Richmond. My 4G grandfather Asa Harvey was wounded at Deep Bottom and eventually died of disease. And of course my 3G grandfather Aretas Culver was held prisoner at Andersonville POW camp for six months, and died at home soon after he was paroled.

While their personal feelings about slavery are unknown to me, they each "wrote that blank check" and handed it to Abraham Lincoln in order to preserve the Union, this imperfect experiment begun some 85 years earlier on a rotted foundation. Lincoln, regardless of his personal feelings about "the peculiar institution," understood the paradox about "all men created equal" and reluctantly undertook its undoing. It would cost nearly every family in the land dearly, and cost Lincoln his life. The first "Memorial Day" was organized just a few weeks after the surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln's death at a former Confederate prison camp in Charleston SC. The organizers were largely newly freed African-Americans, regiments of US Colored Troops and a small contingent of Charleston residents.

A few days from now we will mark the 75th anniversary of the landing at Normandy. Young men from all over this great nation wrote blank checks that were cashed by the thousands in just a few hours time, including 23 from the small Virginia town of Bedford. They fought to liberate a continent from the dark and genocidal stains of Nazism and fascism.

I would not speak for the dead, but I must wonder in these absurd times. What would these men, who gave all for this flag, their families and this brilliant and still imperfectly evolving ideal, think of their home country tolerating and to a point even encouraging these long-discredited and hateful ideals marching freely in the streets of their towns and the halls of their government?

We have always disagreed in this spirited and independent land about many things, and about the way to go about doing many things even where do agree on the goal. We have come to blows over it, first to shed ourselves of the whims of a distant monarch, and again over whether we have the right to subjugate a people simply based on the color of their skin. I believe that the right side won each of those tragic family feuds. There were many here during the Great Depression who sympathized with the Nazi ideals of white supremacy and Aryan purity, and again in the end, I believe the right cause won.

So on this #MemorialDay, as we contemplate the state of our union and the sacrifices of those who fell preserving it, I believe that we are called to stand firm for our ideals as we have not been in my lifetime. For our Constitution, imperfect though it may still yet be. For the rights of all people created equal, and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. For justice for each and all, no exceptions. For the noble American ideals that we go through tough times together, and we lend a helping hand to those in need and in danger. Which at some point, has been each of us.

May those hundreds of thousands of blank checks not have been cashed in vain. #RemembertheFallen #HonortheIdeal #NoNazis #JusticeForAll #NoExceptions

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