The Stories we Tell Ourselves (Battle Flag Edition)

An important tenet of the internet is "don't read the comments." Well, I have violated that rule of late--which means more musings on the symbols of the CSA.

USA CSA MapAn important tenet of the internet is “don’t read the comments.”*  I have violated that rule a few times over the last couple of days on Facebook specifically on local (to Alabama) news stories about the Confederate battle flag issue.   It has not been an uplifting experience.

I suppose the good news is that I have not seen too much in the way of blatant racism (but plenty of not-so-subtle, yet indirect, jabs—and make no mistake, there is plenty of racism to be found, but one suspects some level of comment moderation is in effect as well).   However, one thing that has struck me as I skim through these threads  is an utter lack of basic historical understanding linked to a profound inability to assess (or even seek) evidence for a given position.  And along those lines it is a reflection of our broader political discourse (and perhaps of human reasoning in general) insofar as it all about the stories we tell ourselves.  We all take comfort in various narratives, but I would argue that a skill that too many of us do not cultivate is the examination of those narratives to distinguish between what parts are discomforting fact and which parts are comforting fiction.

The story a lot of southern whites clearly want to tell themselves is that the Civil War was not fundamentally about slavery and, therefore, all this battle flag discussion is either a) nonsensical to them, or b) yet another example of the Yankees looking down at them.

I do think, as an aside, that to a lot of people the flag has only vague, innocuous symbolic meaning not unlike the logo of a baseball team or a Starfleet emblem on a t-shirt.  That is:  they are identifiers to the outside world about membership in a given tribe (and all they want to do is show some southern pride).   The problem is, the logo of the Tamp Bay Rays only identifies a person with a baseball team and a Starfleet logo only signifies a connection to nerdom, while the Battle Flag has so many other insidious connotations (some of which were wrapped up in its origins and others  were added later).**  While it is possible to display that flag without racist intentions, it is impossible for that flag to be displayed and not have observers see the history it represents.  This is especially true when the flag is displayed in a blatantly political fashion (as in places of honor on state grounds).

Back to the comments noted above:  one of the more striking things I have seen is that many defenders of the flag think that they are doing so from an historically superior position (“crack open a book” on pro-flag commenter wrote on a thread, while others decried the lack of historical understanding of the past).  The story that these people tell themselves is that the war was over states’ rights, tariffs, and/or northern aggression.  Now, it is true that a) that the north fought the war to maintain the Union, and b) the war was not launched as a moral crusade to end slavery.  Indeed, Lincoln himself stated that his utmost goal was preservation of the Union and that he would have preserved slavery if that was needed to achieve that goal.  As such, the simply morality play version of the past (the Good Anti-Slave North on the march) is false.  However, those facts do not take away the fundamental motivation of the CSA, which was to maintain, in an institutionalized form, white supremacy and chattel slavery.  As such, I think it is important to underscore that all one needs to know about the moral balance of the Civil War is to look at the south’s own self-declared motivations.  Lincoln needs not be a Saint of Emancipation for one to view the south as morally bankrupt on this topic.

When it comes to cracking open a book (or, using Google) I really wish a lot more people would read Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech or any of numerous declarations of secession by confederate states which all clearly and unequivocally spell out the pro-slavery, white supremacist motivations of the CSA.

Just to remind everyone of what Vice President (of the CSA) Stephens said:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.

Or, the state of Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

The declaration of secession by South Carolina lacks a simple sentence as clear as the one above, but the entire documents is a narrative about the tension between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states.  As such, the state’s motivation could not be clearer.  This is likewise true of the Texas declaration, which criticizes the northern state for trying to “steal our slaves” among other things.  Virginia’s (which is brief) speaks of the “oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.”

So, yes, by all means, let’s crack open some books.

And yes, if there was a defense of the rights of states in this context, the right in question was the right to maintain slavery as a legal entity.  That this is so blithely ignored by so many is highly frustrating (to put it mildly).  Indeed, the states’ rights argument is especially interesting in this conversation as the southern states were opposed to northern states attempting to use states’ right arguments to aid fugitive slaves.   So, the notion that there was some inviolable appeal to a sacred view of the relationship between the federal government and the states is laughable if one knows the history.  (Again:  crack open a book).

Not to go all anecdotal on you all, but I do not recall reading any of those documents in K-12 or even having any specific references to them—and my High School level US history and civics were taken in southern California (and middle school US history in Texas).  Likewise, I do not recall this stuff coming up in my kids’ studies either.

It is often said in some quarters that we in the US dwell too much on the negative and not enough on the positive about our own history.  However, I seriously question that sentiment, especially on this topic.  We certainly do not, en masse, seem to have fully internalized it.

To revisit a notion I touched on a few years ago:  the veneration of symbols of the Civil War era simply makes all the more difficult to get contemporary audiences to come to grips with the past (and the evils that existed then and those that were perpetuated for decades and decades).  When two of the public high schools in Montgomery, Alabama are named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, when the seal of the city notes that it was “The Cradle of the Confederacy” what signals are sent?

What is there to celebrate about Jefferson Davis?

Why must “southern” be equated with “confederate”? (and if that really is appropriate, consider what that means!).

What is the point of a giant Confederate Battle Flag flying alongside the interstate (as is the case on I-65 not far from where I sit)?  It comes across to me as naught more than a giant middle finger to African-Americans/the non-south.

At any rate:  since the CSA was constituted for the purpose of maintaining (and expanding) chattel slavery and white supremacy, it is impossible to divorce those facts from symbols that directly represented that entity (especially that represented the use of force by that entity to preserve the institutions in question).  It does not matter, by the way, that most of the soldiers did not own slaves, nor does it matter than one is descended from a family who was too poor to own slaves.  The bottom line remains:  the battle flag flew over battles that would determine whether the CSA would continue to exist of not.  That many want to tell themselves a different story does not change this fact.

As a side note:  the notion that any war is to be judged by the actions of the foot soldiers  is problematic.  Wars are wages by elites, even if they are fought by the rank-and-file.  The value of southern slaves was immense and the agrarian economy of the south was fueled by cheap labor.  This was what the war was ultimately about.

More importantly, this is not a debate simply about what happened in the 19th Century.  It is about Jim Crow and the KKK.  It is about fights against integration of the races in the 1950s and 1960s (and eve into the 1970s and 1980s).  It is about the fact that it took almost a century for the promises of the 15th amendment to be fully implemented (and even now the voter ID debate is linked to this issue).  Beyond all that seemingly ancient (but actually not-so-ancient) history are Ferguson and McKinney and any number of other events in which race is clearly important.   I can’t help but think that a true understanding of our collective past would help us come to grips with our present reality. I do, in fact, think that venerating symbols and figures from the CSA make it hard to accomplish this feat.

I know that I am largely repeating things I have written before and that none of this constitutes a new or unique contribution to this discussion,  Further, it is highly likely that most regular readers (assuming they get this far) will be wholly sympathetic to my position.  I write this partially out of the catharsis that comes with putting words to paper (so to speak) and partially because despite the fact that the above is blatantly obvious to me, the message is clearly not getting out.  If one more persons thinks about this topic more deeply as a result of this brief essay, then that’s progress.

(BTW, the battle flag is probably the more appropriate headline image for this post, but I am tired of looking at the darn thing at the moment).

———

*Except, of course, at OTB (although there are a a few names who cause me to skip on down the list).

**Indeed, part of my general frustration with some who defend the flag is their denial on this very point.  The flag was first deployed to fly over a battlefield wherein if those over whom it flew had won that that victory would have meant the continuation of a government specifically instituted to protect slavery.  From there the flag was used by racist hate groups (from the KKK to the Skinheads and beyond) and was further used as a symbol in opposition to desegregation.

How many strikes does a symbol need before one backs away?

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Race and Politics, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Excellent piece. I keep hearing, too, that the war was about “states’ rights.” And it is perfectly clear from the various secession documents that the only right at issue was the right to keep slaves.

  2. SKI says:

    Well said.

    In addition to the Cornerstone Speech, one only has to realize that the re-emergence of the CBF didn’t happen until post WWII and the fights for desegregation and civil rights to see that it is inherently rooted in defiance of a world that was pressing them to treat blacks less unequally.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Why is it so hard for some Southerners to love their heritage and still admit the odious parts of their past? It’s not like the country as a whole has a lily-white (no pun intended) reputation in its past but we can still love our country and freely admit the darker (once again no pun intended, although it is interesting to see how words/phrases derive their meanings) parts of our past…

  4. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    David French of National Review has a truly interesting take on the Battle Flag (the symbol in question, not any of the official flags of the Confederacy — although several variants incorporated the Battle Flag in their design) that is thoughtful and nuanced and presents a fairly cogent argument for keeping the Battle Flag — while emphasizing that it was far more associated with Robert E. Lee and NOT the Confederacy as a whole.

    However, it’s essentially a moot point now. Still, it’s an interesting read.

  5. @SKI:

    the re-emergence of the CBF didn’t happen until post WWII and the fights for desegregation and civil rights

    Indeed. In fact, my own thinking on this subject came into sharp focus for this very reason.

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Not to go all anecdotal on you all, but I do not recall reading any of those documents in K-12 or even having any specific references to them—and my High School level US history and civics were taken in southern California (and middle school US history in Texas). Likewise, I do not recall this stuff coming up in my kids’ studies either.

    I went to a good public high school in Northern California and I can tell you we were given a shallow survey history of the period from 1848 through the failure of Reconstruction. The founding of the nation got better (but not much better) treatment. It was not until my college studies did I get to in-depth readings and complex analysis of American history.

    Our history is rich – for better or for worse – yet we continue to sequester much of it from high school studies, and I’ve never understood that at all.

  7. Tillman says:

    Andrea Tantaros said it best:

    “I agree with you, the United States of America is awesome. We are awesome. The reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.”

    When your defense mechanism against remembering past evils is to glorify the present to such a degree, of course you’ll accuse others of being Debbie Downers about everything.

    @An Interested Party: Part of it probably stems from how much of the good of southern culture was formed in the crucible of the bad. Jazz, for instance. A uniquely American art form, would likely never have come about if black musicians could play with the white ones and get paid the same. Fundamentally it needed blues music for a foundation, and sadly blues could only arise in Jim Crow.

    Plantation houses! Excellent architecture, but I’m trying to imagine the saccharine tour guide getting to some rooms and saying, “And here is where the masters whipped the house slaves who spoke out of turn. Notice the excellent walnut crown molding throughout.”

  8. SKI says:

    As usual, TNC is killing it: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/

    After citing a blizzard of primary source quotes claiming that the fight was over slavery and white supremacy:

    Nikki Haley deserves credit for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag. She deserves criticism for couching that removal as matter of manners. At the present moment the effort to remove the flag is being cast as matter of politesse, a matter over which reasonable people may disagree. The flag is a “painful symbol” concedes David French. Its removal might “offer relief to those genuinely hurt,” writes Ian Tuttle. “To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred,” tweeted Mitt Romney. The flag has been “misappropriated by hate groups,” claims South Carolina senator Tom Davis.

    This mythology of manners is adopted in lieu of the mythology of the Lost Cause. But it still has the great drawback of being rooted in a lie. The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans. The embarrassment is not limited to the flag, itself. The fact that it still flies, that one must debate its meaning in 2015, reflects an incredible ignorance. A century and a half after Lincoln was killed, after 750,000 of our ancestors died, Americans still aren’t quite sure why.

  9. Pinky says:

    “to come to gripes with the past” – one of the best typos ever

  10. michael reynolds says:

    We tend not to teach history. We teach mythology. The excuse is that kids need a simple foundation before moving on to the nuance. But this is dangerous, as we can see, because the vast majority of folks never advance any further than their high school history class. So all that most people ever learn is the mythology. And they vote.

    We’ve beaten up on the south – justifiably – but it’s not just the Civil War that is so mythologized as to be utter bullsh!t, it’s most of American history. How many times have we had presidents get up and solemnly assure us that the United States has never sought territorial aggrandizement? And people nod along like that must be true, when of course, we took basically every square inch of what we have either by way of direct military conquest, or buy buying it from some earlier conqueror, buying stolen goods.

    And the right is not entirely responsible. The left has soft-soaped Communist atrocities for a long time. It’s still that monster Hitler and uncle Joe Stalin. We still total up Soviet casualties in ways that ignore the fact that a great many of them were murdered by the NKVD, not the SS. We still slight the Poles, who were great heroes as well as victims of both the Nazis and the Communists and were handed to the Soviets almost without protest as a war prize.

