aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Here's to the King over the Water -- and another for Flora Macdonald

Recently, I've been listening to a bunch of songs by an old Scots folk group, The Corries. I was entranced by their versions of The Braes o' Killicrankie and Bonnie Dundee. These are old Jacobite anthems, and time was, singing such songs would identify one as a partisan in the Stuart-Williamite succession dispute. Today, they are sung by Scots of all parties. Even those of us who think that the Stuarts were dangerous fools enjoy singing, "Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can/Come saddle my horses and call out my men . . ." Whatever the arguments between Scotland and England today, trying to refight Killiecrankie or Culloden seems like a vast waste of time.

By the same token, the songs and emblems of the American Civil War seem like a very long time ago. Yes, the segregationists of 70 years ago tried to re-appropriate them, but time has passed them by, too. My great-grandfather Zechariah Pulliam and his brother were kidnapped by Morgan's Raiders as they passed through southeastern Indiana. The result was, as soon as Zechariah was old enough to lie about his age, he joined the Union army to fight back. I honor his memory and his cause, but I also think that singing Dixie or waving a Confederate flag at a NASCAR event doesn't make you an apologist for slavery.

As a schoolboy, J.R.R. Tolkien moved in his school debating society, "Resolved: that this house deplore the Norman Conquest." I can understand the sentiment; at the same time, making such a motion in the early 20th Century is something entirely different from moving the same in the early 12th Century. Context matters, and time has a way of making us the heir of both sides. We can sort out rights and wrongs -- and separate both from art -- when we are somewhat removed from the actual events.

This doesn't mean that I find people who want to dress up in KKK robes or sing the Horst Wessel Lied as harmless as I do some hobbyist who enjoys re-enacting the American Revolution in period dress. Some symbols will have to be buried for a very long time in order to be received neutrally. But eventually, the archaeologists of some distant time will be able to display and discuss the mid-20th Century as dispassionately as we now do the atrocities of the Assyrians.

So you can enjoy Kipling's stories without wishing for the British Empire to return. You can sing The Molly Maguires without advocating violence in the coal fields. You can admire Neuschwannstein without endorsing the whims of Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria. And you can eat your Thanksgiving turkey without re-litigating the last three hundred years of European/American relations with the Indians.

At some point, every battle flag becomes an artifact, and artifacts belong to everybody.

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