Do the good guys always win?

It’s interesting to see how history is changed over time. Well, perhaps not so much changed as reinvented. A recent visit to Charleston made me more aware of this.

6-25 Page 4A.inddCharleston is a great city to walk in and there is a definite feel of visiting a foreign country when you see the centuries-old churches and homes, so beautifully cared for by several generations of citizens.

This time I decided to go out to Fort Sumter and tour it, something I’d never done in previous visits. I’d already noticed that our hotel had a large and varied collection of visitors from other countries. The first morning in the lobby over coffee I met a family from Worcestershire, England, who were touring the south. One lady was from France and spoke perfect English. Another couple couldn’t speak English other than to say “good morning.” I don’t know where they were from. But they all came to Charleston.

The English family had been to Memphis to walk Beale Street and saw where Martin Luther King was assassinated. They’d gone to Nashville and walked down Broadway, gone to the Grand Ole Opry and seen the Parthenon. They’d gone to Atlanta primarily to visit Margaret Mitchell’s home. They had visited Boston and walked the Freedom Trail. They’d spent three days in Charleston and were going on to Savannah. They’d read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” numerous times and wanted to see another city in the South that had not been burned during the Civil War.

It was amazing to see how knowledgeable they were about American history, and their fascination with the South intrigued me. As I was the only southerner in the lobby and the only South Carolinian, it became apparent they viewed me as a source of information and referred to me as “an authentic Southern Belle.”

I felt a real responsibility to hold up my end and represent the region in a positive way, which I did to the best of my ability. It helped that I was dressed in a long cotton sundress and had on a hat in preparation for the morning’s walk.

When I joined the Fort Sumter assortment of tourists on the ferry, there was a young family of Japanese tourists, a large multi-generational family from France, a group of Scandinavians, an Italian family and several English families.

There were also people from the Midwest and the Northeast.

I overheard snippets of conversation in a mix of other languages.

Then came the tour of the fort.

It is very true that the victors of war get to write the history of events. For the most part, the narrative was pretty accurate but the park ranger had a carefully edited script.

This was brought into perspective for me when a 12-year-old from Illinois said to his father, following the presentation, “See, Dad, the good guys always win.”

This took me aback. That’s a nice way of saying I was mad as fire.

Every one of my male ancestors fought in that war. They came home — those who survived — to a land that had been completely destroyed.

This was the first war in modern history that was waged against civilians. And the scorched-earth policy put into practice by Sherman left scars on the southern soul, some of which are still waiting to be healed.

The history I grew up with was told by a people who had lived it and somehow survived it.

It was a war that should have never happened, and if the finger of blame is pointed, no entity would be without guilt.

We can even go so far as to say that the New Englanders who amassed fortunes from bringing captured West Africans to this country and selling them like cattle in the market were the worst offenders. That’s where it all began. And they only decided slavery was wrong after there was no longer an economic need for slavery in the north. It was no longer profitable, so they felt free to moralize.

Funny how that profit margin is so important.

Slavery was wrong. It was always wrong and is still going on in various parts of the world. But killing civilians, starving women and children, stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, driving off stock, burning homes and churches and pulling up the sweet potatoes out of the field is wrong too. Torturing a slave for information about where the hams are hidden is wrong. Raping women is wrong.

And grinding an entire part of the country into abject poverty leaves a legacy of bitterness among the descendants of those who suffered such indignities.

After World War II, European countries were rebuilt. Japan was rebuilt. Debts were forgiven, and the conquerors were merciful to the survivors.

The Civil War ended more than a century ago. How different our world would be if the policies enacted during Reconstruction had never been implemented.

So, little boy from Illinois, who were the good guys?