    We Americans are very, very good at covering our tracks and cleaning up the bodies. How many Americans even know what happened in the Philippines or understand that Teddy Roosevelt’s racism led to the despicable betrayal of Cuban revolutionaries? How many know that the Cherokee were as assimilated into American life as Jews were in Germany before our government ethnically cleansed them? How many know of the Mengele-adjacent medical experiments we carried out on blacks? How many know that our bombing of Japan was not directed at military targets and that we were deliberately setting off firestorms to incinerate tens of thousands of Japanese civilians?

    We are excellent, subtle liars when it comes to history, using all our Hollywood skills to turn a very shades-of-gray story into black and white.

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    presents a fairly cogent argument for keeping the Battle Flag — while emphasizing that it was far more associated with Robert E. Lee

    Robert E. Lee was a worse traitor than Benedict Arnold. Why would any American want to keep a symbol associated with that kind of odious treason?

  12. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds: Put more simply, we are human.

  13. Franklin says:

    Nice history lesson, particularly the stated intentions by the CSA president and various states.

    I’m curious if anybody could expand on this a little bit:

    Indeed, the states’ rights argument is especially interesting in this conversation as the southern states were opposed to northern states attempting to use states’ right arguments to aid fugitive slaves.

  14. @Pinky: Indeed (although I had better fix that–thanks).

  15. bookdragon says:

    We moved around when I was a kid, but within the north. Still in every school, while we got a view that slavery was a root cause of the Civil War, we never were introduced to the actual declarations or speeches of confederate politicians proving that it was the primary motivation for secession. I only learned about how the confederate flag was resurrected for use as the symbol of ‘Massive Resistance’ because my civics teacher was a black lady who had been among the youngsters escorted to school by National Guard at the start of desegregation.

    I spent 7 years in southern VA later in life and god forbid you say it was about anything but ‘states rights’ (even in a college town).

    And now I’m in PA, not that far from Gettysburg in fact, and my daughter is in an advanced placement history course, but their coverage of the Civil War also notes slavery as a root cause but doesn’t introduce the hard evidence to refute the ‘states’ rights’ claim. I’m hoping that once they get to the Civil Rights movement she’ll get some of what I learned in civics class.

    btw, I notice above that you typed ‘come to gripes’ rather than ‘come to grips’. The first time I figured it was a typo. But when I saw the second instance I had to wonder if it was a Freudian slip. We should come to grips with these things, but comments on the internet are much more likely to come to gripes. 😉

  16. SKI says:

    @Rafer Janders: Because, contra Benedict Arnold, a huge portion of the country shared in that schism.

    The losers in a civil war, by definition, need to be treated differently if you are going to reincorporate them back into the country.

  17. SKI says:

    @Franklin: They wanted the federal government to override the northern states’ laws that freed men from slavery and force the state governments to return escaped slaves. They passed a law through Congress to do so: The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

  18. @michael reynolds:

    We tend not to teach history. We teach mythology.

    Alas, I think there is a lot to this assertion (and yes: beyond just the Civil War).

  19. @Rafer Janders:

    Robert E. Lee was a worse traitor than Benedict Arnold. Why would any American want to keep a symbol associated with that kind of odious treason?

    Indeed. There is this weird tendency, even among folks who will criticize the CSA, to venerate Lee. After all, he was a “reluctant confederate”–so what? The important word in that phrase is the noun, not the adjective.

  20. Ron Beasley says:

    While slavery was evil it was necessary to the economy the South so it made sense for them to defend it. I would suggest it had less to do race than econinmics

  21. @bookdragon:

    We should come to grips with these things, but comments on the internet are much more likely to come to gripes

    Indeed.

  22. CSK says:

    I suspect that non-slave owning southerners were seduced into fighting for the Confederacy by the cry of “states’ rights,” and were deluded into thinking that they were waging a noble battle against northern tyranny.

    As for present-day southerners, I suspect that some of them maybe be too embarrassed to admit that the only states right their ancestors really wanted to keep was the right to keep slaves. Hence they get angry and defensive when you point this out to them. But the proof is right there in the declarations of secession.

  23. @Ron Beasley:

    While slavery was evil it was necessary to the economy the South so it made sense for them to defend it. I would suggest it had less to do race than econinmics

    After a fashion, perhaps, but I think that requires splitting hairs. The economic imperative was not just slave labor, but the belief that it was the inferiority of non-whites that made it acceptable to enslave them and build an economy on that basis.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    The losers in a civil war, by definition, need to be treated differently if you are going to reincorporate them back into the country.

    As others have noted, the problem with this is that those people didn’t properly renounce their odious ideas, like the Germans did with Nazism after World War II…instead, Southerners mythologized racism and treason into some kind of noble cause…

  25. Gavrilo says:

    There is no unique Southern “heritage” other than the institution of slavery. At the time of the Civil War, for all the important cultural signifiers; language, religion, political institutions, economy, the South wasn’t much different from the North. We all spoke English, were predominately Christian, organized our state governments in largely the same way, were predominately agrarian. This idea that flying the Confederate Flag today could symbolize anything other than slavery is absurd.

  26. Mu says:

    Reading those secession declarations should be required reading in every class dealing with that period of time. Never realized how brutally open they addressed the subject of racism.
    But it also showed how blinded they were in regards to reality. They might have been better off (for their way of life) to trade an agreement to a 13th amendment for an anti-14th that would have enshrined their two-class society, and saved themselves a lot of trouble. In the long run we were probably lucky they were so short-sided.

  27. Tillman says:

    @Gavrilo: I disagree in the lack of unique Southern heritage. In demonstration, I present moonshine! All bend the knee to the mighty lightning, the clear whiskey, the proving ground of fortitude and courage! And it is the ground you will see should you be found wanting! Also good for degreasing engines.

    Sure, it was derived from the Scots and English, but a lot of unique Northern culture is the same. Wish I could link that segment from Parks and Rec when Ron Swanson’s mom shows up to “save” her son from Tammy 1 by challenging her to a hooch-drinking contest.

  28. Pinky says:

    @Gavrilo: The North and South were very different economically and culturally. They had different crops and trading partners, different levels and systems of education, and different traditions; their populations had different ancestries and different faiths. Most all of those things affected and were affected by slavery, but they were all real. There was arguably a greater variety of cultures in the South than in the North, at least at the time.

  29. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Lee spoke against slavery and was a strong voice for reconstruction and reconciliation. He presented an opportunity for the South to rebuild in a better way, rejecting the worst elements of their heritage and resuming their place in the nation quickly and with dignity, to the greater benefit of the nation as a whole.

    And a significant part of his legacy is how many Southerners went on to serve in the US military with such honor and distinction, instead of spending generations resenting the role that military had played in conquering the South.

    But again, a moot point. There aren’t many people willing to make the distinction between Lee’s flag and the Confederacy as a whole. Kind of like when someone tries to reclaim the Swastika from the Nazis — intellectually, they might have some valid points, but there’s just way, way too much baggage attached to overcome the emotional response.

  30. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: ” It’s still that monster Hitler and uncle Joe Stalin”

    It’s really not. I mean, after about 1978 the only voice on the left who still had anything positive to say about Stalin was Alexander Cockburn. That’s almost a Doug-level of Bothsidesdoitism.

  31. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “We still slight the Poles, who were great heroes as well as victims of both the Nazis and the Communists ”

    And eager participants in the Holocaust.

  32. HarvardLaw92 says:

    the war was not launched as a moral crusade to end slavery.

    You’re correct – the war was launched BY THE SOUTH as a crusade to PRESERVE slavery.

  33. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Lee was a traitor who died (as he should have) stateless.

  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Pinky:You saw that too, eh? He does it twice, I think Steven is having a small Freudian issue. 🙂

  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Hmm, I think it was the other way around–they had an economy built on slavery and had to run around looking for an excuse as to why God Said It Is Right And Proper To Enslave These People.

    (This has just given me the idea for an alternate history, where the uses of coal for industry is discovered much earlier and this results in the Scots-Border immigrants becoming slaves in Appalachia instead. Hmmm.)

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: Yes. If you were Jewish, you had a better chance of actual survival if you were in Germany than if you were in Poland. (I forget what it was for German, but the death rate in Poland was 90%.)

  37. Scott says:

    This is a great summary.

    @Ron Beasley:

    While slavery was evil it was necessary to the economy the South so it made sense for them to defend it. I would suggest it had less to do race than econinmics

    I would remind everybody not to be too reductionist. Yes, slavery and the maintenance of the “peculiar institution” was the primary reason for the succession. But there are nuances to the reasons that can also be discussed. Racism was there, for sure, but there was also a strong economic and financial motivation also. Agrarian societies are debtor societies and the South was deep in debt to the North. Slaves were financial assets, not easily converted to liquid assets. The south was fighting for its morally bankrupt way of life but it also was fighting for its financial life.

    @Tillman:
    Everything is awesome
    Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
    Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream

    From the LEGO Movie. Couldn’t resist.

  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: One question: How many American deaths is Lee responsible for?

  39. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Long ago I read an account by Kurt Vonnegut of visiting Germany as a civilian shortly after WWII. He tells of a taxi driver explaining at some length that the beautiful rose window in he local cathedral had been shot out by 20 mm auto-cannon fire from a low level British Mosquito bomber. It seemed to give the driver comfort to focus on technical details and not dwell on the loss. If it gives you comfort to worry about the nuances of Confederate flag lore, please feel free. Me, I care about as much as I care when some gun stroker gets all upset that a reporter said automatic when it was really semi-auto. We all know which flag we’re talking about.

  40. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Scott:

    I’m not sure that you can reasonably draw any sort of line between “slavery” and “the economics of slavery”. They’re inexorably linked.

  41. bookdragon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The Scots-Border immigrants in coal country came close enough (esp later when company towns really took hold). One of the few valid points the defenders of slavery ever made was that many southern slaves were treated better than immigrant factory workers in the north.

  42. Neil Hudelson says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Slightly more than BENGHAZI?!?!?

    On topic, whenever someone tells me the Civil War was about States Rights (and being a combative person, this comes up often with friends, strangers in line, me yelling at the radio, etc.), I always ask them to explain exactly which states rights–besides slavery, and with the idea that nullification was decided decades prior–were in question.

    I have yet to meet someone who is able to answer that seemingly simple question.

  43. PD Shaw says:

    @SKI: “In addition to the Cornerstone Speech, one only has to realize that the re-emergence of the CBF didn’t happen until post WWII . . .”

    To some extent, but one of the important moments in Lost Cause history were all of the CBFs that marched with the unveiling of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond in 1890 (along with many U.S. flags). When we talk about the Lost Cause, we are talking about a cause that was lost and Lee became the martyr that symbolized that loss, and these were his flags.

  44. sam says:

    Why is that symbol — rampant of unimaginable courage and utter and complete defeat — clung to to with such desperation. Faulkner knew:

    It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago; or to anyone who ever sailed a skiff under a quilt sail, the moment in 1492 when somebody thought This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world’s roaring rim.

    This world belongs to the living not the dead. Retire the flag. The men to whom it meant the world are gone from this world, and the world they so tried to save is gone from this world. Retire the flag. That world is gone.

  45. Rafer Janders says:

    @SKI:

    Because, contra Benedict Arnold, a huge portion of the country shared in that schism.

    Right — which is why I said Lee was a bigger traitor than Benedict Arnold. Arnold only tried, unsuccessfully, to hand one fort over to the British. Lee tried to sever the country, and is responsible for the deaths of more United States Army soldiers than any enemy commander in our history.

    The fact that more of them were traitors doesn’t mean they weren’t, in fact, traitors.

  46. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The left has soft-soaped Communist atrocities for a long time. It’s still that monster Hitler and uncle Joe Stalin.

    Um, no it’s not. Since when? Certainly not since the 1960s has anyone on the left (barring the obvious loony fringe) ever defended or had anything good to say about Stalin. The consensus is that he was an inhuman genocidal monster.

  47. Rafer Janders says:

    @bookdragon:

    One of the few valid points the defenders of slavery ever made was that many southern slaves were treated better than immigrant factory workers in the north.

    Did factory owners routinely come into the immigrant factory workers’ homes at night, rape their wives, and then sell their children to a factory owner in another state, all under color of law? Were immigrant factory workers in the North subject to branding, whipping, amputation and other savage tortures when they didn’t meet their daily quota?

    If not, then no, the slaves weren’t treated better.

  48. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @gVOR08: I have a stupendously little amount of interest in the Civil War, the flag controversies, and the related silliness. (I’m a 20th Century buff.) But I thought the article about the Battle Flag and Lee’s history and legacy was interesting, and as someone with so little invested in the matter, I think I was seeing it a bit more objectively than the partisans.

