Obama remembers U.S. war dead, including Civil War rebels

May 25, 2009

President Barack Obama sent a wreath Monday to a memorial for soldiers who fought on the side of slavery during the Civil War, continuing a 90-year-old Memorial Day tradition despite being urged by historians to “break this chain of racism.”
 
The first black U.S. president also started a new tradition by sending a wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington honoring the 200,000 black soldiers who fought for Union forces in America’s bloodiest conflict.
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“We ask you to break this chain of racism stretching back to Woodrow Wilson and not send a wreath or other token of esteem to the Arlington Confederate Monument,” a group of historians urged Obama earlier this month.
 
“This monument should not be elevated in prestige above other monuments by a presidential wreath,” the scholars said. 

Obama did not mention the controversy in remarks at Arlington National Cemetary after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which holds the remains of unidentified soldiers from World Wars I and II and the Korean War.
 
The cemetary is built on the former estate of General Robert E. Lee, who led the Condederate forces and is revered in American history despite fighting on behalf of states who wanted slavery to continue and spread.
 
Lee’s home still stands at the top of the hill overlooking nearly a quarter of a million graves and across the Potomac River from the memorial to slain President Abraham Lincoln, who led the Union to victory in the conflict from 1861 to 1865 and was assassinated just after the war was won.
 
Obama paid tribute to the soldiers who have fought in all America’s wars and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“To walk these grounds then is to walk through that history. Not far from here, appropriately just across a bridge connecting Lincoln to Lee, Union and Confederate soldiers share the same land in perpetuity,” Obama said.
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Section 60 at the bottom of the hill is the resting spot for many soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afganistan wars.

“The wounds of war are fresh in Section 60. The steady stream of visitors leaves reminders of life, photos, teddy bears, favorite magazines. Friends place small stones as a sign they stopped by. Combat units leave bottles of beer or stamp cigarettes into the ground as a salute to those they rode in battle with,” Obama said.
 
Those that feel the “tug” of duty and are willing to put their lives on the line for their country “are the best of America, and that is what separates them from those who’ve not served in uniform,” Obama said, acknowledging that he belonged in the second group.
 
“My grandfather served in Patton’s Army in World War II, but I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle. I’m the father of two young girls, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child. These are things I cannot know,” Obama said.
 
Obama began the day by having breakfast with families of U.S. soldiers killed in war. In the afternoon, he played golf at the Fort Belvoir Golf Club outside Washington.
 
Obama also sent wreaths to memorials for those who died in the explosion of the USS Maine and in the Spanish American war.
 
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst (Obama places wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns; veterans listen to Obama speak at Arlington National Cemetery)

10 comments

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Here’s to the generations of men and women who made it possible for us to come to this board and have our debate.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

My late grandfather was in “McArthur’s army”. My father served in the National Guard. Today I honor the greatest men I have ever known, and all the great men and women that I don’t know, but who put their lives on the line so that I might have mine. To everyone who has ever put on the uniform, I truly say “Thank You”.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

The War Between the States was about a lot more than Slavery. (i.e. Constitutional government)
President Obama is to be commended for transcending the agendas of the politically correct thought police who alas will always be with us.

Posted by fr john m titus | Report as abusive

As I am a veteran of 11 years service to our great country I am deeply grateful for the men and women who serve and die for this country today. The wounded are no less heroes and their sacrifices are deeply appreciated.

Posted by Richard Hughes | Report as abusive

finaly everybody is equal in the USA…..I was just wondering if among population is indeed like that.

Posted by ignazio meloni | Report as abusive

Providing wreaths for the worst traitors in U.S. history, they should be labeled as the most vile terrorists to ever step foot on our soil.

Shameful to honor a group of men who murdered so many of their own in the name of an immoral secession.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

This was a fight Obama pragmatically chose not to take on right now. Obama handled it with more political savvy than philosophical purity: he sent the Wilson Wreath to the Confederate monument, but pointedly sent a wreath of his own across the Potomac River to the black Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War but are not buried in Arlington.

Some year, Obama or another president will stop sending the Wilson wreath, and may it come soon. This just wasn’t the year.

And some year, after the Wilson Wreath becomes a thing of the past, the Wilson Bridge will be rebuilt again, and renamed, so that the American capitol will not be blighted by having one of its major portals named after such an appalling racist. It’s painful to note that pity that in 2006, it was still “too soon” to do the right thing.

Despite emotional statements to the contrary, membership in the Union was purely a matter of choice. Each State was independent, and had the right to choose to be a part of it, or to leave it. The Federal government embarked on a war of conquest to end the independence the secessionists fought to keep.

Slavery, as onerous an institution as it was, was an emotional issue used by the Union to justify invading and conquering the Southern states.

Today, ignorance of history continues to pervade our country, and I’m so very glad that we have a president who will not submit to that ignorance.

Posted by Rob Wood | Report as abusive

Rob, that was a very nice post you did, it’s purpose was to pat yourself on the back for I’m sure your wonderful and illustrious knowledge of US history. Those racist states wanted to have their own rights, which included a right to own slaves, who cares about anything else. That trumps everything even if it was the 20th most important reason we went to war.

People should be more embarassed about our country’s history with regard to slavery, and stop slapping in the face of every African-American who’s ever lived here by treating the Confederacy as anything more than an abomination.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

I am a proud Southern man as well as a veteran of the U.S. Naval Submarine Service. I am in no way ashamed of my heritage or its history. I am the great great great grandson of Confederate soldiers. Like it or not…the civil war was not over slavery. It was over money. The North would have lost money by the secession of the Southern States..they wanted to sell our cotton to England. Like it or not the South had every right to leave the Union and the Union in her treachery invaded us…to force us to stay in the Union…to keep our cotton. The North didnt go to war over slavery…far from it..they didn’t have any special love for the Africans, infact, they hated them. In the South there may have been slavery but not hatred. And the U.S. President sending a wreath to a Confederate memorial isn’t a slap in the face to African-Americans…many of those African-American’s ancestors fought along-side Gen. Lee and Gen. Jackson and wore GREY uniforms…when you hear a Southern man talk about “Southern history” are you ignorant enough to think that those soldiers who wore the gallant grey uniform and happened to be black are not included in that history…Black Southerners were just as Southern and bled just the same as white Southerners who wore the same grey colours. Anyone who thinks that the Confederate States secceded because of slavery is grossly misinformed and ignorant of their own history.

Posted by David | Report as abusive