We are at a turning point in history. Just as the pendulum of justice is finally swinging in the right direction, a tide of indignation is rising. In short, a maelstrom of metaphors is sucking us all in, forcing us to look one another in the eye as we swirl round and round.
Given that we are finally willing to evict the Confederate flag from public spaces and condemn it to gather dust in basement museum displays next to Andrew Jackson’s copy of “Mein Kampf” and Dolly Madison’s leather KKK-patterned thong, might we not go ahead and exhume the commander of the Confederate Army and give him a good talking-to?
General Robert E. Lee, also known as the Racist of Raleigh, the Bigot of Birmingham, and the Neckbeard of Nashville, is the most recognizable face of the losing side in the War to Eradicate Hate. Many people, myself top among them, know that unless we get this man to open what remains of his heart to love — and reject the Confederate flag and all that it’s politically expedient to say it stands for — this country will never heal itself.
I know what you’re thinking: Robert E. Lee is dead, and so are his ears and brain. Even the clothes he was buried in, the nice grey suit, all rotted away, along with the tiny embroidered Confederate flag that a kooky old granny probably sewed to his lapel seconds before the coffin was sealed. And even if he could hear us, you wonder, how could we possibly change the mind of a 209-year-old villain who not only fought a war to preserve and protect hate, but whose very legacy depends on it?
But what if … we could raise his consciousness?
Might he admit that he had been, well … wrong?
Would our generous use of ellipses … appeal to the better angels of his nature?
It’s not desecration of a corpse if it’s for a good cause
A good friend of mine, who incidentally writes code for military-themed video games, says that any mission needs one thing: a plan. And what a plan I’ve got.
I’ll form a crack commando unit of social justice warriors — the brightest undergrads from the best peace and social justice studies programs at the top schools — and in the wee hours of night, we’ll break into Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University, wherein lies the General’s tomb. Energized by nothing but our righteous indignation, we’ll dig up the coffin and remove the General, all the while passing no judgment on his degenerated physical state, as doing so would constitute ageism, lookism, and alivism.
Once he’s secured in the back of a rented freezer truck, I’ll bid my farewell to Justice Team 6 and embark with the General on the two-hour drive to where resides Miriam S., an old friend of mine from prep school whose estate happens to contain a climate-controlled wine cellar — perfect for a serious tête-à-tête with Lee.
While Miriam and I are getting reaquainted with each other, her personal assistant will take the General into one of the cool, dry caves to be coiffured and given a change of clothes. A simple Brooks Brothers grey three-piece suit should suffice. Personally, if I’m not bathed and shaved, I’m in no mood to listen to others, no matter how just their cause.
Face to face with such an infamous personage, how does one proceed?
It’s possible that General Lee has spent the last few decades stewing in his own guilt, just waiting for the chance to come clean. I’ll take his hand — assuming that it’s still attached to his wrist — and say, “Are you, sir, ready at this moment to renounce hate and all symbols of hate, including the Confederate battle flag?”
If the General appears to nod, we’ll take a selfie and post it to Instagram with the hashtag #HateLoses. History will crumble into to sea, a renewed spirit of love will sweep over the land, and my social justice warrior friends and I can expect to be honored with a slew of honorary degrees, glowing profiles in the best news websites, and 20 years of highly paid speaking engagements.
But what if the conversion does not go so well? What if the General is angry that I’ve removed him from his resting place, and he loses his temper, comically stands up on his rickety bones, adopts the voice of Foghorn Leghorn, and declares, “Go, I say go away boy, you bother me. Leave me be.”
What if General Lee is stubborn, tells me that I know nothing of history, that I’m the one who’s got his head up his ass?
I must remain strong, for I am on the right side of history — assuming that time goes forward and can be diagramed by a single line, easily divided to two sides, that is. Of course, if we believe in the existence of multiverses and accept that time is relative, well, then there’s no such thing as the right or wrong side. What if General Lee has been studying theoretical physics this whole time? What if he’s a regular Stephen Hawking and just blows my bold proclamations out of the water? How will I respond? I know nothing of physics. Might I lie? Insult him? No, I will remain true to the cause.
I will declare in no uncertain terms that hate is bad. Who but the devil himself could disagree? Next, I’ll posit that symbols of hate are just as bad as hate itself, if not worse, because symbols keep emotions burning long after their grip on the heart has naturally loosened. General Lee, a keen thinker and a graduate of West Point, would recognize this as “reason” and concede the point.
I will say in a firm but loving voice, “You and your rum-sipping plantation owner friends waged a war in the name of hate, General Lee. You lost that war, but you thought you could keep hate alive by sneaking your little flag all over the place, from beer cozies sold in Mississippi truck stops to the tops of Dodge Chargers driven by the Duke boys. Your plan worked for 150 years, but not anymore. Do you know why, Mr. Lee?”
I’ll wait for him to shake his head and hope that it doesn’t roll off his neck. Then, in the most of economical of arguments, I’ll say:
Will he cry? Will I cry? Will Miriam save a space for me in that large bed of hers? Will federal agents come bursting through the door? We’ll never know until we try. So let’s try. Because doing something is better than doing nothing. Even if that something fails. Because failure is the first step to success.
Franklin J. Dubbles is the publisher of the Dandy Goat. He completed nearly two semesters of art school and has travelled extensively.