    However, I do think that it’s incumbent upon those who argue most passionately about the matter to get the facts of the matter correctly. In your example about guns, if you’re going to argue about gun policy, you shouldn’t make really stupid, fundamental errors when you make your arguments. And the distinction between “automatic” and “semi-automatic” is incredibly critical when discussing guns.

    It strikes me that, in a better world, Lee and his flag could have been a wonderful symbol for the New South to rally behind, had enough emphasis been placed on the positive aspects and more thorough rejection of the negative aspects. It might make an interesting “alternate history” story.

    As I said, I don’t find a lot interesting about the Civil War era, but I wonder — if Lee had lived a bit longer, could he have influenced matters more and sped up reconstruction and reconciliation?

  49. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We tend not to teach history. We teach mythology. The excuse is that kids need a simple foundation before moving on to the nuance. But this is dangerous, as we can see, because the vast majority of folks never advance any further than their high school history class. So all that most people ever learn is the mythology. And they vote.

    Indeed. Which leads to the question, why can’t they teach the nuance-or better, truth- from the beginning? Is it just a lack of enough time in the school year? Or is it the belief that kids can’t do nuance, or to put it another way, can’t handle the truth? (While I”ve not read your books, I hope you think better of your juvenile audience than that).
    It seems to me that if kids can grasp complex moral fables like “The Hunger Games” or are expected to understand Shakespeare, they should be able to comprehend actual history, if properly taught.

  50. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I seem to remember that the “work until you drop” form of slavery only really became started with the invention of the cotton gin, which made it much more productive to grow large amounts of cotton. Up until then, if you were a plantation owner, you were limited by the speed of picking the seeds out of the cotton.

  51. PD Shaw says:

    @CSK: “I suspect that non-slave owning southerners were seduced into fighting for the Confederacy by the cry of “states’ rights,” and were deluded into thinking that they were waging a noble battle against northern tyranny.”

    A lot of non-slave owning southerners were conscripted. By some accounts more so than in the North, but because of some Irish riots in the Northeast, most people seem to assume that only the North had the draft.

  52. grumpy realist says:

    Ebay has put the smackdown on as well.

  53. PD Shaw says:

    @bookdragon: “One of the few valid points the defenders of slavery ever made was that many southern slaves were treated better than immigrant factory workers in the north.”

    That might be a point, or a point of view, but it is not valid in the sense that it is not disputable. But yes, the point was being made by prominent Southern thinkers before the war that slavery would be good for some whites too.

  54. stonetools says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Looks like the business community has made up its mind on this.
    This is beginning to look like SSM, when people, when finally they confronted what the issue was about, rather quickly decided that there was no good reason to deny gays marriage equality after all. Similarly, there’s no good reason to fly the Confederate flag any longer, 150 years after Appomattox and 50 years after the Civil Rights Act.Sadly, it took the deaths of nine innocent black people in church to shock people into understanding what the flag was about.

  55. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    If you don’t believe the left covered up for Stalin, look up, “Hollywood Black List.”

    No one disputes that Joe McCarthy was a thug, but the left conveniently forgets that there were indeed communists in Hollywood, well into the 50’s when any open-minded person could have seen that Stalin was a monster and his regime was a murder machine.

    Now, just think about how we would be treating the black list if those had been Nazi supporters and not communists.

  56. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    As it happens I’m writing a trilogy that’s an alt-history of WW2 in which I treat race and gender issues in the 1940’s openly and honestly. I guess we’ll see whether teenagers are interested or able to absorb a more complete picture.

  57. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Yes and no. In several states (VA, MD and NC especially), the primary use of slaves was in the cultivation and harvesting of tobacco. In SC, they were primarily involved in the cultivation and harvesting of rice (which was actually SC’s primary economic activity). Indeed, the first uses of slave labor in SC were on rice plantations founded by planters from Barbados who brought their slaves with them.

    It is absolutely true that the number of slaves ballooned by some 28% per decade between 1790 (the cotton gin came into being in the 1790s) and 1860.

    What we see, though, is an expansion of slavery due to an expansion of economic activity. From its outset, the economies of the Southern states were driven by and dependent on slave labor. No slavery, no economy, and by association – no economic benefit, no slavery in the first place. I just do not believe that the two can be separated.

  58. Neil Hudelson says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I think that might be true in the states. Work until you drop was very, very common in the sugar producing nations and colonies. If I remember correctly, before the Haitian revolution it was common for slaves to work 20 – 21 hour days, with 3 to 4 hours of sleep, followed by 21 hour days.

    I cannot remember the source, but I believe the average lifespan for a Haitian slave was 7 years

  59. SKI says:

    @Rafer Janders: No but it explains why they are treated differently.

    Castigating Benedict Arnold doesn’t impact anyone else. Castigating Lee implicitly castigates everyone that fought on that side.

  60. Ben Wolf says:

    @Gavrilo:

    There is no unique Southern “heritage” other than the institution of slavery.

    Watching a yankee eat would suggest otherwise.

  61. humanoid.panda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Oh, that kindly old Bobby Lee!

    I remained with Gen. Lee about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable was called in, who gave us the number ofl ashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to “lay it on well,” an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.

  62. Rick DeMent says:

    I’m pretty gobsmacked at the number of people who scream “history not hate” who don’t seem to know that the banner they want to fly wasn’t even the confederate flag. In fact, most cannot pick the actual confederate flag out in a line up (I actually tested this theory when I lived in Atlanta).

    The fact is whatever the battle flag ment before the early days of the civil rights era, it was completely appropriated by the racists and white supremacist. So sorry about that, but your beef isn’t with PC libtards, or black reactionaries, it’s with the bigots who decided that the battle flag was a sign to blacks to know their place.

  63. humanoid.panda says:

    @bookdragon:

    The Scots-Border immigrants in coal country came close enough (esp later when company towns really took hold). One of the few valid points the defenders of slavery ever made was that many southern slaves were treated better than immigrant factory workers in the north.

    You should read some of the literature about plantation slavery in the cotton frontier (Ed Baptist’s The Half that was Never Told is a great example.” Believe me, nothing in American history on this side of the Native genocide was comparable to what went on there.

  64. SKI says:

    @CSK: Don’t count the massive emotional need for even non-slave holders to preserve a social structure that has someone below them on the heirarchy.

  65. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Castigating Lee implicitly castigates everyone that fought on that side.

    As it should. Were they not all – every single one of them – guilty of having committed treason?

  66. Scott says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now, just think about how we would be treating the black list if those had been Nazi supporters and not communists

    There never was an accounting for the Nazi (and/or Fascist) sympathizers from the 30s, mostly wealthy American industrialists (Ford, DuPont, etc.)

  67. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Sure but what does that mean?

    Should we have executed 25% of the population for treason?

    My point was, and remains, that you need to treat treason in the context of a civil war differently than you do in an external war if you wish to have a functioning country afterwards.

  68. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: I generally have little interest in alternate history. Too complex, too contingent. But I’ll give you a bit of history trivia to chew on.

    Immediately before the war, Lee commanded the Army Department of Texas. He was called back to DC and was away from his post when Texas seceded. The Texans demanded, under threat of attack, that Lee’s temporary replacement turn over the Federal forts and arsenals, which he did, and quietly marched his disarmed men out of the state. Would Lee have surrendered without at least token resistance? Had Lee been fired on as a Federal commander, would he have left the US Army? Had Lee accepted command of the Army of the Potomac, how long would the war have lasted?

  69. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you don’t believe the left covered up for Stalin, look up, “Hollywood Black List.”

    Right, but that was 60 years ago — whereas you’d said “its still that monster Hitler and uncle Joe Stalin.” You were making a claim that the present-day left has never come to grips with Stalin, when that’s plainly untrue. You can’t go back to what people thought during the Eisenhower administration to make a point about today.

  70. PD Shaw says:

    @humanoid.panda: We also have information from Lee’s own correspondence:

    Lee’s wife inherited 196 slaves upon her father’s death in 1857. The will stated that the slaves were to be freed within five years, and at the same time large legacies—raised from selling property—should be given to the Lee children. But as the executor of the will, Lee decided that instead of freeing the slaves right away—as they expected—he could continue to own and work them for five years in an effort to make the estates profitable and not have to sell the property.

    What happened after that?

    Lee was considered a hard taskmaster. He also started hiring slaves to other families, sending them away, and breaking up families that had been together on the estate for generations. The slaves resented him, were terrified they would never be freed, and they lost all respect for him. There were many runaways, and at one point several slaves jumped him, claiming they were as free as he. Lee ordered these men to be severely whipped. He also petitioned the court to extend their servitude, but the court ruled against him and Lee did grant them their freedom on Jan. 1, 1863—ironically, the same day that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

  71. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I think it was Tallyrand who said: “Sometimes, treason is simply a matter of dates.” IIRC, Tallyrand managed to make it all the way through Napoleon, the aftermath, and the next Louis.

    (And whether you succeed or not.)

  72. Rafer Janders says:

    @SKI:

    Should we have executed 25% of the population for treason?

    No, but we certainly should have executed Lee, Davis, and most of the major Cabinet members and generals of the Confederacy.

  73. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Should we have executed 25% of the population for treason?

    No, but we would have been well advised to bring them face to face with the reality of slavery, say six months of picking cotton, being whipped, etc.- you know, letting them live for a brief period what they fought to preserve, so as to make the evil of their actions clear to them.

    I think we can all agree that pretending we were all one big happy family and issuing amnesties, then backing out of reconstruction (and thereby enabling Jim Crow) wasn’t the best response.

    We won the war – in that light, breaking the Southern spirit and forcing a change in Southern society doesn’t seem to me like it would have been too severe a response to treason. In many ways, the soldiers who died in the Civil War died for nothing, because little, if anything, in the South really changed.

    It’s certainly lighter than the response that was allowable.

  74. humanoid.panda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    No one disputes that Joe McCarthy was a thug, but the left conveniently forgets that there were indeed communists in Hollywood, well into the 50’s when any open-minded person could have seen that Stalin was a monster and his regime was a murder machine.

    Actually, no: by 1950, there were almost no Communists left in Hollywood, or anywhere else (their strongest stronghold- the more agressive unions of the CIO- were purged in the late 1940). That was the uniquely vile thing about McCarthy- he targeted people who were no longer Communists, and were not willing to destroy the careers of other former Communists.

  75. stonetools says:

    Speaking of alternate histories, there’s a lot of alternate history novels which have the South winning. I’d like to see an alternate history in which there was a much better Reconstruction. In fact, I’d like to live in that timeline.

  76. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I’m divided on that one, in that it would have created martyrs. We successfully ended slavery and kept the nation whole, but we failed to fix the problem of the South in any appreciable way.

    Now, if we could have sent Lee, Davis et al on an extended tour of the South and forced them to make public speeches extolling the equality of the Negro and the evils of white supremacy …

  77. bookdragon says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    I don’t mean to discount that. I should have said ‘semi-valid’ rather than valid on the point. Northern coal miners and factory workers did not face the horrors of slaves on the cotton frontier or, worse, the sugar plantations.

    However, in those pre-union days, they were disposable, having less individual economic value to employers than slaves did to owners. Of course, workers could leave, in theory, but often they were too indebted or simply faced the choice of take whatever work there was or starve. And ‘Work till you drop’ applied to them too. Or, work until unsafe conditions kill you (but hey, why spend a penny on keeping workers from being mangled by machinery? There was no liability and you could always replace them. Desperate immigrant workers were cheap and plentiful…)

    It was not as bad as slavery, but it wasn’t different than the conditions in third world sweatshops where kids are practically chained to looms or sewing machines 16+ hours a day.

  78. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Talleyrand was in office in one form or another from Louis XIV all the way through to Louis-Phillipe. I’ll agree that he was repeatedly a traitor, in that he betrayed the Ancien Regime, the Revolutionary government, Napoleon and the Restoration. He’s the poster child for cynical self-interest.

    In that context, though, culpability for the treason tends to get extinguished when the government that was betrayed ceases to exert authority. The founders, for example, were all traitors to Britain, but Britain no longer had the ability to punish them for their treason after the Revolutionary War.

  79. Moosebreath says:

    @SKI:

    “Because, contra Benedict Arnold, a huge portion of the country shared in that schism.”

    A huge part of pre-Revolutionary War colonists shared in the schism in that they wanted the colonies to stay part of Great Britain (roughly 1/3). The primary difference is that after the Revolution War, a large number moved to Britain or Canada (which remained part of Britain), and the rest were willing to stay and be part of the country, rather than nursing festering grievances for a century and a half.

  80. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I think we can all agree that pretending we were all one big happy family and issuing amnesties, then backing out of reconstruction (and thereby enabling Jim Crow) wasn’t the best response.

