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Asking Questions that have No Answers

I had written a totally different piece, dear reader – be very thankful that you are reading the one that is falling upon your eyes at present, instead of an earlier tantrum.

I want to call attention to a man who gave his life is service to a cause that he felt was bigger than himself. He had left his homeland in Norway with his family and settled in the mostly unsettled western frontier that would become the state of Wisconsin. Eleven-year-old Hans came with his parents and three younger siblings in 1840, making their home in the Muskego Settlement, now a southwestern suburb of Milwaukee. Eight years later, it became part of the state of Wisconsin.

Hans Christian Heg was the highest-ranking Wisconsin soldier to die in the Civil War, he was 33 years old.

I don’t want to give in to the temptation to make him larger than what he was, but he was a good man. He was a dedicated abolitionist and ardent in his anti-slavery beliefs. He was the first Norwegian American to hold elective office in Wisconsin, being elected State Prison Commissioner at the age of 29. He was commissioned to the rank of Colonel in the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He served nobly and proudly in the Union Army, involved in battles at Shiloh, Corinth, Stone’s River, and Chickamauga. He died in Crawfish Springs, GA, on September 20, 1863, one day after being mortally wounded in the Battle of Chickamauga. Wisconsin soldiers played a prominent role in the Civil War, the “Blackhats” of the Iron Brigade were some of the most decorated and fiercest fighters of the Union Army. Hans Christian Heg was the highest-ranking Wisconsin soldier to die in the Civil War, he was 33 years old.

Colonel Heg was memorialized with a statue by Norwegian sculptor Paul Fjelde that was placed on a pedestal very near Wisconsin’s capitol building in Madison, WI. The statue stood in a place of honor from October 17, 1926, until rioters tore it down on June 23, 2020. The statue was forcibly removed from its pedestal, beheaded and dumped in nearby Lake Monona.

So leave it to a white guy to decry the tearing down of a statue of young (white) man who gave his life for his country in the cause of abolishing slavery, which Heg abhorred. It’s not a secret that I am a history buff of fairly long-standing and I have read and studied many aspects of the Civil War. I am fiercely proud of the part that my home state of Wisconsin played in the Civil War, and think that we should revere and respect those who fought and died in one of the most singular pivotal struggles for freedom in history. World War I was massive carnage that resulted from old grievances and silly treaties. World War II tried to settle the scores leftover from WWI and turned into a few madmen seeking world domination – many millions of people died as a result of those wars. The American Civil War was between two factions that were fighting over an ideal.

For some people, 600,000 people dying to save our country and end slavery isn’t enough even for a down payment. Ending slavery did not end racism. We won’t end racism until we change our hearts.

All of us, we need to change our hearts. I am not getting into the discussion of seeing color or trying to treat people differently. I am going to do my best, to model and be the best at what I can be to love everyone, unconditionally, and to try to understand their stories, their backgrounds, their perspective without judgment. It may not be following the narrative or the dictates that so many are preaching, but how can loving everyone where they are at take a wrong turn? You do you, I am gonna do me. I am going to love everyone.

Hans Christian Heg died for something bigger than himself. He dove into his adopted homeland and made it a better place. He didn’t make it perfect, but he exchanged his life for a higher ideal so that others can climb on his shoulders and make it even better.

Dragging his statue down, decapitating it, and dumping the rest of it in Lake Monona does not change his life, or his sacrifice or his meaning one iota. He has been dead for more than 150 years, he might not have even liked the statue.

George Floyd died for no good reason. Some idiot thought that his life was disposable. I mourn his death and what it symbolized. Did tearing down Hans Heg’s statue on June 23 properly memorialize George Floyd? What about the seven-year-old girl in Chicago, the eight-year-old girl in Atlanta, and the six-year-old boy in Philadelphia – all who were shot to death this past weekend? More funerals, more unprovoked death. Are we supposed to be selective in our outrage? Should we put Hans Heg’s statue up a few more times and tear it down separately for each one of those deaths? George Floyd is still dead, and our attention span is focused on tearing down everything.

I am not trying to change the subject. I am just wondering.

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Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Tom — A heart-ripping post. I am not a fan of tearing down statues in an effort to erase history or somehow appease grievances. Some may gain strength from that, but all it does is inflame the divisions we already have in this country. These statues, as abhorrent as some of them are could become effective teaching tools. We don’t hide the nooses that were used to hang innocent Black Americans. We don ‘t hide the pictures of the wounds that the slave owner’s whips inflicted on the backs of Black Americans. We don’t hide the shackles that kept Black Americans in bondage. We’ve opened amazing museums and included those artifacts and images in an effort to tell the brutal historical story.

