Flag at Elmwood offensive
Each time I drive through your beautiful and historic city, my heart breaks and my blood boils as I drive past the Elmwood Cemetery on route 480 south out of Shepherdstown. There is on that hallowed ground a monument to the Confederate Soldiers from the area who served in the Civil War. Above the monument flies the symbol of the Confederacy, the battle flag of the only sovereign nation that has brought war directly onto United States soil.
It is perhaps obvious that my writing today is stimulated by the attack on the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, but my strong objections date to long before that cowardly, vicious, and inhumane act.
The Confederate States of America fought a long and bloody war against the United States of America. Hundreds of thousands died on both sides, and our area is of course deeply imbued with that history – both its glory and its shame.
We have fought other wars since that time. I may be mistaken, but I doubt that there are, anywhere in the US, monuments raised to the (no doubt) brave Japanese, Germans, North Koreans, North Vietnamese soldiers who died in service to their own sovereign nations. Nowhere does one see the Japanese Battle Flag or the.swastika flying on U.S. territory on ground consecrated to the remembrance of the dead.
Today, we fight other, less tangible enemies. Today, hundreds, perhaps thousands of these enemies of the United States die what they consider valorous deaths, which we (rightly) view as the costs of initiating a fight with our nation. Nowhere do we find the black flag of ISIS over a memorial to the “brave” men (and sadly, teens) who die in mortal combat against us.
Why, then, is the flag of our nation’s first assailant since the War of 1812 glorified and given space in a cemetery – a civil cemetery, at that, not a general memorial to war dead on all sides? Why do the City of Shepherdstown and the Board of Directors of the Elmwood Cemetery tolerate a flag that, at best, serves as a symbol of some evanescent “heritage” to a failed ideology, and at worst as a symbol of hatred, division, and an organized act of treachery?
I enjoy Shepherdstown; my wife and I met for the first time at the historic Mecklenberg Tavern. Until recently, we frequently found reasons to visit and contribute to the local economy by dining at one of your many fine restaurants, taking a walk along the beautiful riverfront, or browsing the shops along W German Street.
I can’t do much, but this much I can do: Not a single penny of my money will be spent in Shepherdstown until the disgraceful traitors’ flag is lowered at Elmwood Cemetery, and relegated to a museum, where even many of today’s leading Southerners agree it belongs. More importantly, I can hope that you, the other civic leaders of Shepherdstown, and the people of your region, will recognize the shameful message that flag sends, a message inconsistent with the principles on which our nation (by which I mean the United States of America) was founded, and a message that can only represent hatred, and pride, not of the civic kind, but of the kind that celebrates intolerance, indifference, and exclusion, pride over a history of human bondage.
Please, lower that flag. Put it away. Put up a plaque, free of the flag, that acknowledges that men die in wars, regardless of their allegiances, one that mourns their losses without glorifying their cause.
Julius G. Goepp, MD