June 25, 2015

The #LostCause, the #ConfederateFlag, and myth-making

Tony Horwitz, award-winning author of Confederates in the Attic, a great book, brings these threads all together.

Although it's not at the top of the piece, he blows to smithereens the idea that the Civil War was about states' rights. Sadly (but by no means unexpectedly), I have family members who still believe this.

I've referenced the CSA constitution, and Confederate state articles of secession, before. He goes beyond that to quote CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens' in his Cornerstone speech, between Lincoln's inauguration and Fort Sumter:
The evidence is overwhelming that Southern states seceded and fought to maintain slavery. Don’t believe me; believe the words of secessionists and Confederate leaders. Among the most often cited is Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens who in 1861 declared the Founders “fundamentally wrong” in judging all humans equal. “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—the subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”

 I want to go a bit further than Horwitz’s quote, per Wiki’s further quote of the speech:
Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws.
Of course, this is not true.

In his own day, “poor whites,” if not actually called “white trash” per a previous blog post of mine, were called that. Or “mudsills” of Stephens' own day, a term applied to the likes of Andrew Johnson, who was just as racist as Alexander Stephens.

Horwitz next agrees with me that the likes of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and senior Senator and Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, aka Huckleberry J. Butchmeup, are engaged in head fakes, messaging control, and ultimately, downright turd-polishing:
I’m not very optimistic that the debate over South Carolina’s flag will bring a deeper reckoning. Furling the statehouse flag may bring temporary relief to South Carolinians, but what we truly need to bury is the gauzy fiction that the antebellum South was in any way benign, or that slavery and white supremacy weren’t the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Only then, perhaps, will we be able to say that the murdered in Charleston didn’t die in vain, and that the Lost Cause, at last, is well and truly lost.
He’s right. If we can’t stop them from polishing turds, we can at least make sure that true scratch-and-sniff smells start emanating from those turds during their polishing.

From there, he gets to the last bastion of the Lost Cause, which is important since the Confederate (battle) flag at the South Carolina Capitol actually flies over a war memorial.

And, that’s the issue of “valor.”

Horwitz notes:
Most flag defenders, however, are sincere when they say they cherish the banner as a symbol of their ancestors’ valor. About 20 percent of white Southern males of military age died in the Civil War. In South Carolina the toll was even higher, and thousands more were left maimed, their farms and homes in ruins. For many descendants of Southern soldiers, the rebel flag recalls that sacrifice, and taking it down dishonors those who fought under the banner. No one wants to be asked to spit on their ancestors’ graves.
I don’t doubt their sincerity. Nor am I asking them to spit on their ancestors’ graves.

However, and to put it directly, with a blunt analogy?

Many Germans in the 1950s probably said the same about their dads and older brothers, not just the ones in the Wehrmacht, but those in the Waffen SS, too.

So, I’m not asking you to spit on your ancestors’ graves. I am asking you to be realistic about just what great-great-grandpa Clem fought for.

And, it wasn’t “states’ rights.”

As for the winning the war, but losing the narrative?

It didn't help that America was led by the worst president in its history from 1865-69. Sorry, modern Democrats, or other liberals, but Shrub Bush is not the bottom No. 1; he's not even in the bottom five in my ranking. Old Buck, James Buchanan, is the only real competitor to Andy Johnson. It didn't help much more that Johnson was followed by Useless Grant, along with his "let us have peace" campaign theme, who looked like a good Reconstruction president only by the light of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

But, part of this narrative could have been fixed, at least under Grant, per a bon mot I've uttered before.

If we had had 200,000 Bluecoats in the South for a generation, rather than 20,000 for a decade, Reconstruction might have been different. It couldn't have been a lot worse, could it?

(If you're looking for books on Reconstruction, Eric Foner's volume by that name is your starting point.)

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