Dennis Persica: I once cared about Confederacy, but times have changed me _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--A diverse group of streetcar riders pass by Lee Circle in New Orleans, La.

Dear Confederacy:

Sorry, I’m just not that into you.

And by “you,” I don’t just mean the nation that declared itself in 1861 and died four years later. I also mean all your various emanations: the statues and symbols, the talk of “heritage,” the various groups that kept trying to push Confederate ideals a century after the war.

You’d think we’d be a good match. I’m white, a lifelong Southerner, born in the middle of the 20th century, part of a family with Southern roots dating back to the 19th.

But unlike many white Southerners who can name ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, I can’t.

Of my great-great grandparents — the generation who would have been adults during the Civil War — only one was born in New Orleans. That was in 1840. One was born in London, another in Mexico and 13 in Italy between 1815 and 1855.

I don’t know when those who came to the United States arrived here. Most likely it was in the 1880s, when Italian immigrants flooded into Louisiana.

The influx created an anti-immigrant backlash. The same white rage that fueled the anti-Reconstruction Battle of Liberty Place in 1874 also animated those who lynched 11 Italian-Americans in 1891.

Some argue that the Civil War was not about slavery. Sure, freeing slaves was not the reason the North went to war, just as liberating concentration camps was not the reason we battled Nazi Germany. But while we correctly pin the horrors of the Third Reich on Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, some try to disassociate Lee, Davis and Beauregard from slavery.

It’s true there were slave states fighting for the Union, and pro-slavery sentiment wasn’t uncommon in the North. But that’s not an exoneration of the South. Sadly, it shows how deeply entrenched were the views that clashed with our core national principle that all men are created equal, endowed with unalienable rights.

Voltaire wrote, “The perfect is the enemy of the good” (but credits the idea — nota bene! — to some “wise Italian”). To say that the Union was too imperfect to undertake a war against the Confederacy is like saying the Allied powers weren’t morally perfect enough to fight the Nazis.

After all, anti-Semitic sentiments were not alien to the Americans, British and French. Great Britain and France still had colonies in Africa and Asia. Jim Crow was in full bloom here. Add in the Soviet Union and the moral picture is muddied even further.

But the right side — the good, not the perfect, side — still won.

Some say that taking down Confederate memorials is like sending history down an Orwellian memory hole. But the truth is that it was the South that censored the story of the Civil War.

If statues of Lee, Beauregard and Davis are simply historical markers, where are the monuments for those who fought on the other side? Shouldn’t a statue of Andre Cailloux, a Louisiana-born black Union officer who died in an attack on Fort Hudson, have been put up then, too?

For that matter, I can’t think of a single tribute to Abraham Lincoln in New Orleans.

There was a time when I cared about you. I was 11 at the start of the war’s centennial. I’m sure I pulled for the Southern troops in TV shows or movies. But those sentiments didn’t last past my 15th birthday.

It was the 1960s. There was JFK’s election and assassination, the Civil Rights movement, the LBJ/Goldwater campaign, the Vietnam war and more assassinations.

Times like those can change a person. I changed.

And I’m just not that into you.

Dennis Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.