When driving home last week, I stopped in historic Gettysburg, Pa., to visit the National Military Park. There, a short distance from the Soldiers National Monument, I was drawn to these words from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “… Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
The events surrounding the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist rally last weekend confirm the fact that we are still fighting the echoes of that civil war. Three people died as a result of this violent demonstration of white supremacy, leaving behind three devastated families. Evidently, we continue to bleed from self-inflicted wounds that should have healed centuries ago.
I lived in the South for years while on active duty. I will never forget the friendship, warmth and hospitality that welcomed me during my time there — but as a student of military history, I just can’t understand their connection to the symbols of the failed Confederate state.
Think about it: After the World Wars, did we erect monuments to Nazi generals and fly the Nazi banner in any of the territories they once controlled? So why do we tolerate the symbols and monuments from an ideology that is inconsistent with our core American values of equality and inclusion?
While many would agree that the Confederate flag and the Nazi flag represent very different things, somehow they both keep showing up at white supremacist rallies. In other words, if we were to draw a Venn diagram with two large white circles each representing the ideologies represented by the Confederate flag and Nazi flag, the shaded area where the two circles overlap represents white supremacy.
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For instance, James Alex Fields Jr. is the man accused of plowing his car into a group of activists that came to Charlottesville to protest the white supremacist congregation. His high school history teacher recently revealed that Fields has always had a “fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked the rise of hundreds of hate groups throughout the United States over the last decade. Many of these groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, can be considered terrorist organizations and have collectively inflicted more attacks on Americans than ISIS. As leaders of the Free World, we have a duty to denounce deliberately and emphatically all of these extremist groups. However, President Donald Trump wavered in his initial response and instead blamed “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville.
Many known white supremacist leaders, including David Duke from the KKK, endorsed Trump during his campaign. Trump failed to disavow immediately the endorsements, and his administration fumbled yet again by waiting 48 hours to condemn the white supremacists responsible for this national crisis. (His comments since have gone back toward the “both sides” claim.)
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What bothers me is that Trump never hesitated in his attacks against senators, congressmen, the media and countless others; but when he has to call out white nationalists, he takes his time, needs the help of a teleprompter, and clearly appears uncomfortable.
With repeated attacks on immigration, refugees and minorities, this administration seems to be pandering to un-American alt-right ideologies of intolerance and bigotry.
As a Sikh-American, I proudly wear my turban. However, when I was younger, kids would tease me about it, with some calling me “Aladdin.” After 9/11, the taunts turned from “Aladdin” to “bin Laden,” and the attacks have increased in both frequency and ferocity.
Only five years have passed since the senseless mass shooting by a white supremacist at a Sikh house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisc. The Sikh community at Oak Creek patched all of the bullet holes except one to serve as a reminder to all those who visit. Sikh turbans represent our commitment to social justice and freedom. The turban also stands for the same values I swore to uphold as an officer in the Army. For centuries, Sikh warriors have fought oppression and defended those who are unable to defend themselves. My faith demands that I stand up against intolerance and seek justice for all.
We cannot hope for justice in Charlottesville if our public officials waver when confronting these hate groups. We must hold our politicians accountable for the tragic deaths in Charlottesville.
President Lincoln reminds us “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
When we allow white nationalist groups to promote hatred or violence in public forums, the democratic ideals that prevailed in the Civil War are both degraded and undermined. To me, it doesn’t matter whether the blood was spilled in Oak Creek, Charlottesville or Gettysburg — we all bleed the same, sorrowful shade of red.
These home-grown terrorist organizations promote white supremacy at the cost of American lives. We desperately need our political leaders to stand up against hatred, racism and inequality in order to help heal these festering wounds of a very un-civil war.
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Lt. Col. Kamal S. Kalsi is an emergency room doctor and a U.S. Army officer who has served in the military for 16 years. He also serves as a member of Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. The opinions expressed here are his alone. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.