Guest Opinions

In the difficult world of reparations, what can be accomplished?

Dare I even broach the subject of reparations for the descendants of American slaves for fear of unleashing a torrent of grievances for real or imagined past or present crimes and misdemeanors by any person or group? After all, when President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March 2016, who but Fidel Castro himself came storming out of his nursing home to demand reparations for all the embargos, barricades, sanctions, snubs and brush-offs the capitalistic dogs of Washington had inflicted on his poor, struggling, brutal communistic dictatorship for the past five decades. Fidel wanted cold, hard cash, and he wanted it now!

Today’s handout seekers are more benign. Usually a youngish black woman at a town hall Q&A, or on a roundtable TV discussion group, appearing like clockwork every presidential cycle. “What about reparations for the descendants of the black slaves?” they ask the aspiring presidential candidates. And the familiar canned answers: “Probably won’t happen, not in today’s political atmosphere.” “Will have to go through congressional committees, receive bipartisan support, it’ll be very difficult if not impossible.” “All the civil rights legislation, affirmative action laws and government-funded minority programs are your reparations.” “It’s something we’ll have to take a very close look at.”

Bulletin from 1865: The federal government has already paid. Estimates vary, but using the U.S. National Park Service official tally of Civil War losses, the Union casualties were 609,834 killed and wounded in action and disease deaths, all to defeat the secessionist Southern states, abolish slavery and preserve the Union. Opinions differ, but I would be embarrassed to ask the feds for more.

Confederate casualties were 452,026 killed and wounded in action and disease deaths, all to try to protect slavery and secession, establish an outlaw Confederacy, and with the crossing into Pennsylvania with the avowed purpose of overthrowing the federal government, a terrorist Confederacy.

I would suggest that the reparation seekers go after the descendants of the slave owners. There must be some left, and maybe they could sell off their plantations to pay reparations. But that sounds like a long, bitter legal fight with too many ambiguities. More realistically, the reparation seekers should go after the 11 states that made up the Confederacy, since they started the Civil War in the defense of secession and slavery, and all the profits that peculiar institution generated. Were they not the belligerents? Was it not war?

However, given the present hostile climate of demonstrations, physical altercations, vandalism and general violence over inanimate objects such as Confederate flags and old statutes of generals, I doubt the 11 Southern states would pay a penny.

That’s everyone on my list. But the reparation seekers should keep trying. One day they might find a soft spot in the federal government’s defenses, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Tom Yount is a Boise resident.