Last I knew of it the Civil War--the Woh Between the States, as white folks called it in the part of Southside Virginia where I grew up--came to an end on the ninth day of April 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, itself not far from Southside. But human nature being human nature, and Virginians--God knows--being Virginians, the Woh ain't over yet, not by a long shot.
The most recent skirmish was fought only last week, and the next will come next week, unless, of course, another pops up before this week ends, and don't bet the house--not to mention the framed lithograph of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson--against it, because skirmishes fly faster than grapeshot at Manassas. Just when you think it's safe to unearth the family silver from its hiding place under the spreading magnolia, along comes someone with a chip on his shoulder bigger than Sherman's whole army, and before you know it--bang!--the Blue and the Gray are at it again.
Take last week in--where else?--Richmond. The capital of the Old Dominion and erstwhile capital of the Confederacy can always find something to squabble about where the loose ends of the Woh are concerned, and last week was no exception. Only in Richmond could a perfectly innocent development project erupt into Third Bull Run, which is what happened when the people in charge of something called Canal Walk--"a recreational and commercial project intended," according to a report in this newspaper, "to revitalize [Richmond's] long-neglected riverfront"--made the mistake of trying to pretty up the undertaking with a bit of local history.
History, in Richmond as everywhere else in Ol' Virginny, is dynamite. Say "history" in any other U.S. city or state and people either fall instantly asleep or dream of Disney World, but say it in Virginia and people start shooting. That's what happened when Canal Walk's developers decided to put up portraits of a bunch of celebrated Virginians along a flood wall beside the James River. You can't hardly do that in Virginia unless you include Robert E. Lee, so that's just what Canal Walk did, pasting him up alongside the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
The paste had barely dried before Sa'ad El-Amin, a member of the City Council, went ballistic. He threatened to organize a boycott by blacks of Canal Walk because it had no business honoring Lee, who he said was no better than a Nazi. If this immediately reminds you of white segregationists who used to go around shouting that Martin Luther King Jr. was no better than a communist--in fact almost certainly was a communist--well, you're right, but when it comes to fighting this never-ending war, truth is always the first casualty.
One need be neither a racist nor a Lost Cause sentimentalist to understand that Lee was a principled and honorable man who deserves the respect of history, if not the adulation accorded him by the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, who launched themselves into the ionosphere the instant they heard about El-Amin's heresy. The commander of the Virginia chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Robert W. Barbour, called the removal of the portrait "desecration" and said that Lee is "a hero of all Virginians," which is every bit as ludicrous as what El-Amin said, and which suggests that the two have more in common than either could ever admit.
No doubt they'll be taking potshots at each other in the newspapers and the evening news until kingdom come, but what I say is that they should settle matters in the here and now. They should hustle up I-95 to Fredericksburg, hang a left onto State Highway 3, and make their way to Brandy Station, where each should pitch camp on his own side of the Great Divide. That's because in Brandy Station on June 18, 19 and 20, according to an advertisement in last week's Weekend section of The Post, will be staged "The Largest Clash of the Blue & Gray in Virginia since the Civil War!" It is going to be "Perfect for Father's Day!" and it will go on "ALL WEEKEND" and it will offer not merely thousands of Civil War reenactors but also--to name only a few--"Antique Merchandise & Collectibles," "Book Signings," "Candlelight Tours of Battlefield & Camps!" and, best of all, "Authentic Civil War Wedding."
Somehow one doubts that the parties to the wedding will be Sa'ad El-Amin and Robert W. Barbour. However devoutly one might pray for a reconciliation between them, an embrace that would mark the last shot, once and for all, in this interminable conflict, that's never going to happen. So just give each man a rifle--yes, it's fake ammo, but the dramatic effect should still be delightful--and let them duke it out. It would be a far more amusing show than the one staged by the "reenactors," those thousands of cases of arrested development playing at Civil War in their authentic blue and gray uniforms and their authentic tents and caissons and their authentic ghastly battlefield food, not to mention their authentic fake blood.
If we're going to fight the Civil War all over again, let's fight. Who needs a bunch of silly reenactors with their silly women's auxiliaries when we've got, in El-Amin and Barbour, the real thing? Me, I'd planned to be in West Virginia that weekend, but if those two guys show up, I want a seat in the front row.
Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is email@example.com