Saturday, July 8, 2017
The German Military Cemetery in Normandy sits beside the highway that connects Omaha Beach with the Airborne Museum in St. Mere Eglise to the west. The German and American cemeteries are both somber green spaces providing a final resting place for soldiers, but they are very different.
The American Cemetery has a huge memorial statue with tall battle maps show the defeat of Germany after the historic invasion on the beaches below and across Normandy. All of the American headstones face west, toward home, in neat rows.
The 21,000 soldiers interred in the German cemetery are in double rows facing each other marked with flat stones. They circle a central monument to the soldiers, honoring their bravery and sacrifice. The place quietly honors courage.
It may seem obvious, but there are no maps, no flags, no explanations of why these men fought. There no statues of Hitler, Himmler or any of the Nazi leaders. That cemetery along with the Holocaust memorials I visited showed me how perverse it is that Americans from the South still wave battle flags from the racist war they lost and fight to keep statues of the men who, if they were successful, would have my sons and every other person of African descent in America in chains today.
The South fought to defend the ugliest form of slavery in history, slavery for life with no way to buy yourself out and no hope of release. Greek and Roman forms of slavery in the ancient world were more humane. America was also the last western country to free the slaves, then quickly formed an apartheid region of America. Since the apartheid state lasted for a hundred years after the slave owners lost their war, its creeping racism still infects American life.
The South not only segregated housing and water fountains, they segregated healthcare. One reason our healthcare system is so complicated compared to European countries is that any federal plan for healthcare in the 20th Century had to allow for hospitals and healthcare plans that were separate and quite unequal in the South.
The soldiers who fought for the South deserve honor as brave men who died for the rebellion they supported. But the Southern cause glorifies racism. In Germany you can't honor Nazism and Hitler. In Serbia there are no pickup trucks with Slobodon Milosovic's name stenciled on them. Nobody publicly honors ethnic cleansing.
Nobody should publicly honor the fight to keep other Americans in chains.