    And I would agree with that. But the problem was backing off reconstruction and allowing Jim Crow, not in deciding not to execute the Confederate leaders.

  81. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Since you teach at Troy, you might appreciate this. In the early 1960s, an Army lieutenant stationed at Ft. Rucker wrote a letter to the local paper asking why the Confederate battle flag flew over the Alabama statehouse. There was such a hue and cry that his commander ordered him to make a public apology for his stance. If memory serves, this was during George Wallace’s successful (1962) race for governor of Alabama.

  82. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    No argument, but my position is that the problem began much earlier than the premature abandonment of reconstruction. We essentially allowed traitors back into the fold without any sort of penalty or penance. Say a few words, sign here, and *pouf* all is forgiven.

    It was a grievous mistake. The response should have been that every single person who committed treason by fighting for / participating in the Confederacy lost his / her citizenship, and by association his/her right to vote, until such time as they had demonstrated through tangible efforts that they had reformed their prior ways and beliefs.

    Instead, we had the equivalent of everybody at Nuremberg standing up and saying “I’m sorry” with a wink and their fingers crossed.

  83. CSK says:

    @SKI:

    Oh, sure. But I wasn’t referring to those who were drafted. My point was that there probably were many poor white southern farmboys who bought into the whole Glorious Cause schtick.

  84. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @grumpy realist: I’ve thought of an alternative history novel positing that the South actually won the Civil War, but then decided to expand slavery by annexing portions of Mexico (then a French protectorate) and invading Cuba. The result was that the South wound up fighting both France and the newly-unified German Empire, with very bad results.

  85. SKI says:

    @CSK: I wasn’t referring to those who were drafted either. Many non-slave owning whites were (and are) very invested in not being on the bottom of the social scale.

  86. JKB says:

    First off, given what has been attached to the flag since its use in battle, it really has no place outside of museum or historical reenactments. This is especially true at the memorial in SC, as I’m led to understand the flag wasn’t added until 1962, either as part of the Civil War centennial or motivated due to the civil rights movement.

    But I’ll weigh in with a few observations about the conflict.

    First off, people really need to separate the abolition of slavery from racism/equal rights. Slavery as an institution was considered an abomination. Not because of a lack of prejudice but due to the denial of a person’s right to the fruits of their own labor. As well as it was a violation of the idea of equality before the law. Remember, slavery is not something an individual can do, it is a societal condition. It is the denial of equal protection under the law to a subset of the population. That is why we have a Constitutional amendment against slavery (restriction on government) and not a law against slavery (restrictions on individuals).

    Once abolished, the Blacks, freeman or freed slave were not treated as equals in the North or South to one degree or another. And prejudice based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc., was rife and certainly not restrained in public in the mid-19th century.

    What I found interesting was how much the Southern Plantation system had in common with the institutions established by continental European powers in Central and South America and their island possessions. Much in contrast to the institutions in the rest of the USA, family farms and firms were predominant compared to the corporatized plantation system that depended upon having lots of low skilled labor to function.

    The previous fits with a proffered hypothesis that the American Civil War was a continuation of the English Civil wars, in which our Revolution came out of the 2nd English Civil war, 1770s. It is an interesting idea and the regional/religious ancestry does track back to the affiliations of the 1st English civil war in 1640s. I haven’t read ‘Cousins’ Wars’ by Kevin Phillips yet but it seems interesting. This doesn’t change that the American Civil War was if not fought over, at least ignited by the desire to continue and propagate slavery in the Anglosphere. The latter specificity is required because slavery continued in other European control areas for decades longer and in other societies and colonial powers until after WWII and continues and is increasing today in some regions under non-Western societies.

  87. In terms of alt history, consider the following variables:

    1) Economy based on large agricultural commodities,
    2) Land concentrated in the hands of a relative few,
    3) Religion used as a means of maintaining the social order,
    4) Labor force with little to no political power.
    5) A substantial racial component to the power structure.

    Add all those together and you get Latin America.

  88. stonetools says:

    @PD Shaw:

    So Lee wasn’t a courtly, kindly, Southern gentleman who only reluctantly was a slave plantation owner. Another myth blown.
    For anyone who wants to read a novel about how it really was for a slave on a plantation, try The Book of the Night Women, by Marlon James. ( Its about slavery in Jamaica, which was supposedly more brutal than American slavery, but still).

    Grant was right. The Confederates fought bravely and hard for a terrible system, a system that corrrupted the masters and inflicted horrors on the slaves. It’s time all Americans understood this.

  89. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I was thinking a few more than Osama bin Laden, but considering the fact that 400,000 Americans died in WWII one could conceivably put Lee up there with any of the German or Japanese high commands.

  90. JKB says:

    @stonetools: I’d like to see an alternate history in which there was a much better Reconstruction.

    Well, you are at odds with HarvardLaw92, who prefers a harsh occupation that probably would have led to guerrilla war even unto now. Not to mention his desire to hang generals along with the political leaders which would have politicized the military a tradition likely to have migrated to the US Army.

    But Reconstruction as it occurred was a concerted effort to loot the South of any remaining wealth and when they were done, the Carpetbaggers left. But while pursuing their loot, they stirred up animosities between the freed slaves and the rest of the population which set the stage for what happened in the subsequent 90 years. The KKK was originally organized to achieve “perceived” justice that was unavailable through Carpetbagger courts. It, sadly, turned out to be to easily and quickly steered toward its subsequent history.

    Voting rights for the Blacks was simply a means to power for the Carpetbaggers to achieve and maintain power. This set the stage for fights over voting rights in the South where Blacks had a plurality over other voting blocks when the Carpetbaggers returned North when there was no more profit for them. I suppose it is a question for the Poly Sci majors but given democracy and the majority population of Blacks in large sections of Southern states, how could things have developed differently given the prejudicial nature of all people, North and South, American or otherwise, in 1870? Was there a linchpin?

  91. Lynn Eggers says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “From its outset, the economies of the Southern states were driven by and dependent on slave labor. No slavery, no economy, and by association – no economic benefit, no slavery in the first place.”

    I took a class on the Civil War a few years ago. The professor included articles from a variety of southern newspapers, some written as much as 50 years before the war, some written mere months before Fort Sumter.

    The articles written in the early years talked about slavery as a necessary but temporary evil, one which they hoped would die out as the economy changed over time. The later articles described slavery as biblical, an intrinsic part of “Southern Culture,” and good for both races.

  92. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JKB:

    Your talent for being an apologist is impressive, sir.

  93. aFloridian says:

    I think a lot of Southerners, when they hear “the War was about slavery” interpret that as “the morally-superior North launched a divine crusade against an institution it abhorred.” The reality is slavery was the single biggest cause of the War, but the North did not wage war against the South out of an altruistic desire to help blacks/slaves. That was a happy consequence, at the least for a few years, and certainly the 13th Amendment was a good development. I think it’s that crusade concept that a lot of Southerners are pushing back against. But they should make that point without trying to rewrite history.

    There’s also a natural human instinct tending towards self-denial of our worst aspects. Self-awareness is a virtue, but white Southerners are not unique in their desire to highlight the more favorable parts of their culture/history and overlook the more unsavory bits.

    What I’d like to see happen is a movement away from such denial, and more a focus on the reality of slavery, the causes for the War, and the horrible legacy of Jim Crow. The South was neither Gone With the Wind nor Django Unchained. The South is not some evil place, unrivaled in history by its wickedness. But our legacy as Southerners, white and black, is burdened by the taint of slavery. There’s got to be some middle ground where Southerners can be proud while also being aware that for every bit of comfort the wealthy planters had, and yes, those were some beautiful houses, a person was born into a life of misery and drudgery to support that lifestyle. And yes, a slaveholding oligarchy really did fight a war essentially for the sole reason of keeping an entire people in bondage.

    That change starts by admitting the battle flag, whatever you want it to mean personally, is irrevocably tainted by a century of use by white supremacists. And the war was about a state’s right to allow slavery.

    I don’t know that I agree with stripping off the names of anyone associated with the War from public buildings, however. I don’t know how much longer you’ll have to wait to get the bulk of Southerners to see the Confederates as traitors. I get it, however, that you might want to allow a name change at R.E. Lee in Montgomery or Nathan Bedford Forrest, formerly in Jacksonville where it seems particularly insensitive. Strong arguments can be made in both directions that secession at the time was permissible (I certainly think it should have been, although a terrible idea) and I imagine that the bulk of Confederates saw it and believed it as such. So fighting for a new, independent nation that adopted all the pretenses of modern governance and a more-or-less defined territory strikes me as worth distinction. These people were a part of our history, and, yes, many of the leaders are still admired today.

    I’ll confess the cult around Lee is a little weird to me, but I greatly admire his refusal to engage in guerrilla warfare. I know a professional (from the western states ironically) that has his office festooned with Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and T. Roosevelt memorabilia. It’s an odd “great men” fetish. Either way, if we start scrubbing our history of anyone who has a less-than-stellar legacy of race relations, it is going to knock out a lot more than a few Confederates.

  94. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Lynn Eggers:

    Exactly my point – as the economic benefit increased, the motivation to rationalize, defend, justify and expand slavery increased right along with it. Without the one, there likely wouldn’t have been much of the other.

  95. James Pearce says:

    Alternate histories that start at the Civil War are cute but not that interesting to me. I’d like to see the alternate history that has the European settlers wiped out by Native American diseases and African slavers rather than the other way around. Now that would be interesting.

  96. Lynn Eggers says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “as the economic benefit increased, the motivation to rationalize, defend, justify and expand slavery increased right along with it.”

    I read it as the defensiveness increasing with the growth of the abolitionist movement, and as limitations were put on the spread of slavery.

  97. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @aFloridian:

    Would you agree that it is highly inappropriate, even distasteful, for US military bases to be adorned with the names of traitorous Confederate generals, and that renaming them is justifiable?

  98. JKB says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    What did I apologize for?

    I simply wondered given the conditions, what would have caused a different path?

    As for Lee, the nature of ending a war means not inflaming the population. Hanging political leaders is accepted as they make policy. But to go after a military commander who does not violate the rules of war is generally not acceptable to the conquered population and your own military commanders.

  99. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Lynn Eggers:

    Defensiveness, sure. When your lucre is threatened, you tend to get defensive.

  100. gVOR08 says:

    On Lee, it is often said as a Southern gentleman his loyalty was to his state and he had no real choice but to go with Virginia. IIRC, the majority of Lees and Custises with military training went North.

  101. Pinky says:

    @Lynn Eggers: Yes. The South got weirdly defensive about the practice as they were criticized from the North. That’s human nature for you. The South may have been able to move away from slavery on its own, but no one likes being told that they’re wrong, so they started defending slavery as a “positive good”. Someone on this thread mentioned the non-slaveowners in the South, implying that they had no stake in the system. In truth, they came to support it because it was being attacked from outsiders.

    No one likes to be talked down to, but being talked down to by someone with a Boston accent is unbearable.

  102. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JKB:

    The characterization of carpetbaggers as having been looters and the KKK as some sort of flawed, but understandable response is a bit telling.

    Lee et al were more than military commanders – they were traitors. Accordingly, the correct response to their treason is to charge them with treason and afford them the benefit of a trial. If guilty, then you shoot them. That is the appropriate response to treason.

    As for the conquered populations – we managed the entirety of Germany and Japan post WW2 with troop populations a fraction the size of the managed populations. Reconstruction fell apart when the Army left the South, not before. You speak as though the people of the South were fellow citizens deserving of leniency and consideration. They forfeited that expectation when they took up arms against their own country.

    I see them as having been revolutionaries who should have been expected to have to earn back the privileges of citizenship. The chief problem with Reconstruction was that we abandoned it rather than having the will to see it through.

  103. @Pinky:

    The South may have been able to move away from slavery on its own, but no one likes being told that they’re wrong, so they started defending slavery as a “positive good”. Someone on this thread mentioned the non-slaveowners in the South, implying that they had no stake in the system. In truth, they came to support it because it was being attacked from outsiders.

    No one likes to be talked down to, but being talked down to by someone with a Boston accent is unbearable.

    You aren’t suggesting that the south simply stuck to slavery and dug in its heals because the north was critical, are you?

    Further, you aren’t arguing that poor whites were anti-slavery until the northerners got critical, are you?

  104. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: If you’re discussing mili@HarvardLaw92: tary rifles, the distinction between auto and semi-auto matters. If the CNN reporter were to say Roof had an automatic pistol, that’s actually common usage. Everyone who cares would autocorrect. People who don’t care would be no less informed than they were before. So who cares? With rifles, I get around the issue by referring to Bushmasters etc. as pretend assault rifles.

