Look Away, Dixieland

(The following correction was issued by TIME on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003. Courtesy Confederate Memorial Association.

The article “Look Away, Dixieland” [January 27, 2003] stated that President George W. Bush “quietly reinstated” a tradition of having the White House deliver a floral wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery — a practice “that his father had halted in 1990.” The story is wrong.)

Bush may have rebuked Lott for his praise of Strom Thurmond, but the President recently revived a practice of paying homage to an even greater champion of the Confederacy


A wreath sent by President Bush to the confederate monument

Sunday, January 19, 2003
George W. Bush issued a stern rebuke to Senator Trent Lott in December for his praise of the segregationist 1948 presidential bid of Strom Thurmond. But Bush has revived a practice of paying homage to an even greater champion of the Confederacy—Jefferson Davis.

Last Memorial Day, for the second year in a row, Bush's White House sent a floral wreath to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Six days later, as the United Daughters of the Confederacy celebrated Jefferson Davis' birthday there, Washington chapter president Vicki Heilig offered a “word of gratitude to George W. Bush” for “honoring” the Old South's dead.

Bush has quietly reinstated a tradition dating back to Woodrow Wilson that his father had halted in 1990. The elder Bush was weary of infighting among various Confederacy groups, so his White House quit participating altogether. The current Bush White House denies any change in policy. But John Edward Hurley, head of the Confederate Memorial Association in Washington, says, “No one saw a wreath from 1990 until George W. Bush got elected,” and other participants in the annual event support his account.

It's not clear why, after more than a decade's lapse, the current Bush White House resumed this symbolic tribute to the Old South. But one of the organizations connected to the ceremony is the Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose “Chief Aide-de-Camp” is Richard T. Hines, a politically active lobbyist from South Carolina. In that state's brutal 2000 Republican primary, Hines reportedly helped finance tens of thousands of letters blasting Bush rival John McCain for failing to support the flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. Hines declined to comment.

Courtesy of the Washington Times:

First Time magazine got it wrong this week. Then it was the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. After that, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. All were critical of President Bush, who on Memorial Day honored Confederate soldiers with floral wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mr. Reid went so far as to call Mr. Bush's gesture “racially motivated.”

Both the senator and Miss Dowd cited a Time magazine report claiming that Mr. Bush two years ago “quietly reinstituted” the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Monument. According to Time, the president's father, President George Bush, ended the wreath tradition in 1990. “Why on earth would the president of the U.S. in the year 2003 take the trouble to do that?” Miss Dowd asked in Wednesday's newspaper.

He didn't.

The Washington Times reported on Wednesday what this Inside the Beltway column wrote on May 30, 2001, of the presidential wreath layings: “There has been no change in administration policy, that the first Bush administration continued to send the wreaths throughout, and that the practice was continued by President Clinton,” the military office in charge of cemetery affairs said this week. (Of course, nobody paid mind to our original wreath-laying item because Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi had yet to open his mouth at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party and make race-baiting the latest “rage” of Democrats.) Finally, what everybody (except us) forgot to add is that apart from the Confederate Monument — which honors 482 Americans, including 58 wives of Civil War veterans and 12 unknowns buried around its base — this and past presidents sent Memorial Day wreaths to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Spanish-American War Memorial and the mast of the USS Maine.

Miss Dowd told us yesterday that she will be issuing a correction after Time magazine issues its correction. Time was expected to post a correction on its Web site as early as last night.

26 January 2003

Senator shamelessly reopens healed wounds

Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid's mean-spirited criticism of President Bush for honoring Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery was also a slap at the South (“Reid hits Bush for cemetery wreath,” Nation, Wednesday).

I personally know something about healing old wounds. In 1970, I and some 35 Marine veterans of Iwo Jima gathered with Japanese survivors on top of Mount Suribachi for a memorial ceremony honoring the dead on both sides. The Japanese laid a wreath on the plaque honoring the American dead, while a 5-year-old American boy named Kent Arnold (named for his uncle who was killed in the battle) laid one on the plaque honoring the Japanese dead. Later in Tokyo, Iwo Jima veterans of both sides held a reunion that was marked by the spirit of friendship and reconciliation.

