Understanding, tolerance starts here

By Kurt Vetters

I don’t want to write this article, but I guess I’m the guy to do it. Rats.

I am the descendant of a dozen Confederate veterans and a son of the south. I write about the Civil War. I know its intricate details, characters, causes and repercussions both intrinsically and intellectually.

I therefore say: I will not let the color of my skin or the color of the skin of another American dictate in any way or fashion how I feel about them. We are Americans, and anyone who feels differently needs to get out of their comfort zone and start meeting some new folks.

That’s our problem. We segregate ourselves in communities, churches, peer and social groups. People that are our brothers and sisters become “others.” They are us; we are they; and if we don’t start getting out and tearing down these walls, we will end up destroyed.

Do you want to know where this leads? There is no difference in the destruction in 1865 Civil-War Richmond than there is in Aleppo, Syria, today. I regularly do a book talk and show images of both.

Where do child-soldiers come from? There is no difference between a 14-year-old soldier dying at 1862 Shiloh or dying in 1994 Rwanda, 1945 Berlin or 2015 Syria. Is that where we want to go?

Time doesn’t matter. Pain and suffering are all the same in the end.

America is the great experiment of humanity. We have the great luxury of not being Balkanized. We have the best opportunity in the world to live together peaceably.

It starts at home. If you espouse hate in your own heart, if you think you are better than another because of your race or your culture, then you are the start of the problem. I cannot say that strongly enough: we get along now — for good — or expect your children and grandchildren to die in violence.

Does it break my heart to see Confederate statues come down in public spaces? Yes. They are my heritage. Do I understand that they are friction points? Yes. Can we find an equilibrium? I believe so.

What I don’t want is to see them politicized. I don’t want that heritage used as a political tool today for an ideology of hate.

The only way forward is to continue to love thy neighbor. It is the only way. It is our responsibility to continue the great experiment our forefathers wrought: The land of the free. Prove it.

Here’s an example: My high school in Birmingham is now predominantly black. It was abandoned long ago by its mostly white alumni who moved away.

My brother and his class have resurrected that alumni/student relationship this year. They are present in and support many aspects of the school, and it is growing. Everyone wins. That is how we move forward.

Prove that we are worthy to hold this birthright, and let’s help our fellows be worthy also. Reach outside. Get to know people who don’t look like you. Kindness begets kindness. Generosity begets generosity. And be quick to turn the other cheek. Let’s grow Nelson Mandelas here, not Timothy McVeighs.

The veteran community has already seen this. Black, white, brown — we all served together in the great melting pot of the service.

There is a reason the U.S. military was the first institution to integrate. Do you need a little help loving your fellow man? Ask a veteran who trusted his life to another.

Kurt Vetters, a longtime resident of Greenfield, is a U.S. Army veteran, author and local businessman. He can be reached at kvetters@gmail.com. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.