  105. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m not blaming the North for the South’s commitment to slavery, if that’s what you’re getting at. I am saying that the cultural divide and the sense of external pressure brought out the worst among non-slaveholding Southerners, and resulted in a greater commitment to slavery than mere economics could explain, increasingly from the 1820’s to the 1860’s and beyond.

  106. JKB says:

    @aFloridian:

    In regards to history as taught and written, this observation is a clear assessment:

    “The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.”
    — C.S. Lewis, ‘Prince Caspian’, ‘Chronicles of Narnia’

  107. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Sort of a proto Ahmed Chalabi?

  108. stonetools says:

    @JKB:

    Well, you are at odds with HarvardLaw92, who prefers a harsh occupation

    Er, no, I’m not. Nuremberg type trials for theConferderate leaders and generals would have been fine by me, along with thoroughgoing law reformd (40 acres and a mule for each slave-they’d earned at least that much) and a de-Confederatization program. The Occupations of Germany and Japan would be my Reconstruction model.
    Your post is pure Lost Cause hokum in its characterization of the Reconstruction. Next you’ll be posting about the “heroic” KKK.

  109. Mu says:

    History is written by the winners.
    Lee took up arms against a country he served for most of his life. He lost. He was a traitor.
    Washington took up arms against a country he served for most of his life. He won. He was a hero.

  110. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: I should add – there was another motivation that caused non-slaveholding whites to support the system of slavery, and that was the Haitian Revolution. Southern whites and blacks heard the stories coming out of Haiti. The Southern whites had a sense that they were riding the tiger. There was no good model for freeing a large slave population. One indication of this kind of thinking is the way that slavery became increasingly a racial issue in the decades before the Civil War.

  111. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @gVOR08:

    Ayup, but on a level that makes Chalabi look like an amateur in comparison 😀

  112. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Pinky:

    No one likes to be talked down to, but being talked down to by someone with a Boston accent is unbearable.

    Thanx, I needed a chuckle 😉

  113. humanoid.panda says:

    @bookdragon:

    It was not as bad as slavery, but it wasn’t different than the conditions in third world sweatshops where kids are practically chained to looms or sewing machines 16+ hours a day.

    Fair enough- I used to agree with you before reading about those plantations, and understanding that those were, basically, Gulags, located in a friendlier climate to sustaining life and limb..

  114. stonetools says:

    @James Pearce:

    Here ya go:


    Steven Barnes’ Lion’s Blood is alternate history, and a novel that uses a major perspective shift to illuminate a prime failing of humanity, which is its tendency to make other humans into slaves. But Barnes doesn’t go directly for the U.S. Civil War period, as did Harry Turtledove (in Guns of the South). Instead, he goes all the way back to the days of Socrates, tweaks some pivotal events, and follows through on them. What results is a world in the mid-to-late 1800s that is chiefly presided over by nations which are Islamic, not Christian. Christianity is a minor sect, Islam and Judaism co-exist peacefully for the most part (having signed a pact), and the slaves are European — in this case, Celtic peoples. Vikings are slave traders, as well as settlers in the New World, what we call the North American continent.

    Also too:

    The Years of Rice and Salt is an alternate history novel written by science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson and published in 2002. The novel explores how subsequent world history might have been different if the Black Death plague had killed 99% of Europe’s population, instead of a third. Divided into ten parts, the story spans hundreds of years, from the army of the Muslim conqueror Timur to the 21st century, with Europe being re-populated by Muslim pioneers, the indigenous peoples of the Americas forming a league to resist Chinese and Muslim invaders, and a 67-year-long world war being fought primarily between Muslim states and the Chinese and their allies. While the ten parts take place in different times and places, they are connected by a group of characters that are reincarnated into each time but are identified to the reader by the first letter of their name being consistent in each life.

  115. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    But to go after a military commander who does not violate the rules of war is generally not acceptable to the conquered population and your own military commanders.

    I don’t know about any of you but when I read this…..I laughed.

  116. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Pearce: I don’t think JKB quite understands the meaning of “conquered”.

  117. @Pinky:

    I am saying that the cultural divide and the sense of external pressure brought out the worst among non-slaveholding Southerners, and resulted in a greater commitment to slavery than mere economics could explain

    I disagree with this–if one looks into the economic situation it is clear that the motivation for continuing, and deepening, slavery is very much understandable in terms of economics.

  118. James Pearce says:

    @stonetools: Thanks! I’ll have to look into those. I have a lot of the Turtledove and SM Stirling books, but…..yawn.

  119. EddieinCA says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Actually, no: by 1950, there were almost no Communists left in Hollywood, or anywhere else (their strongest stronghold- the more agressive unions of the CIO- were purged in the late 1940).

  120. EddieinCA says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Actually, no: by 1950, there were almost no Communists left in Hollywood, or anywhere else (their strongest stronghold- the more agressive unions of the CIO- were purged in the late 1940).

    Sorry. Wrong. As someone who has been working in Hollywood for better than 30 years, I can most assuredly confirm that there were Communists in Hollywood well past the 1950’s. I spoke to several of them early, early in my career. Just because the Blacklst ended, doesn’t mean that the Communists went away.

    I’m guessing MR and WR have possibly spoken to a few as well.

  121. James Pearce says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I don’t think JKB quite understands the meaning of “conquered”.

    But he probably has seen Gods and Generals, though…..

    Also….the Confederacy wasn’t “conquered.” They were defeated. Any kindness Lee received after that could be chalked up to the magnanimity of the victors. They should have hung his treacherous ass right there on McLean’s front porch.

  122. dmichaelwells says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Wrong. Read Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s biography: Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters. Lee was a slave owner and was brutal to any who crossed him, including attempts to escape.

  123. charles austin says:

    I think it was Shelby Foote who noted in Ken Burns’ The Civil War that before the war people would say, “the United States are …,” and after the war, “the United States is…” It is useful to distinguish between history and mythology, but I doubt many people today have the same sense of being the citizen in a state in the federal republic today quite like they had back then. As Shelby Foote also noted, some of the states would never have entered the Union if they thought they couldn’t get back out of it. So, in some sense, it isn’t entirely wrong to say they went to war over states’ rights, albeit the right they sought and chose to fight and die over was to continue chattel slavery without interference. Let there be no mistake about that. The tariffs, rise of the industrial north, etc., were more straws but all fade in comparison to the giant, ancient oak tree trunk of slavery that broke the camel’s back, to abuse a metaphor. I think I was taught once that as the westward expansion was taking place the South realized that it wouldn’t be long before slavery would be de jure phased out as more and more states were added to the Union and settlers in the new states were not coming as much from the South as the North. The South was determined to hold on to slavery and the powers that were at the time thought their hand was being forced with Lincoln’s election. Lincoln unequivocally entered the war to preserve the Union — as he felt that is what his office required of him, but he had been an opponent of slavery for quite some time. What transpired in the years before the war in Kansas and Missouri was a bloody frontier preamble to what was coming. In hindsight it should have been clearer to more people, but the few who saw that — like Sherman — were dismissed, and even Sherman underestimated the tragedy. But I digress.

    U.S Grant said after Appomattox, “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” This seems about right to me. The magnanimity of Grant and Lincoln toward the defeated enemy after the war reminds me a great deal of how the people of Charleston have dealt with their recent tragedy.

  124. JKB says:

    @James Pearce: They should have hung his treacherous ass right there on McLean’s front porch.

    So your preference would have been for your vengeance at the cost of a very long continuing guerrilla war and continuing casualties? In short, a blood war that would have projected deep into the Northern states. You know, as opposed to achieving acceptance of defeat, return to civil life and no need to maintain troops in border states?

  125. ernieyeball says:

    What the Confederate States Constitution says about slavery.
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/what-the-confederate-states-constitution-says-about-slavery.72233/

    Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 prohibited the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way:

    “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

    Article IV, Section 2 also prohibited states from interfering with slavery:

    “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”

    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_csa.asp

  126. Modulo Myself says:

    McCarthyism was basically a reaction to the strangeness and alienation of America. The Sexual Revolution and the Counterculture both started basically in 1945. No matter how much the culture tried to make everything seem normal, the truth was there. McCarthy was just a drunk medium for this unease. The most dangerous thing that the Reds in Hollywood could do was to tell the truth. This was what McCarthy and his ilk were worried about. For example, Sam Fuller was called a Communist for making a depressingly-accurate movie about WWII. Meanwhile Stalin’s favorite film was Boys’ Town.

    There are serious parallels between the real causes of the Red Scare and the south that can somehow rise above its origins and yet still take pride in there being a South.

  127. Grumpy Realist says:

    @James Pearce: well, actually there are the Laws of War, which got created out of all the mini-wars Europe had via mercenaries. Late medieval Italy really got this started. I think it was Bartolus, the great jurist, who wrote the first compilation.

    Also note that said Laws of War were to deal with the interactions between armies. The peasants were considered fair game by everybody. (Witness the Thirty Years War in Germany.)

  128. Grumpy Realist says:

    And I know I’ve been obsessing about Greece and the EU too much, but we’re seeing a parallel squabble over exactly how much control individual countries in the EU have over their internal fiscal policy. Either the EU is going to have to start allowing transfer payments, or there’s going to have to be a mechanism to kick countries that don’t keep themselves in fiscal trim out of the Euro. I doubt that Greece is going to do the equivalent of firing on Fort Sumpter but whoops, it’s going to be a wild ride.

  129. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Rafer Janders: The model of the factories during the Industrial Revolution was inspired by slavery, so, yes, they were very similar.

    But slaves that worked with sugar cane had a much worse existence.

  130. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    So your preference would have been for your vengeance at the cost of a very long continuing guerrilla war and continuing casualties?

    “Vengeance” is the wrong word. Try “Justice.”

    And frankly, “a very long continuing guerrilla war and continuing casualties” reads more as a threat as opposed to, you know, an eventuality. (How else would this have worked? If we let Nathan Bedford Forest keep his slaves, would he have stayed out of the KKK?)

    Rid the world of that seditious failure and nip the “Lost Cause” narrative in the bud right then and there.

  131. anjin-san says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    I don’t think its a shocker that Jenos has empathy for a slavemaster…

  132. An Interested Party says:

    No one likes to be talked down to, but being talked down to by someone with a Boston accent is unbearable.

    That fate is certainly far more desirable than being ordered to do manual labor by threat of the whip by someone with a Mississippi accent…

    You know, as opposed to achieving acceptance of defeat, return to civil life and no need to maintain troops in border states?

    Blacks in the South certainly got a great deal out of that outcome, eh? Oh, but that’s right, they only got screwed because of the Carpetbaggers…

    The magnanimity of Grant and Lincoln toward the defeated enemy after the war reminds me a great deal of how the people of Charleston have dealt with their recent tragedy.

    Sadly, that magnanimity, in part, allowed those in power in the South to treat the ancestors of many of those people in Charleston like second class citizens for over a hundred years…

  133. C. Clavin says:

    Lots of Yoga being performed by Jenos, JKB, Chuck Austin.
    So much fun to watch.
    And yet so pathetic at the same time.

  134. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Yes, 60 years ago some leftists liked Stalin, which is not at all what you said earlier.

  135. wr says:

    @Rafer Janders: “You can’t go back to what people thought during the Eisenhower administration to make a point about today.”

    Unless you’re Jenos.

  136. wr says:

    @EddieinCA: “I’m guessing MR and WR have possibly spoken to a few as well.”

    I’ve had some dear friends — mostly outside the biz — who had been communists way back. Still committed leftists, but very few held on to the dream of communism after the Hitler-Stalin pact.

    There was a time in the 30s when the choices seemed to be communism or fascism. Oddly, those who sided with the fascists were never punished, while the communists faced decades of persecution from those who had been siding with Hitler, Mussolini and Franco right up to Pearl Harbor, and who continued to support fascist regimes in Spain and Greece for many decades after.

    Because, of course, fascism means big bucks for corporations, so it’s okay.

  137. JKB says:

    @James Pearce:

    What on earth are you talking about. The rise of the Klan was a para-military arm that arose in support of the Democratic Party to maintain their power in the wake of emancipation. But the Klan operated in locally. It did not continue the war with the North.

    If there had been tribunals against Lee and other commanders for your “treason”. Do you think that the union would have come back together? Johnson put an end to the tribunals in 1866 just so the country could heal, move past the war. Trying and executing those responsible for Andersonville as well as other violations of the laws of war was done but not for treason but rather real crimes.

  138. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    as for Lee, the nature of ending a war means not inflaming the population. Hanging political leaders is accepted as they make policy. But to go after a military commander who does not violate the rules of war is generally not acceptable to the conquered population and your own military commanders.