That happened 25 years after the battle. Now one would think that after 138 years, the bitterness and hostility of the American Civil War would have been laid to rest long ago, but the likes of Mr. Reid keep reopening old wounds. Even when the Civil War was in its final bloody stage, President Lincoln called for reconciliation “with malice towards none, with charity for all,” including Southerners.

This was taken to heart by some of the warriors themselves. Historian John M. Taylor recounts the postwar friendship between Union Gen. William T. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. When Sherman died in 1891, Johnston was a pallbearer. Because of Johnston's old age and the cold weather, a member of the party said to Johnston, “General, please put on your hat.” Johnston replied, “If I were in his place, and he were here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” Ten days later, Johnston himself died.
We are told that presidents have laid wreaths on the Confederate monument at Arlington dating to Woodrow Wilson. Whatever one's point of view of the Civil War may be, these Confederates died defending what they believed to be a just cause, and more than nine out of 10 Southerners never even owned a slave.

One can only shake one's head at the lack of grace and charity exhibited by Mr. Reid's cheap shot, undoubtedly made for partisan political purposes.

Alexandria, Virginia

Reid hits Bush for cemetery wreath
The Senate's second-ranking Democrat criticized President Bush yesterday for honoring Confederate soldiers with wreaths the last two Memorial Days, calling it “racially motivated” and another example of opposition to civil rights.

Senator Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, cited a Time magazine report that said Mr. Bush two years ago renewed a practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day. The Washington Times reported that wreath-laying at the time.

The Time article said the president's father, former President George Bush, ended the wreath tradition in 1990 — a claim the White House, a spokeswoman for the military district of Washington and Confederate heritage groups immediately refuted.

“It certainly flies in the face of what the administration says they're trying to do,” Mr. Reid said. “The President reinstated something that his father stopped because it was wrong, laying a wreath at the Confederate memorial. It's wrong, and we need to speak out against it because it is wrong.”

Asked why the issue came up now, a spokeswoman for Mr. Reid said he was using the Time article as a starting point for his floor speech — which also attacked the administration and the Republicans on a host of civil rights and race-relations issues.

In the month since Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi stepped down as leader of Senate Republicans, Democrats have made a host of attacks on Republicans over race or race-related issues and taken public stances on Confederate-heritage matters. For example, Democratic presidential candidates Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Represntative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri have all criticized flying the Confederate battle flag in one or another way.
Republicans saw Mr. Reid's attack in that context.

“This is the best political opportunity that has happened to Democrats since Enron, and they're going to grab onto it with both hands,” one Republican congressional aide said. But the military office that handles affairs at Arlington said there has been no change in administration policy, that the first Bush administration continued to send wreaths throughout and that the practice was continued by President Clinton.

Jennifer Lafley, a spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington, said the wreath-laying on Memorial Day is one of several wreaths the White House sends to Arlington every year. The president himself delivers a wreath to the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the White House sends other wreaths to be placed at the Spanish-American War Memorial and beneath the mast of the USS Maine, in addition to the Confederate Monument.

White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee also disputed the Time story, and the administration provided to The Washington Times copies of requests for wreaths for all four locations for every year back through 1990.

The cornerstone to the Confederate Monument was laid in 1912, and 482 persons are buried near the monument, including 46 officers, 351 enlisted men, 58 wives, 15 Southern civilians and 12 unknowns.

Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the practice of sending wreaths may go back further than the first Bush administration.”These wreaths have been laid, as far as I know, even back to the times of Woodrow Wilson. I can't say it's done every year by presidents, but most of the time,” he said. “As I understand it, President Clinton sent a wreath. So it's a bipartisan thing, and they're honoring Confederate war dead.”

He and other Confederate-heritage advocates said Mr. Reid's attacks are purely political. “This is all part of the far-left Democratic leadership's strategy for 2004,” said Ron Casteel, chief of staff for the national Sons of Confederate Veterans. “They just want to try to ensure the Democratic Party base turns out in 2004.”

Still, Mr. Casteel said Democrats may be miscalculating with the attack on the monument. “There's a vast difference in public opinion,” he said. “It's one thing to have the flag in a sovereign position [over a state Capitol], and it's another thing to have the flag flown in honor of Confederate dead.”

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