Jim Webb: Confederate Sympathizer?

Senator Jim Webb, touted by many as a vice presidential candidate who would help shore up Barack Obama with Southerners and those uncomfortable with his lack of national security experience, has an “affinity” for the Confederacy, Politico’s David Mark reports breathlessly.

Jim Webb: Confederate Sympathizer He has suggested many times that while the Confederacy is a symbol to many of the racist legacy of slavery and segregation, for others it simply reflects Southern pride. In a June 1990 speech in front of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, posted on his personal website, he lauded the rebels’ “gallantry,” which he said “is still misunderstood by most Americans.”

Webb, a descendant of Confederate officers, also voiced sympathy for the notion of state sovereignty as it was understood in the early 1860s, and seemed to suggest that states were justified in trying to secede.

“Most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery,” he said. “Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution and that it had never been surrendered.”

This line of attack is somewhat ironic, given that Webb is a Senator today partly because his erstwhile opponent, George Allen, was painted as a Confederate sympathizer, which paved the way for the “Macaca” incident to stick. It’s also, as James Fallows — who elsewhere persuaded me that Webb would be a poor VP choice — observes rather silly.

First, this is hardly a secret or news. The dignity of ordinary Confederate troops and their battlefield leaders, as opposed to the evil of the southern slaveholding system, was a major theme in Webb’s widely-noted and generally-praised book Born Fighting, published four years ago.

In addition to that book, the main documentary proof of Webb’s “problem” is a speech at the Confederate war memorial in 1990. That memorial, by the way, is in Arlington National Cemetery — not in Richmond, Charleston, Natchez, etc.

Slavery was the key issue absent which the Civil War wouldn’t have been fought and the resurgence of the Confederate battle flag in the 1960s was mostly about segregationist defiance. It’s easy to understand, therefore, why expressing pro-Confederate sympathies is politically problematic. But Webb’s admiration for the against-all-odds fighting spirit of his ancestors, most of whom fought for reasons having nothing to do with slavery or, frankly, political considerations of any sort, is understandable, too. In a complex world, one can simultaneously admire Robert E. Lee’s character, J.E.B. Stuart’s generalship, and the courage of those who charged up Little Round Top while damning the institution of slavery.

And after all: we’re discussing scenarios in which the first black major party nominee might choose Webb as his running mate. Somehow this would “have the potential” of conveying a pro-Confederate tilt? I don’t think this is the right job for Webb, but his respect for his Confederate ancestors is not the reason why.

Indeed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. […] and doesn’t think every Confederate soldier was a raving supporter of slavery. James Joyner points out that this would be ironic that Webb is in the Senate because George Allen was portrayed as a […]

  2. MikeT says:

    Very few wars have ever been fought for honorable reasons. The Mexican-American War was fought for conquest. If had been about defending the new state of Texas, that would have been easy to end quickly. The Spanish-American war was purely about imperialism. The Indian wars were fought to suppress the rights of the Indians to their own land. World War I was largely avoidable for the United States; our navy could have protected our shipping from both sides.

    The bottom line is that he has a good point. For the average southern soldier, the war was about keeping the yankees from putting their boots on the neck of the southern states and telling them what to do. The tariff was another issue to the South, but that’s not really a fundamental point either. The fundamental point of contention in the war for the average southern soldier was sovereignty, and the right to democratically do what they wanted without having to get the ok from the federal government.

    Any objective look at the conflict will show you that no one won the Civil War. The South burned, the northern states lost their sovereignty to the newly centralized government, and blacks in general found themselves having to really fight for jobs with poor whites which is where most of the extremely vicious racism of reconstruction and Jim Crow came from.

    Objectively speaking, had the Union just pulled out of the South, things probably would have been better for everyone involved. Eventually slavery would have been peacefully abolished because industrial capitalism and slavery cannot coexist because maintaining slaves in that environment is too economically inefficient.

  3. Has Senator Webb just lost his chance of being Obama’s veep pick?…

    I asked that because David Mark at the Politico wrote yesterday about an issue that popped up briefly during Webb’s successful 2006 campaign for Senate against then-incumbent George Allen, and that issue is his fondness for the Confederacy (h/t: …

  4. Pug says:

    Slavery was the key issue absent which the Civil War wouldn’t have been fought and the resurgence of the Confederate battle flag in the 1960s was mostly about segregationist defiance.

    True on both counts.

    I’ve always had the feeling that if I was ordered to charge up Little Round Top my reaction would have been something like, “Are you crazy?”.