    Lee and the rest of the Southern commanders shouldn’t have been executed for war crimes — they should have been executed for treason. They were all American citizens who raised a military force to wage war on the United States of America, directly causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and also conspired with American enemies.

    Moreover, Lee and many of the Southern generals actually held commissions from the US Army before they turned traitor — they had each sworn a sacred oath to preserve, protect and defend the US from all enemies, foreign and domestic. They, more than any man, had an obligation not to take up arms against America, an obligation they should have paid for and never did.

  139. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    Do you think that the union would have come back together? Johnson put an end to the tribunals in 1866 just so the country could heal, move past the war.

    That’s the problem with the history, JKB. The country didn’t heal. Some of us didn’t move past the war. A fool and a failure like Robert E. Lee is seen as a hero, and the rebel flag still flies.

  140. JKB says:

    Well, here are the thoughts of General William T. Sherman, USA, as he pursued the surrender of Gen. Johnston after Lee surrendered.

    Of course, this created a perfect furore of rejoicing, and we
    all regarded the war as over, for I knew well that General
    Johnston had no army with which to oppose mine. So that
    the only questions that remained were, would he surrender at
    Raleigh or would he allow his army to disperse into guerrilla-
    bands, to ” die in the last ditch,” and entail on his country an
    indefinite and prolonged military occupation, and of consequent
    desolation? I knew well that Johnston’s army could not be
    caught; the country was too open; and, without wagons, the
    men could escape us, disperse, and assemble again at some place
    agreed on, and thus the war might be prolonged indefinitely.

    I then remembered Mr. Lincoln’s repeated expression that
    he wanted the rebel soldiers not only defeated, but ” back at
    their homes, engaged in their civil pursuits.”

    In any case, the terms of surrender granted officers and men of the CSA to return to their homes, “not to be disturbed by the United States authorities” so long as they honored their obligation under the surrender terms, and abided by the local laws. These were the terms of surrender of the Army of Virginia, by Lee and of the rest of the Confederate armies by Johnston.

  141. JohnMcC says:

    If only Mr Lincoln could have had the advice of the commenters here! No need for that second inaugural stuff about ‘with malice toward none and charity toward none’ stuff. Just get right to work with the trials and hangings. So much more efficient.

  142. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Rafer Janders: We didn’t even do that to Nazi Germany after World War II. Chill out.

  143. An Interested Party says:

    If there had been tribunals against Lee and other commanders for your “treason”.

    Why the quote marks around treason? I guess taking up arms against the United States is simply a disagreement…

    No need for that second inaugural stuff about ‘with malice toward none and charity toward none’ stuff. Just get right to work with the trials and hangings.

    Oh my, such magnanimity for traitors…perhaps Aldrich Ames should have been given a slap on the wrist and allowed to retire to the Caribbean…meanwhile, it’s a shame that “malice toward none, with charity for all” led to Jim Crow and the KKK…

  144. Rafer Janders says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    The German generals had not held commissions from the US Army and then betrayed those commissions. It’s not illegal for one country to declare war on another country. It is illegal, under American law, for an American citizen to raise an armed force to fight against the United States, and to conspire with America’s enemies to bring them into war against her.

    I mean, really, if what serving American officers such as Lee did ISN”T treason, then the word has no meaning.

  145. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    In any case, the terms of surrender granted officers and men of the CSA to return to their homes, “not to be disturbed by the United States authorities” so long as they honored their obligation under the surrender terms, and abided by the local laws.

    Yes, I know the history. The intervening years proved this approach to be a mistake. 150 years later, we still have people venerating the rebels.

    As a martyr for slavery, Robert E. Lee’s flame would have burned out long ago. But as a defender of his home and his way of life, it still burns bright.

  146. Rafer Janders says:

    What many people don’t seem to understand about Lee and many of the other major Confederate generals is that when the conflict broke out these men were serving commissioned officers in the United States Army. For someone to argue that an American officer to abandon his post to take up arms against the United States isn’t treason punishable by death is, to me, a simply incredible argument.

  147. KM says:

    @Pinky:
    For someone trying to defend the character of Antebellum whites, you’d pretty good at damning with faint praise.

    I am saying that the cultural divide and the sense of external pressure brought out the worst among non-slaveholding Southerners, and resulted in a greater commitment to slavery than mere economics could explain, increasingly from the 1820’s to the 1860’s and beyond.

    In other words, they doubled down on the evil they were doing because they didn’t like being told they were in the wrong by someone they hated. That’s *their* moral failing, not the North’s. Blaming internal stubbornness on an outside cause is classic deflection; no one likes being told what to do but that in no way justifies further deliberate incorrect action. Once the nature of a wrong is pointed out to you, any choice you make to continue with the behavior speaks more to your character and morals then it does to the pointer. Basically, you’ve just noted they were deliberately horrible people on perverse purpose rather then by accident or ignorance.

    The Southern whites had a sense that they were riding the tiger. There was no good model for freeing a large slave population.

    There’s a word in English for this: consequences. If you enslave a large population and treat them like they’re lesser then you, you are NOT going to be popular once you are no longer in control. Stupid people who dare the tiger die deserve to die by the claw. I have no pity for a dominate class that regularly hung inncoents from trees fearing swinging in the breeze themselves. Think about it like this: if a modern oppressed people (lets say Iraqis under Saddam) went on a little vigilant justice spree when the tyrant went down and freedom was a sudden large-scale reality, would your sympathies be with the tyrant or those who finally couldn’t take anymore and lashed out?

    Pro-tip: If you fear for your life and property because you think the guy you’ve been abusing and taking advantage all his life might finally decided to get back at you, you’d doing something wrong and are probably a douchebag. It’s not going to end well for you no matter what you do because karma is a persistent bitch.

  148. gVOR08 says:

    As I mentioned above @gVOR08:, the majority of Lee’s family remained loyal. No one forced him to go South. I believe the oath Lee would have sworn read:
    I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the president of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the articles of war.

  149. Pinky says:

    @KM: KM – You misread me. I wasn’t trying to defend the character of the antebellum whites. Where did you get that from? I mean, I said that it “brought out the worst”. You even quoted that. Why do you think that I was defending them?

  150. Blue Galangal says:

    Generally speaking, the comments sections of most places leave me sad and speechless. I have been sprinkling some of those sections with links to OTB on this topic, because this site has some of the most nuanced posts and discussion on the subject – well – anywhere.

    Apropos of the paucity of knowledge and understanding around this topic, maybe Dan Savage needs to popularise a new acronym: RAMFBA (Read a M-F Book Already).

  151. Pinky says:

    @Rafer Janders: I might have missed it, but I don’t think anyone has argued that the officers couldn’t have been legally executed for treason. The debate seems to be about whether they should have been.

  152. pylon says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Well, personally, I’m anti-death penalty, treason or not.

    Where I agree is that a serving high ranking officerwho takes up arms and commands agasinst his country is guilty of treason. If Lee was so honourable, he would have negotiated favorable terms for his men but committed himself to the proper punishment.

  153. KM says:

    @Pinky:
    You do indeed point it out in your reply to Steven. Perhaps your wording is unfortunate but it leans to sympathetic to the Southern mindset. Your posts come across as apologetic towards their intentions even if that’s not what you meant. The word and debate points can be easily read as “pro-Confederate” (for lack of a better term) – “sense of external pressure” is a good as a rationale as “Mommy, everyone else is doing it!”. Terms like that usually gets brought up by someone seeking to rationalize, justify or create some sort of agreeable context, not someone explaining bare facts. And the facts, my dear Pinky, paint the South of the Civil War in a very very bad light without the nostalgia filter attached. Pointing out the North wasn’t a saint doesn’t forgive or mitigate the South in any way, shape or form.

    If you are not actively defending them and are indeed misunderstood, you might consider that this is the sort of thing that propagates this issue: the need to soften language/perceptions and “vague it up” to make something uncomfortable more palatable. The facts are clear: the Confederacy engaged in treason by the literal definition of the law and the entire Southern culture was engaged in an vicious immoral practice for decades it held onto tooth and nail, regardless of an individual’s specific level of involvement. “Good” people can do “bad” things. They clearly did and evil thrives when good men do nothing. We need to stop trying to “humanize” this and accept that our ancestors were treasonous !^@$@&#! and we are OK with that since We in the present are not treasonous !^@$@&#! (hopefully). The defensive needs to stop, period or we will never get past this (150+ years and counting!). The reflexive “Yeah but….” or “Well, you see….” in an attempt to be “fair” and “thoughtful” are not helping at all.

  154. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    The debate seems to be about whether they should have been.

    No, the debate seems to be about whether they were traitors at all. A significant proportion of the American population (ironically, most often that proportion which claims to be the most patriotic) doesn’t seem to think that serving American officers taking up arms against the duly constituted government was treason at all.

  155. Rafer Janders says:

    @pylon:

    Well, personally, I’m anti-death penalty, treason or not.

    Well, I’m anti death-penalty too, but I’m talking about the standards in 1865. The US Army frequently shot soldiers for desertion during the Civil War. If a lowly drafted private had to die because he wandered away from his post out of fear or loneliness, then Lee and the other Southern generals damn sure should have died for their far greater crimes. As always, it was a case of justice for the poor and powerless, leniency for the rich and influential. The Union generals didn’t want to hang their former friends and classmates and fellow officers — but it was precisely because they betrayed those bonds that the Confederate generals should have hung.

  156. Barry says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “However, it’s essentially a moot point now. Still, it’s an interesting read.”

    No, nothing that the NR has to say is interesting – it won’t even be original.

  157. Pinky says:

    @KM: There’s a difference between analysis and taking sides. My comments were analytical. I can’t control how you read them. But the fact that they didn’t make sense to you as side-taking should have told you that I wasn’t taking sides. On a related note, for someone who favors the vengeful curtain rod, you’re conspicuously unwilling to come out and say it.

  158. Lenoxus says:

    From original post:

    Now, it is true that a) that the north fought the war to maintain the Union, and b) the war was not launched as a moral crusade to end slavery. Indeed, Lincoln himself stated that his utmost goal was preservation of the Union and that he would have preserved slavery if that was needed to achieve that goal.

    This has become common wisdom among people arguing against Confederate apologists. It has a solid basis in fact (the Union was never thick with outright abolitionists, and eliminating slavery wasn’t an initial goal). And it’s good to concede this early on in the debate, to make it clear that we don’t work under the false dichotomy that if one side of a war was the wrong side, that makes the other “right” by every possible meaning of “right”.

    However…

    It would be a mistake to characterize the Union or Lincoln as entirely apathetic about slavery, or as prioritizing union above every possible concern. If that were so, then as secession appeared on the horizon, the U.S. government simply would have conceded all of the slave states’ demands (particularly by guaranteeing that all new states would be slave states) and no war would have occurred.

    (EDIT: Snipped out stuff which, upon review, isn’t quite historically right.)

    Still, actual abolitionism was rare in the Union. Today it’s absurd to think there could be a “middle ground” on an issue like slavery, but at the time it was standard for politicians to say they were personally against it but didn’t believe it should be interfered with in slave states. Or that the slavery situation should remain as it was, but no new states should have it. Lincoln had said things similar to both of those.

    Perhaps the best way to summarize the Union attitude would be “This slavery thing has gone too far.” An outrageous sentiment today (given its unspoken implication), but still not as outrageous as what the Confederacy was all about.

  159. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “Yes. If you were Jewish, you had a better chance of actual survival if you were in Germany than if you were in Poland. (I forget what it was for German, but the death rate in Poland was 90%.)”

    The major death camps were located in Poland precisely because the Nazis could do things there that they didn’t dare do in Germany itself.

  160. Barry says:

    @bookdragon: “One of the few valid points the defenders of slavery ever made was that many southern slaves were treated better than immigrant factory workers in the north.”

    Frederick Douglass had a comment on that, to the effect that no white man ever applied for his former ‘job’.

  161. JohnMcC says:

    @Rafer Janders: In our rush to hang/shoot traitors it would perhaps be wise to consult the actions of those who had actual responsibility for governing the horribly shattered United States of America. For one thing, Pres Andrew Johnson & Pres Grant issued pardons and commuted sentences of vast swaths of the establishment of the CSA. Possibly they had good reasons?

    If only they’d read our comment thread on the subject!

  162. Barry says:

    @sam: “It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, ….”

    Who said this? Foote? What I find idiotic about this is that this is at most every *white* Southern boy, which excludes half of all fourteen year old boys in some Southern states.

    And these days I imagine that it includes a lot fewer than all white Southern boys – they’re likely playing video games, texting their friends, and looking at the Southern girls.

  163. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “I seem to remember that the “work until you drop” form of slavery only really became started with the invention of the cotton gin, which made it much more productive to grow large amounts of cotton. Up until then, if you were a plantation owner, you were limited by the speed of picking the seeds out of the cotton.”

