Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced Friday morning that he will declare April 2011 "Civil War in Virginia" month, rather than "Confederate History Month," as he offered a humble apology for a proclamation this year that omitted reference to slavery's role in the war.Speaking at a scholarly conference about slavery hosted as part of Virginia's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War at Norfolk State University, McDonnell called this year's proclamation an "error of haste, not heart." "My major and unacceptable omission of slavery disappointed and hurt a lot of people--myself included," he said..."One hundred and fifty years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War," he told the 1,600 attendees of the conference on "Race, Slavery and Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory."He promised Virginia would conduct a sensitive commemoration of the war in coming years. "For this to be truly one nation, under God, it required the abolition of slavery," he said. "A modern Virginia will take four years and will remember that past with candor, with courage and with conciliation."
I don't live in Virginia, but as someone with a keen interest in the war, I am heartened by this kind of forthright acknowledgement of error, and willingness--long after the story has faded from the news--to actually make this right. It seems wrong to continuosly attack those who would remake the past in the model of comfort, and then not acknowledge those are would confront it with all of its pains.
To do this in the heart of the old Confederacy is, to my mind, an act of courage which does not deserve to be cynically dissected for how it "benefits" McDonnell. Arguments for self-interest can almost always be made when doing the right thing. What is deserved, by my lights, is nothing short of unqualified, unmitigated applause.
You can not ask politicians to do the right thing, and then attack them for doing it.
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