[6/15/21 Fairfield Cemetery in Spencerport, NY. Andre Marquis at the Grand Army of the Republic monument dedicated to the Martindale Post, originally unveiled in 1889. Inscription: In memory of the Brave Men who gave their lives for the protection of the Union. Photo: David Kramer see A Small Flag at the Bottom of a Trunk and Confederate soldiers buried in Batavia, Pittsford and Spencerport]
This week Andre Marquis was in town visiting family. A 1981 graduate of Brighton High School, Andre received a BA and MA in Cognitive Science from the University of Rochester in 1986 and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business in 1996. After a career as a serial entrepreneur starting internet and biotech companies, Andre became the Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Lester Center for Entrepreneurship in 2010 and continues to teach there as a Senior Fellow.Andre and I were intrigued that several Confederate soldiers are interred in Monroe County and Batavia, so we set out to see the grave of DeWitt Clinton Guy in Spencerport’s Fairfield Cemetery. Andre was thrilled to take his first Talker adventure. Absent the usual Bay Area traffic bottlenecks Andre is used to, we reached Spencerport in no time. Our first stop was the Ogden Veterans Memorial Park (1967) across from Fairfield Cemetery. Andre was impressed by the well-manicured Fairfield Cemetery and its neighboring streets, which remind him of Concord, Massachusetts, where he frequently visits. Except in Concord, the gravesites date back to the earliest American war. Of course, Talker needed to take photos for the Rochester war series, especially of the Spanish War Veterans 1898 plaque. I mentioned how the men inscribed on the plaque probably never got anywhere near Cuba for the “Splendid Little War” that was little more than a few skirmishes but was nonetheless widely represented as marking the end of the Civil War since Northern and Southern boys were marching together in battle against the empire of Spain. A fitting prologue for visiting Civil War graves. As we looked at the markers of many wars, Civil and Spanish American, WWI and II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars, we discussed which soldiers may or may not have died in vain. World War I did not end all wars, as advertised. We both said stopping Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was necessary. Andre said of our Asian wars that the two-state outcome in Korea seemed to help at least half of that peninsula’s residents, while the collapse of South Vietnam proved how fruitless and wrongheaded our intervention was. It’s hard to draw simple conclusions on exercising American power abroad.
We had a photo-op at the nicely refurbished GAR monument as we honored the Union dead, who fought to end slavery. Hearing of Confederate soldiers buried in Batavia, Pittsford, and Spencerport, Andre was surprised to learn that a scattering of Rochestarians still believe in the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. With the help of cemetery maps taken from the internet, we quickly found Guy’s gravesite. In the pre-internet era, we might have had to spend days combing local libraries to find the maps we needed. Looking at once grey-clad Dewitt Clinton Guy amid the blue of the G.A.R, Andre noted that “how we cast our heroes and villains is one of the inescapable aspects of the culture wars.” We can cast Guy as the villain and remove the CSA flag and markers. As Andre said, doing so runs another risk. Removing Guy — and the historical and systemic racism he represents — would further a narrative in which racism happened in the South and not in places like Ogden, who sent so many of its sons to defeat the Confederacy. Andre noted that in Rochester, we like to think that Frederick Douglass found a haven from racism. Still, the city’s history of de facto segregation even included restrictive deed covenants on our own parents’ houses. Rochestarians have reckoning to do.
Andre lives in San Francisco and teaches at UC Berkeley, hotbeds for discussions of the symbolism, naming, and recalling of historical sites like monuments, cemeteries, statues, and schools. For example, the San Francisco School Board had planned to rename a number of its schools to encompass contemporary sensibilities, including [Abraham] Lincoln high school. Many people favored the removal in 2020 of a Ulysses S. Grant statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, notwithstanding his role as commander of all the Union armies, because Grant personally owned a slave before the Civil War and oversaw Indian wars as President. Andre has mixed feelings about removing the statue — mostly against — but confronting our racist legacy is necessary. Andre wondered what his San Francisco friends would think of him wandering around an old cemetery searching for an old Rebel who was loyal to Jefferson Davis’s Confederacy to his dying breath.
After a pit stop at the Union Street Coffee House and enjoying our brew in the Clyde W. Carter Memorial Gazebo on the Erie Canal, we drove back into town and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester in Highland Park.
Andre had never been there. The reality facing the generation right before ours hit hard as we passed the bollards of fallen Brighton High School alums.For Andre, the inscribed timepieces chronicling that painful period brought back images of the Tet Offensive and the anguished LBJ, slumped in a chair, holding his brow. The tail end of the war happened while we were in middle school, so those memories are distant. We talked about how fortunate our generation was to have grown up in relative peacetime; our friend Phil Ghyzel, who was in the Navy, never had to experience combat. Andre recently rewatched the documentary The Fog of War (2003) on the brilliant Robert McNamara, who, despite his high IQ, badly botched our strategy in Vietnam. That led Andre to remember reading “Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes” in 1980 while at Brighton High School. It’s a book on how groups of people tend to socially reinforce their existing beliefs instead of seeking out a diverse set of opinions before making complex decisions. McNamara seems to recognize America’s Groupthink error only after talking to North Vietnamese generals in 2003 and understanding the Vietnamese had nowhere else to go: they couldn’t surrender no matter how many bombs the US dropped.
With the United States pulling out of Afghanistan after an almost 20-year stalemate, it’s clear that we continue to suffer from costly Groupthink errors today. That led to brainstorming on how we could get Americans out of their current social media-driven Groupthink bubbles when reckoning with our country’s history of slavery and discrimination.
Our Talker excursion was a rousing success. As part of Andre’s research into new business models for publishers, he mentioned the success of Bay Area community-based magazines like the Narrative Magazine (published online since 2003) that are filling voids left by the collapse of traditional journalism. Reading and supporting inclusive local journalism is a strong tactic for fighting Groupthink. Always a big thinker himself, Andre proposed that Talker can be the next Narrative, but only if more people participate. Andre concludes, “Talkers, Join us. Write articles, take photographs, start discussions, repost on social media, offer your technical wizardry, and, yes, please avail yourself of the DONATE button. Act now!”
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