    You just put them to work more on picking the seeds. And in the sugar plantations, it was always a case of ‘work until you die, which won’t be long’.

  164. SKI says:

    @Barry: It is a quote from William Faulkner’s book, “Intruder in the Dust” first published in 1948.

  165. Barry says:

    @Ben Wolf: “Watching a yankee eat would suggest otherwise.”

    That made me laugh – I’m from Michigan, where the only things we’ve contributed to the national cuisine would be pasties and smelt. And beet sugar. And Little Caesar’s and Domino’s. And Stroh’s root bear and ice cream. This is getting close to being a complete diet 🙂

    And cherries, but Washington State always steals the credit.

  166. Barry says:

    @SKI: “Don’t count the massive emotional need for even non-slave holders to preserve a social structure that has someone below them on the hierarchy.”

    In addition, likely the majority of white men who weren’t rich enough to own slaves aspired to do so.

    Like in the modern USA, where a lot of people honestly expect to be rich, and so worry about tax rates on the rich.

  167. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Rafer Janders: Um, no it’s not. Since when? Certainly not since the 1960s has anyone on the left (barring the obvious loony fringe) ever defended or had anything good to say about Stalin. The consensus is that he was an inhuman genocidal monster.

    Here are a few good litmus tests for today’s progressives/liberals. What is your opinion of:

    1) Andrew Jackson
    2) Woodrow Wilson
    3) Alger Hiss
    4) The Rosenbergs
    5) Che Guevara?

  168. Barry says:

    @SKI: “One of the few valid points the defenders of slavery ever made was that many southern slaves were treated better than immigrant factory workers in the north.”

    Fallacy of the Excluded Middle, also known TINA (There is No Alternative).

  169. roger says:

    @Tillman: From moonshine came the bootleggers and from the bootleggers came NASCAR.

    Don’t forget things like Southern Rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Delta Blues.

  170. KM says:

    @Pinky:

    taking sides

    You do realize the war is over, right? There are no sides any more. There are only Americans.

  171. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Rafer Janders: Yes, and at the end of a CIVIL WAR, your policies aren’t always the ones driven by legal considerations. I agree it was a pity Reconstruction wasn’t allowed to complete the work of bringing the freed slaves into full citizenship. Treason trials would have made the toxic stew even worse.

  172. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @roger: From moonshine came the bootleggers and from the bootleggers came NASCAR.

    You just gave me a rather entertaining notion — a NASCAR “legacy race.” Each car has to carry a certain amount of moonshine, in traditional jugs, and must survive the entire race intact.

    And licensing possibilities! NASCAR moonshine! Pay a hefty premium for shine that actually went through a race!

    Damn, I should patent this idea…

  173. SKI says:

    @Barry: I didn’t say that.

  174. PD Shaw says:

    @Rafer Janders: “The US Army frequently shot soldiers for desertion during the Civil War. If a lowly drafted private had to die because he wandered away from his post out of fear or loneliness, then Lee and the other Southern generals damn sure should have died for their far greater crimes. As always, it was a case of justice for the poor and powerless, leniency for the rich and influential.”

    Oh give me a break. In the closing days of the war, Lincoln instructed his generals they could arrange for any terms of surrender they wished, so long as they compromised not a bit on the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. Grant negotiated along these lines, giving Lee and his officers and soldiers the exact same parole.

    President Johnson had Lee and others indicted anyway, and Grant protested:

    Grant, who rarely lost his temper, was livid. He told the president that as the responsible commander in the field he had an obligation to destroy Lee’s army. “I have made certain terms with Lee, the best and only terms. If I had told him and his army that their liberty would be invaded, that they would be open to arrest, trial, and execution for treason, Lee would never have surrendered, and we should have lost many lives in destroying him. My terms of surrender were according to military law, and so long as General Lee observes his parole, I will never consent to his arrest. I will resign the command of the army rather than execute any order to arrest Lee or any of his commanders so long as they obey the law.

    The lives lost for failing to reach surrender terms would have the lowly infantrymen, and few if any graduates of West Point.

    Now, I happen to agree that Lee committed treason based upon the sequence of events surrounding his resignation, but I doubt it could have been proven, because the Constitution requires two witnesses to an overt act, and it would have to have been adjudicated by a civilian court in Virginia.

  175. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Your talent for being an apologist is impressive, sir.”

    I would have used a harsher word.

  176. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    1) Andrew Jackson (Good military leader, slave-owner, ethnic cleanser. A man of his times.)
    2) Woodrow Wilson (Weak but well-meaning.)
    3) Alger Hiss (A traitor.)
    4) The Rosenbergs (Traitors who I’d prefer to have seen do life in prison.)
    5) Che Guevara? (A thug in service to a despicable ideology.)

  177. JohnMcC says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: “Treason trials would have made the toxic stew even worse.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmpymyzGYZc

    Three hundred thousand yankees is stiff in southern dust
    We got three hundred thousand before they conquered us
    They died of southern fever and southern steel and shot
    And I wish they was three million instead of what we got.

    Toxic stew indeed. Something like 1/3d to 1/4th of the United States was conquered territory with virtually no intrinsic governing establishment. Mexico was a French territory and it had been less than 50 years since the British had occupied Washington DC and burned the White House. What were the nation’s leaders to do? Sadly, they lacked the counsel of some of our friends here.

  178. James Pearce says:

    @JohnMcC:

    In our rush to hang/shoot traitors it would perhaps be wise to consult the actions of those who had actual responsibility for governing the horribly shattered United States of America.

    Well, John, this is a bit of a tautology.

    Apparently you can’t say “I understand why Grant, etc, made the decisions they did and these are the reasons why I disagree with them.” We keep getting referred back to what Sherman and Grant said.

    No shit. Does that make them right?

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Please tell me, Jenos, which blue state is talking about removing the statue of Che Guevara from the Capitol building?

    I mean, your list got really lazy around point 3. Alger Hiss????

    You need to work on your understanding of your political opponents, bud.

  179. Barry says:

    @Pinky: “…and resulted in a greater commitment to slavery than mere economics could explain, increasingly from the 1820’s to the 1860’s and beyond.”

    Please justify this. Because of the textile revolution, cotton went from being a second-run product to – well, King Cotton. That’s beaucoup justification right there.

  180. PD Shaw says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: “Reconstruction wasn’t allowed to complete the work of bringing the freed slaves into full citizenship. Treason trials would have made the toxic stew even worse.”

    A large part of the problem here is that much of the Southern leadership that emerged in Reconstruction were Unionist. They were either men like Andrew Johnson that despised blacks and the planter class, or they were former Whigs that were associated with the planter class and didn’t have any interest in the wellbeing of freedmen. The people most responsible for secession (and thus potential targets for treason trials) are largely a different group than those responsible for the failure of reconstruction — at the top of the list I would place Andrew Johnson.

  181. Rafer Janders says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Yes, that’s what Grant said. And Grant was wrong.

    The fact that Lee and his co-conspirators didn’t wind up executed for treason is partly what’s to blame for allowing the South to think for the last 150 years that what they did was OK. That it was, at least, partially right. By letting Lee go free and retire, the US government agreed to a polite fiction that, when it came down to it, Lee hadn’t really done anything wrong. But if we’d held Lee as accountable as we held a lowly private who feel asleep on post, then there would have been a definitive verdict that his behavior was, in fact, treasonous.

    Might it have inflamed tensions right after the war? Quite probably. But would it have been better in the long run? Undoubtedly.

    Now, I happen to agree that Lee committed treason based upon the sequence of events surrounding his resignation, but I doubt it could have been proven, because the Constitution requires two witnesses to an overt act, and it would have to have been adjudicated by a civilian court in Virginia.

    Not at all. Any Union officer who witnessed Lee in action was a witness to his treason, and it would not have to have been tried in Virginia.

  182. Barry says:

    @JKB: “So your preference would have been for your vengeance at the cost of a very long continuing guerrilla war and continuing casualties?”

    Ridiculous

  183. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: A remarkably honest assessment, but you seem to have missed Wilson’s virulent racism.

    @James Pearce: I was thinking I was dealing with people who had an above-average level of knowledge about American politics and history. Should I apologize for that assumption?

    And as far as Che, that famous poster of him is huge among progressives, especially young ones. It even showed up at an Obama campaign office. His “coolness” apparently outweighs his other traits — a virulent racist and sociopathic mass murderer.

    Finally, Hiss was actually my first example. I just rearranged them chronologically — although I was lazy and didn’t see if the Rosenbergs were before or after Hiss. I figured they were close enough to not matter.

  184. Barry says:

    @charles austin: “The magnanimity of Grant and Lincoln toward the defeated enemy after the war reminds me a great deal of how the people of Charleston have dealt with their recent tragedy.”

    That comment has nothing to do with the real world.

  185. wr says:

    @Pinky: “My comments were analytical. I can’t control how you read them.”

    Actually, you can, through a miraculous process known as “writing well.” You’d be amazed to discover that if you use the right words in the right order, other people can correctly ascertain your intended meaning.

  186. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: He’s right, Pinky. As the saying goes, “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”

    wr will automatically assume that anything anyone says that doesn’t support his position is the sincerest beliefs of that person, and will misinterpret anything he reads in the least favorable light possible. It is a debate as to whether this is a deliberate act of malice or a genuine lack of intellect (“is he that dishonest, or that stupid?”), but that is ultimately a moot point — the effect is indistinguishable.

    Just shake your head and take your amusement in the thought of wr lecturing anyone on “writing well.”

  187. wr says:

    @Rafer Janders: “The fact that Lee and his co-conspirators didn’t wind up executed for treason is partly what’s to blame for allowing the South to think for the last 150 years that what they did was OK.”

    Just as the fact that no one high up went to jail for Iran-Contra is partly what’s to blame for the criminal conspiracy that brought us the Iraq war. And the fact the Obama refused to go after the war criminals empowered them to keep at it.

  188. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Further evidence that writing well is a good idea. Does anybody understand this puddle of gibberish claiming to be English?

  189. Tillman says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    By letting Lee go free and retire, the US government agreed to a polite fiction that, when it came down to it, Lee hadn’t really done anything wrong.

    No. By letting Lee go, the US government agreed that it was time to stop killing each other. Literally any attempt at treason trials would have prolonged the war, still to this day the bloodiest in our history. Jesus, if only our bloodlust was greater we could have averted some other evil! If only we had killed more! That’s exactly what you’re saying behind all this sanctimonious crap about prosecuting traitors.

    Sherman, perhaps the best “Damn Yankee” at killing Southerners, put it this way:

    He defended himself in a letter a few days later to Grant. His first set of terms was intended to prevent the disintegration of Confederate armies, he said, saving the restored nation from a plague of “armed men, roving about without purpose and capable only of infinite mischief.” Further, as he expressed in a personal letter to Johnston, he wanted also to secure a generous peace for his former enemies. Southerners “have suffered terrifically,” he wrote, “and I now feel disposed to befriend them.”

    But no, we should’ve killed them all, that would’ve replaced our gun-obsessed white supremacist culture of resentment with a somehow less gun-obsessed white supremacist culture of resentment. I’m sure the North’s excellent efforts during Reconstruction would have prevented a martyrdom culture from popping up around the traitors. Obviously Reconstruction was handled so well as-is, it could’ve gone further!

  190. JohnMcC says:

    @James Pearce: Well, Mr Pearce, let me loosen up on the tautology, then. As much as we all wish that the War Between the States had ended in reconciliation and equality we all admit that Reconstruction failed miserably. The former CSA states were penalized in many ways that the establishment hated and felt victimized by. I recall my Dad complaining that transporting structural steel into AL was made much more expensive because the federal gov’t set shipping rates on railroads above those in formerly Union states. That would have been in the late ’50s. Nineteen fifties.

    On the other hand, the ‘Compromise of 1876’ was effectively an abandonment of the African Americans in the former CSA states by the US government. The old local power structure — as modified by the brutality of the War and the Reconstruction — returned life in the south to what they thought was a proper order. Which was no doubt a bloody piece of work. For many (probably most) rural African Americans the share-cropper status vs slavery was a distinction without a difference.

    No doubt the US would be better today if our predecessors had been better and more patient in their occupation. For reasons that seemed pretty good to them, they decided differently; I’ve always thought that Reconstruction must have been to the Union soldiers pretty similar to the Irish ‘Troubles’ must have seemed to the British Army. It amounted to an endless grind of minor fights and escalating hostility. It was bound to be amazingly expensive. There was a horrible economic downturn in 1873 and with southern white people being allowed the vote again the Democrats were gaining strength in Washington. So Reconstruction was substantially abandoned.