  5. Michael says:

    The Mexican-American War was fought for conquest. If had been about defending the new state of Texas, that would have been easy to end quickly.

    How exactly?

    Spanish-American war was purely about imperialism.

    True enough, but not our imperialism. The US has always preferred hegemony to empire.

    The Indian wars were fought to suppress the rights of the Indians to their own land.

    You can’t craft an objective definition for when the land one occupies becomes yours, and it’s a dangerous slope to even try.

    World War I was largely avoidable for the United States; our navy could have protected our shipping from both sides.

    Really, our Navy could have protected US shipping all over the world? That sounds logistically impossible.

    Objectively speaking, had the Union just pulled out of the South, things probably would have been better for everyone involved.

    Except perhaps for the Mexicans.

  6. stan says:

    Fewer than 10% of Confederate soldiers came from families which owned slaves. They didn’t willingly charge to their deaths because of a desire to to help rich people keep their slaves.

  7. Gringo says:

    Secession was done by the slaveholding elite, in response to Lincoln’s election, which showed that the slaveholding South no longer controlled the national political process.
    The claim of “states’ rights” as a reason for secession was hogwash. Southern slaveholders were quite happy to see the rights of northern states trampled on in the Dred Scott case regarding black freemen in the north being sent back to the slaveowners in the South.
    Southern soldiers, the vast majority of whom were not slaveholders, fought to defend their homes against the invading Union armies.

  8. Mwalimu Daudi says:

    This line of attack is somewhat ironic, given that Webb is a Senator today partly because his erstwhile opponent, George Allen, was painted as a Confederate sympathizer, which paved the way for the “Macaca” incident to stick.

    Actually, what’s ironic is that Webb’s supporters used this line of attack in 2006 (although “hypocritical” would be a better word than “ironic”). The shoe appears to be on the other foot now, and it pinches.

    BTW: Did anyone ever figure out what “macaca” means – a word 99.99% of the people of America had never even heard of before the Virginia race? One wonders what other “offensive” words no one has ever heard of are lurking around just waiting to emerge in this year’s elections…..

  9. davod says:

    “I’ve always had the feeling that if I was ordered to charge up Little Round Top my reaction would have been something like, “Are you crazy?”.”

    I imagine you would have to have been there.

  10. willis says:

    Webb would never work as the VP for Obama. He is absolutely the wrong kind of Southerner. He insists that there is more to the Southern heritage than slavery. Furthermore, he is not apologetic for being Southern and has no interest in impressing Northerners with how much more cultured he is than the typical Southerner so as to gain their acceptance (think Jimmy Carter). Anytime you mention the South, Northerners immediately launch into their mocking, dismissive attitude. We are always amazed that a people who hold us in such low regard, sacrificed so much to keep us in the union with them.

  11. Michael says:

    BTW: Did anyone ever figure out what “macaca” means – a word 99.99% of the people of America had never even heard of before the Virginia race? One wonders what other “offensive” words no one has ever heard of are lurking around just waiting to emerge in this year’s elections…..

    It essentially means “monkey”, and is used as a racial slur in French African nations. George Allen’s grandmother grew up in Tunisia, a former French African colony. Using a racial slur most people haven’t heard before doesn’t make it any less offensive.

  12. Citizen Grim says:

    Webb’s book “Born Fighting” was stellar, but I have to agree with everyone who says he would be a poor Veep choice.

  13. David Ross says:

    Gringo: Webb is a Virginian and Virginia joined at a different time and for a different reason than did, say, Alabama. (See also: NC, AR, TN.) For the border states, the issue really was sovereignty – specifically, whether the Union was right to call up troops to re-annex the Confederacy (whose horses have already left the barn as it were).

    Like you I generally view Deep South pro-Confederates as racists and traitors, and as hypocrites too when they claim Lee’s flag as their own. Virginians, though, have an honourable claim to that flag.

  14. johnbrown says:

    The idea that the rebels were fighting for “states rights” is laughable. The only right which the republican Party threatened was the right to own slaves. If slavery had not existed, there would have been no war, any more than there would have been a civil war between Ohio and Indiana. (You should remember also that the southern states were part of the United States, and that the rebels left the country even before Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated and well before any Union soldier entered southern territory.)

