PODUNK AND POLAND
Like a lot of folks in the South, I grew up in an area that easily meets the definition of “Podunk”. Actually, it’s called Pansey, Alabama (2016 population 844) and is located in very rural, unincorporated Southeast Alabama. I’ve got Confederate ancestors buried over there. I couldn’t wait to escape Podunk as a kid and now I miss it. Go figure.
Well, escape it I did and presently I live overseas, while maintaining a house in Florida. There’s not much to do where I currently live, so I travel whenever I get a break. Recently, I took the opportunity to visit Poland for about nine days. It’s a fabulous place actually and the people are warm, inviting, humble, and very polite. There were a number of interesting things that happened on the trip that served as fodder for this post.
The first is, while driving, I noticed this big dresser Harley coming around me and he’s flying flags off the back like many bikers do. As the loud bike passes me, I notice the flag on the left rear is the Polish flag and the one on the right is our Battle Flag. I had to do a double-take as my jaw dropped. I would have given anything to talk to the guy and find out his attraction to the flag, but there was no catching that Harley. I have read and seen where the Battle Flag was flown after the unification of Germany back in the 80’s, but this was last week in Poland! It was after this that I started perceiving a number of similarities to Poland’s experience in WWII to those of the South during the War Between the States.
The next thing I noticed is that the Poles absolutely celebrate and honor their failed attempts to resist subjugation by the Nazis. They fought valiantly, facing impossible odds, against a war machine that they could never hope to conquer. And all over Poland, there are monuments and tributes to their efforts. No one dares tell them, “You lost, get over it.” Because they did lose, and badly. Following their loss to the Nazis, they were liberated (if you can all it that) by the Red Army and suffered under Soviet rule for many years. It brings to my mind, the Southern loss to Union and subsequent oppression and plunder from reconstruction.
The Poles suffered terribly from the effects of “total war”. Nazis Himmler and Goebbels honed and perfected this style of warfare and practice of extermination on the entire population. This to me conjures up Union Generals Sherman and Sheridan who espoused and practiced this first on the South, and then went on to use it with devastating effectiveness on Native Americans. It cannot help but make one wonder where the Nazis got the idea.
I read up on Himmler and Goebbels a bit while I was there in a vain effort to understand what could breed such a penchant for abject cruelty. Interestingly, they both saw the intrinsic value of controlling the media and the use of propaganda. This was to convince the German populace they were in fact, doing everything for the benefit of the fatherland and to garner compliance, if not outright support. Goebbels famously said, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Wow. The War Between the States was about slavery and the Confederates were traitors. Rinse and repeat.
It is also interesting how Poland became to be at war with Germany. The Germans wanted to invade, but needed a reason so they would not upset the geopolitical applecart and draw other countries into the fray coming to Poland’s aid. Poland needed to fire the first shot. When they did not, Germany staged an attack on one of their own radio stations by German troops dressed as Polish military and promptly invaded.
This leads me to think of Lincoln goading the South by trying to resupply Sumter and all the while misleading the Southern diplomats who were in Washington trying to avoid war. He needed an excuse to invade and while we gave it to him with firing on Sumter, I think there is little doubt another would have been fabricated had we not fired.
Lastly, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. If you ever have need of a sobering experience, you can find it there. In one of the exhibits was a quote by Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel who said, “If we forget, the dead will be killed a second time, and then they become today’s victims.” He was of course speaking of the Holocaust victims. To head off any grief by those thinking I am making any sort of direct comparison to the plight of the
Jewish people in WWII and those of Southerners during and after the War Between the States, I assuredly am not. There is nothing in the history of modern man that approaches level of atrocity committed during the Holocaust. But I Googled the quote and its message is not exactly unique.
To me it applies to the erasure of our ancestors’ memories that is currently being perpetuated throughout the South. It’s like they are dying again, only this time we are not permitted to honor or even acknowledge their sacrifice. How we continue to let that happen is beyond me.
So what’s the takeaway in all this? Krakow and Columbia, Richmond and Warsaw; they both looked a lot alike after the victors were done. But, don’t you think it a shame to have to go to Poland to see our Battle Flag flying freely? One of these days, the Polish will have some joke that starts out, “How many Rebels does it take to……..Oh, wait, there aren’t any left!” Then they’ll thank us for our flag, because they are nothing if not polite.