    Erasing history or sanitizing history is wrong because what’s erased or sanitized can be forgotten – and eventually repeated. It’s a very slippery slope. We’re not living in the old U.S.S.R. What’s next? photo-shopping people out of photographs?

    • Jeff – it does my heart good to read your response. I was somewhat miffed by not having more people involved in this discussion, but your response makes up for it. How do we communicate to people how unjust slavery was if we have no reminders – how will people understand the bizarre, cruel, inhuman and inhumane way they people treated other people. We have to find ways that allow us to continue to learn from our past, to keep us from going down those same paths again. We all know how pointless and wasteful it is to try to reinvent the wheel in any circumstance, and the price of making some of these mistakes again is so much higher. I so appreciate your insight Jeff, and you and I both know that history is more than fodder for support groups and holds much more than being “interesting stuff to talk about…” It’s so important to have these mirrors to hold up to ourselves, and to see the ugly side of ourselves so that we don’t allow those things to happen, ever, again.

      • Hang in there, Tom. I’ve noticed that except for the occasional post, reactions are few. My last two stories yielded three comments, and I’ve noticed that on a host of others. I think people are hunkering down, in self-protection mode. Yours deserves more eyes.

  2. This: “Dare I say being White does not equal racist and being Black does not equal victim?” There are so many crosscurrents weighing in on this discussion, and I love that you always take so much time and bring so much energy and passion to every discussion We keep saying that this, that, and so many things is a conversation that we need to have, but then the rest of the time is spent talking past one another or disqualifying each other from taking part. We do need some very real substitutes to the “Us vs. Them” mentality of so many of the talking heads, and you model the kind of discussions that we need to have with how you bring your gentle ferociousness to the forefront and lead with love, compassion and a desire to understand. Thank you, as always, Laura, for your lovely additions to the discussion.

  3. Thank you Dennis, I so appreciate this forum to allow dissection of issues that aren’t easily started or conveniently resolved. For someone like me who overthinks everything, having an outlet for those longer inner struggles is such a blessing for which I can never be thankful enough.

  4. Tom, I could not agree with you more in all that you said through your article. I thought how sad it is that human beings have to go to the degree that they do to try and make a statement that has nothing to do with their cause. It’s a form of evil and nothing else.

    • Thank you Lynn, it’s such a difficult, muddled discussion that we try to have about these things, and I was apprehensive about weighing in, so your comments are especially uplifting to me. As you say, not every response is the correct one – to just be angry isn’t enough.

  5. Thank you so much for this essay, Tom. I’m aligned with your passionate stand to love everyone and “All of us, need to change our hearts.” Yes, indeed. I’m with you there 200 percent. Rather than building statues or tearing down statues, we can learn to expand our hearts and minds-to learn from one another, to realize that oppression shows up in many forms and many expressions just as love, compassion, and kindness show another way to interact as human beings. May we find our way to our hearts and our shared humanity. When we are no longer threatened by the existence of another human being, we can set down our weapons and create lives we love living in all our unique expressions. The roses do not threaten the daisies, the hydrangea, the trees or the ducks. Diversity remains essential in nature and human beings are part of this beautiful, life-giving diversity. May we see and honor this. I appreciate all you’ve shared here. One last thought-I hope that someday we can transcend the either/or thinking -the us/them and recognize the rich continuum of multifaceted, cornucopia of expression and focus on cultivating the meaningful contents of our character. Dare I say being White does not equal racist and being Black does not equal victim? And we absolutely have laws and practices that must be dismantled that oppress children, women, black people, native Americans, and LGBTQ individuals. Most definitely these systemic policies and practices must end. I realize my reflections moved beyond the scope of your essay. And thank you for allowing me the space to share.

    • This: “Dare I say being White does not equal racist and being Black does not equal victim?” There are so many crosscurrents weighing in on this discussion, and I love that you always take so much time and bring so much energy and passion to every discussion We keep saying that this, that, and so many things is a conversation that we need to have, but then the rest of the time is spent talking past one another or disqualifying each other from taking part. We do need some very real substitutes to the “Us vs. Them” mentality of so many of the talking heads, and you model the kind of discussions that we need to have with how you bring your gentle ferociousness to the forefront and lead with love, compassion and a desire to understand. Thank you, as always, Laura, for your lovely additions to the discussion.

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