    It is true that most rebel soldiers did not own slaves. It is also true that they saw blacks as inferior beings; that they were deathly afraid of blacks being liberated, and that (especially free whites in heavily slave states) they feared a loss of status if the blacks should have equal rights (or any rights at all). Whites in western Virginia and the Carolinas, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, and numerous other areas where slavery was not prevalent tended to be pro-Union and joined the Union army in the tens of thousands.
    I agree that the rebel soldiers were a courageous and resourceful bunch. So what? No one would argue that the Japanese kamikazes and the Waffen SS fought with a suicidal determination rarely seen in history, and these soldiers by and large believed in their causes; should they be
    honored? (Ronald Reagan accidently paid homage to some dead SS men, and look what it got him.)
    (If you don’t like that comparison, then try the crusaders, or the conquistadores, or the roman legionaries. Courage is a virtue, but it doesn’t ennoble the cause one fights for.)
    I’ve lived in the south and have myself flown the stars and bars on occasion. If Mr. Webb wants to do that, fine; its a cool-looking flag, and it does have a generalized “rebel” feel about it. But he should leave it at that. The southern cause was, as Ulysses Grant put it, one of the worse causes that men ever fought for. Dredging up the old states rights bullshit doesn’t help us any.

  15. Mwalimu Daudi says:

    Michael said:

    Using a racial slur most people haven’t heard before doesn’t make it any less offensive.

    You are kidding, right? This sound like something from the Knights Who Say “Nee” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Talk about an open invitation to censorship!

    BTW: You are wrong about the meaning of “macaca”. It actually has the following meanings:

    1. female macaque monkey; see macaco.
    2. binge, drunken spree, drunk, jag.
    3. female hobgoblin.
    4. (South America, pejorative) Brazilian woman
    5. (Honduras) macaca, a small coin equal to one peso

    Michael, I have a huge problem with the grievance industry that manufactures fake outrage like this – and demagogues like Webb who exploit it.

  16. Senator Webb dishonors his heritage every day that he pays homage to the Democrat party, who want more people to be dependent on government, and who want to destroy any subculture that promotes self reliance, personal responsibility, strong family and personal honor.
    I would never trade my personal honor for political station. The cost is too great

  17. Michael says:

    You are kidding, right? This sound like something from the Knights Who Say “Nee” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Talk about an open invitation to censorship!

    Macaca wasn’t censored. You have the right to say whatever stupid thing you want, but that doesn’t guarantee that people won’t disapprove of you for saying it.

    BTW: You are wrong about the meaning of “macaca”. It actually has the following meanings:

    How is it that you passed the English and Portuguese definitions from the very page you linked to, that were actually above the Spanish ones you quoted, and actually confirmed the definition I gave? Where you just hoping nobody would follow the link?

  18. Jim Webb and Neo-Confederate Ideology…

    What’s difficult is for Southern politicians to separate themselves from caricatures of ideological reaction. Webb himself argued previously that woman should not serve in the military in combat positions, so perhaps he’s got some work to do in polit…

  19. Eric R. Ashley says:

    If Webb is chosen VP, then the Dems are very likely to blow the doors off the Straight Talk Express as they rocket past him to not just a victory, but a massive victory.

    Already Obama is very likely to win, toss in the Man Vote, and the Southern Vote, divide the Christian vote between Webb, McCain, and staying home in general disgust….

    Obama has the elites in general. He has the blacks. The feminists will probably decide to support him after they get over their anger about Hillary (and receive some nice gifts too). Most Dems are likely to line up for him, but he’s a tad weak among the Normal Unracist Dem Male group….Webb will win that for him.

    Obama/Webb looks very, very strong.

    And no, I’m not an Obama supporter. I voted for W twice. What I am is a conservative, and thus I have a choice between the Handsome Socialist and the Tortured Hero Liberal.

    I’m voting for Duncan Hunter, but I’m telling you Obama/Webb will absolutely crush Senator McCain. It won’t even be close.

  20. Mwalimu Daudi says:

    Michael, you are being very selective in your definition of “macaca”. Why don’t you want to talk about the Spanish definition, since Spanish is at least as widely spoken in the US as Portuguese is? You want to ignore evidence that contradicts what you claim – that Allen knowingly used a racial slur. What you are doing is called cherry-picking.

    Again I repeat: 99.99% of the people of America had never even heard of the word “macaca” before the Virginia race in 2006. Are you seriously arguing otherwise? To elevate “macaca” into an English-language racial epitaph requires suspension of disbelief – not to mention common sense. Ask yourself this: do you really want someone monitoring your words by rummaging through foreign-language dictionaries looking for evidence of “racism”? Could you withstand such scrutiny?

    Your response – non-response, actually – reminds me of a scene from 1984. The hero, who had just been arrested by the Thought Police, unexpectedly encounters a co-worker who has also been arrested. The co-worker frantically tries to think of why he was arrested, and comes to the conclusion that he once used the word “god” in a poem. Shades of “macaca”! Orwell was a prophet.

    And it’s not true that Senator Allen was not censored. His career and reputation were destroyed by false accusations of racism. His opponent took an obscure word no one had ever heard of before and rode the phony outrage it generated into the US Senate. For some reason I am not as comfortable with that as you seem to be.

  21. Michael says:

    Michael, you are being very selective in your definition of “macaca”. Why don’t you want to talk about the Spanish definition, since Spanish is at least as widely spoken in the US as Portuguese is? You want to ignore evidence that contradicts what you claim – that Allen knowingly used a racial slur. What you are doing is called cherry-picking.

    Given Allen’s ancestry, I would say that only the French African derived meanings would have any relevance, wouldn’t you?

    Again I repeat: 99.99% of the people of America had never even heard of the word “macaca” before the Virginia race in 2006. Are you seriously arguing otherwise?

    Not at all, it was a very underrepresented slur prior to Allen elevating it to the national spotlight.

    Ask yourself this: do you really want someone monitoring your words by rummaging through foreign-language dictionaries looking for evidence of “racism”? Could you withstand such scrutiny?

    Do you really believe that Allen had never heard the word “macaca” before, and they he just happened to invent a word to refer to a dark-skinned man, and that word just happened to be a racial slur against dark-skinned people in his grandmother’s native Tunisia? Anybody can parse my words however they want, and if I say something racist, in any language, they can call it that. If I can make a case that it was a misunderstanding, then I’ll make it. Allen couldn’t make that case.

    And it’s not true that Senator Allen was not censored. His career and reputation were destroyed by false accusations of racism.

    Yeah, that’s not actually censorship. Politician’s have their careers and reputations destroyed for saying stupid things all the time, it’s still not censorship.

    His opponent took an obscure word no one had ever heard of before and rode the phony outrage it generated into the US Senate.

    I’m pretty sure George Allen had heard that word before, and ultimately that’s all that matters.

  22. DavidTC says:

    George Allen flew a Confederate flag, which was co-opted in the sixties by racists. (Incidentally, that’s not the real Confederate flag. It’s not even a real Conferate flag.) And, just as importantly, he wasn’t even from the South, so it’s not like he was remembering some history.

    Webb, OTOH, simply appears to think that a lot of honorable men died, on the Confederate side, defending their homes. Which they did.

    Slavery was a monstrous evil. The Civil War, OTOH, was just a monstrous screw-up due to that evil.(1) There were plenty of people on both sides who didn’t care at all about slavery.

    But that’s the way it always is, in war. People get sent off to war. It is the leaders who have a just or unjust cause, the soldiers just fight and die. I have sympathy for any soldier in any war, unless they run around doing things like targeting civilians or torturing people. (Which, even in wars where that happened, most of the soldiers on that side wouldn’t have anything to do with it.)

    1) I place the blame for part of this evil in the founding fathers, which not only didn’t recognize that slave were incompatible with a free nation, but deliberately set up a system that attempted to balance slavery and non-slavery. Which resulted in slavery lasting much longer than it should have here. (Erm, not that it ‘should’ have lasted any time, but it lasted longer than in comparable nations.)

  23. John F. MacMichael says:

    Why did the South attempt to secede from the Union?

    “Apostles of Disunion: southern secession commissioners and the causes of the Civil War” by Charles B. Dew, University Press of Virginia, 2001 examines what the men who debated and voted on secession actually said at the time (rather than in self justifying memoirs written decades later to glorify “The Lost Cause”).

    Dew documents that the men who voted for secession did so because they feared that a Republican Federal government would free their slaves. That, they believed, would destroy the economy of the South, lead to race war and (worst of all) miscegenation!

    Or, to put it another way, yes the Civil War was about slavery.

  24. Mike Tuggle says:

    You wrote: “Slavery was the key issue absent which the Civil War wouldn’t have been fought …”

    Not true. Lincoln invaded for one reason: to stop the South from seceding. And the agricultural South did so because it felt exploited within the industrialized Union, which was shedding its Jeffersonianism for Hamiltonian mercantilism. Rather than submit to subsidizing the growing power of the big-business/big-government alliance, the South withdrew its consent.

    The Nullification Crisis of 1832 illustrated the growing political and economic tensions between North and South, none of which were based on slavery.