    I’ll also allow myself to say that it indicates poor character to be so damn sure of what someone else should have done in another time and place without attempting to see how those issues must have appeared to them.

  191. Pinky says:

    @wr: I do. This may be a classic case of bias though. I’m more amenable to his conclusion (that you’re not contributing anything) than you are.

  192. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I was thinking I was dealing with people who had an above-average level of knowledge about American politics and history.

    No, you think you’re dealing with idiots who you think are dumb enough to buy into your constant efforts at false equivalence. You should apologize for your bad faith arguments.

    And as far as Che, that famous poster of him is huge among progressives, especially young ones.

    Bah…..this statement just proves how little you know about progressives or their heroes.

    There is a cult of personality around Che. But it’s NOT what you think it is.

  193. James Pearce says:

    @Tillman:

    But no, we should’ve killed them all, that would’ve replaced our gun-obsessed white supremacist culture of resentment with a somehow less gun-obsessed white supremacist culture of resentment.

    Not you too, man….

    “Should’ve killed them all” is a looooooong way from what anyone here is advocating. Me personally, I think Lee (at the least, maybe Davis, maybe a couple of other guys) should have been tried and executed. But then I believe in the death penalty. I believe in the power of violence.

    @JohnMcC:

    I’ll also allow myself to say that it indicates poor character to be so damn sure of what someone else should have done in another time and place without attempting to see how those issues must have appeared to them.

    Actually, John, the positions I’ve taken in this argument were positions that were around in the day. In fact, change my clothes, comb my hair a different way, grow some sideburns, and I could have been a very boisterous Radical Republican.

    I do have poor character. But it’s not because of this.

  194. Rafer Janders says:

    @Tillman:

    But no, we should’ve killed them all,

    No, we shouldn’t have killed them all — we should have tried, and, if convicted, executed those Confederate officers who held captain or above rank in the US Army and had betrayed their country and commission by fighting against the US. I’m not sure why “if you’re a US Army officer, committing armed treason against your country should have consequences” seems to be a hard concept to grasp.

  195. roger says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “Arnold only tried, unsuccessfully, to hand one fort over to the British.”

    Arnold did quite a bit more than that, taking up arms against the young country.

    – Starting in December 1780, Arnold led British soldiers to capture Richmond, VA, burn storehouses and other sources of material. The American army pursuing Arnold were under orders to hang Arnold if they captured him.

    – After returning to New York, Arnold led British soldiers on a raid of New London, CT, burning the city to the ground then captured Fort Griswold.

  196. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And as far as Che, that famous poster of him is huge among progressives, especially young ones. It even showed up at an Obama campaign office. His “coolness” apparently outweighs his other traits — a virulent racist and sociopathic mass murderer.

    I’m a “progressive” and one of my (millennial) daughters gave me a packet of “Che” Kleenex as a Father’s Day gift (and no, it does not double as a Black Light poster).

  197. Pinky says:

    @Barry: Civil War historians have gone through phases, and there was definitely a period when they looked at economics as almost exclusively the cause of the war. I disagree with that thinking. I see a South with some economic diversity that banded together for the protection of the institution of slavery as a “positive good”. There was something psychological going on there. You wouldn’t have rich and poor, Kentuckian and Floridian, old family and migrant, uniting in common cause. Economics was important. Cotton was a big industry, and there were other agricultural products that used slave labor, and slave trading itself was a major industry. But there was also a cultural identification with the South. We keep talking about Robert E. Lee – there was a guy who wasn’t dependent on slave revenues, but he put his loyalty to the South above his loyalty to the Union.

    I haven’t been following Rafer’s arguments, but I think the point he’s missing is that there wasn’t a sense of nationhood like we have now. A person could resign his commission then return to his state and join the Confederate Army without seeing it as a betrayal, or seeing it as less of a betrayal than we would. If a state could drop out of the Union, so could a person. Within the Southern states, there was a sense probably that they were state residents first, then members of the United States; when the CSA was formed, they considered themselves state residents first, then members of the Confederacy. The question of secession looks easy in retrospect, but it was unresolved at the time.

    None of that is to take sides with the South (and KM, you should understand what I mean by that). I’m not looking to praise their thinking any more than Steven is by stating what the people at the time thought about secession.

  198. JKB says:

    @James Pearce: Does that make them right?

    Well, given they were the men on the ground, following the wished of Lincoln who would have agreed to even more lenient terms, yes, it makes them right. Not to mention, they were well aware that they could not prevent the Confederate armies from dissolving into the countryside as small bands of armed, experienced, pissed-off, guerillas. Lincoln wanted the men, North and South, back home at their civilian work. Not to mention, there was extreme financial pressure on the US government to end the war in 1865.

    In any case, your premise is to but vengeance against the rebels over restoration and preservation of the Union, which pretty much negates the Northern reason for going to war. So perhaps you can see why the decisions went as they did.

  199. JKB says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Dialogue from a tv show that pretty much sums up what most wearing Che shirts know about Che:

    Kenzi: “I am like a folk hero to these delinks. I am like their Che Guevara!”

    Bo: “Do you even know who that is?”

    Kenzi: “Dude in the beret,” Kenzi duhs. “Designs tee-shirts for angry youth.”

  200. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    Not to mention, they were well aware that they could not prevent the Confederate armies from dissolving into the countryside as small bands of armed, experienced, pissed-off, guerillas.

    You keep bringing this up as if hanging Robert E. Lee wouldn’t have prevented him from leading a guerrilla army.

    As if the Confederate armies didn’t engage in a guerrilla campaign because the Union generals were nice to them.

    And I’m not buying it.

    If the Radical Republicans weren’t so corrupt, it’s likely Reconstruction would have been much more punitive. Shoulda been! That fact that it wasn’t has let this wound fester for over a century.

  201. Tillman says:

    @James Pearce:

    “Should’ve killed them all” is a looooooong way from what anyone here is advocating.

    Excuse me. No, I think the silliest thing advocated here was putting them all into slavery for six months as a way to force empathy on them. Or was it the earlier idea of stripping them of citizenship to humble them? But no, I’m mistaken to think whenever someone floated the idea of trying the rebels, that idea was almost never divorced from execution. Only recently has it even been floated that they might not be executed.

    And obviously I believe in the power of violence, I just think it’s overrated as a means to an end.

    @Rafer Janders: I’m not sure how political necessity is a hard concept to grasp. The North wasn’t able to secure justice and peace. It had to choose, and it chose peace. Absolutism to the law buckles after four years of constant slaughter. You can argue the thin legality that in a vacuum all treason should be tried as laid out by the Constitution, but you’re simultaneously advocating for a specific counterfactual history where such trials would have caused more bloodshed. Unless you’ve found a way to square the circle and could try these men without inflaming further rebellion?

  202. stonetools says:

    We have evidence of what a good Reconstruction would look like-The “Reconstructions” of Germany and Japan after WW2. We did in fact try their leaders, replace much of the remainder of their leadership and reform their laws ( We gave Japan a whole new Constitution). Seventy years on, the results speak for themselves-and there was no long lasting rancor, no guerilla war, none of the Parade of Horrors outlined here.Frankly, I’m less concerned with punitive measures than the kind of thoroughgoing land and legal reforms that should have been done -and was done in Japan. (In Japan, it looked as if the US realized how badly they effed up the Reconstruction, took the lessons to heart, and resolved to do the job right).
    Are the two situations exactly paralell? Nope- but it does show that we could have done the Reconstruction a hell of a lot better, if only the North had the will. Instead they essentially decided that the price for a compliant and peaceful South was to allow the Southern white man to tyrannize over and re-enslave black people for the next hundred years.

  203. ebohlman says:

    @Ron Beasley: Yes, slavery was essential to the South’s economy. But that came about by design, not through the action of impersonal forces. It didn’t have to be that way. The South adopted, by choice, an economic model that couldn’t function without slavery. The Southern states made their economy about slavery, with the result that any defense of their economy was also a defense of slavery.

  204. James Pearce says:

    @stonetools:

    Nope- but it does show that we could have done the Reconstruction a hell of a lot better, if only the North had the will.

    Indeed! I think JKB’s point is that Reconstruction couldn’t have been done better, because it was perfect.

  205. Lenoxus says:

    I’m honestly split on the question of whether Reconstruction should have been more “severe”, or whether this would have worsened things.

    A more committed Union would have to deal with violent backlash beyond even what the KKK did. Which, fine, but if we’re going to posit a Union with that much more commitment to black rights, then we are changing history considerably, and may as well imagine a South that suddenly decided it was okay with equality.

    Still, one idea that should never have gone away: 40 acres and a mule. W.E.B. DuBois said that was abandoned as a kind of trade for full legal equality, implying a depressing zero-sum game. (Even more depressing is the hypothesis that Republicans worried that farm-owning blacks would start voting Democrat.)

    Ultimately I suppose that a resolute willingness by the Union to cram the whole deal down ex-Confederaye throats — prohibition of state veneration of the Confederacy, imprisonment of generals (I oppose the death penalty with rare exception), redistribution of property, management of fair elections — would have had a much better ultimate outcome, if they’d been willing to shed more of their own blood for it. But the sort of Union that would do that would have passed the Emancipation Proclamation much sooner, or even have prompted the Civil War sooner by being more forceful against slave states.

    Has anyone done an alt hist where the Union somehow initiates the war purposely to end slavery? I can’t even imagine how that works legally — the only way to end slavery was by constitutional amendment, and the slave states were basically forced to pass it in exchange for readmittance. Maybe there would have to be an outright coup…

  206. Tyrell says:

    I have seen more of the confederate flags around here in the last two days than I have seen in the last twenty years. The local news said they are flying off the shelves and the stores that sell them can’t keep up with demand.

  207. JKB says:

    @Tyrell:

    You North,South, East or West?

  208. James Pearce says:

    @Tyrell:

    I have seen more of the confederate flags around here in the last two days than I have seen in the last twenty years.

    They’re going to try and sell them on Ebay.

    (And yes, that’s a “People who have been buying confederate flags the past two days are idiots” joke.)

  209. JKB says:

    @James Pearce: As if the Confederate armies didn’t engage in a guerrilla campaign because the Union generals were nice to them.

    You seem very confused. They weren’t worried about Gen. Lee or Gen. Johnston or any other Confederate general leading a guerrilla campaign, they were worried about sergeants, lieutenants, majors, etc., leading dispersed bands of “bushwackers” for years, throughout the South, throughout the North. There was already on officer who during the hostilities had set dynamite around NYC including areas of crowds, he was tried and hung after the war.

    Lincoln’s assassination was not a one off. That same night Sec of State Seward was stabbed, other top government officials were targeted.

    As it was, the Confederates didn’t go guerrilla because they were given honorable terms of surrender and could return to their former life as long as they honored their parole. In any case, those terms had been offered to any CSA member below the rank of Colonel by President Lincoln in 1863. The surrender terms simply extended those terms to all officers and soldiers of the CSA.

  210. PD Shaw says:

    @Rafer Janders: Certainly Lincoln and Grant could have been wrong in their decisions, but there is little reason to think that Andrew Johnson had the slightest concern for African-Americans. If you side with Andrew Johnson on Reconstruction, you may wish to consider how you got to such a position. And the point some of us are making about inflaming tensions is about reprisals against African-Americans after the peace.

  211. PD Shaw says:

    @James Pearce: “As if the Confederate armies didn’t engage in a guerrilla campaign because the Union generals were nice to them.”

    Guerilla warfare was common during the Civil War and was tried under the laws of war, resulting in executions. This didn’t deter the continuation of guerilla warfare after the war by the KKK, but executing Lee would certainly have given more support for irregular warfare because he would have become an even more-overrated martyr.

  212. James Pearce says:

    @JKB: Dude, have you noticed that when you argue that the Confederates were so unready to give up hostilities, it kind of makes my point that the Union should have been more punitive.

    And this is straight up bullshit:

    the Confederates didn’t go guerrilla because they were given honorable terms of surrender

    No, the Confederates didn’t go guerrilla because they were defeated. If they could have fought another day, they would have.

    They had just suffered a major military defeat, their political structures collapsed, their major holdings of wealth had been “emancipated,” and they went home to neglected farms with starving bellies.

    And, let’s be honest, some of them did go guerrilla. They terrorized freed blacks and carpetbaggers and scalawags and any other undesirable person. And what’s worse, they passed this dishonorable behavior to their children and grandchildren, so that it could continue on for generations. So that in 1939, Billie Holiday is singing about “Strange Fruit,” and Bull Connor is using fire hoses in 1963 and, in 2015, Dylan Roof is shooting up black churches.

    If you want to convince someone, JKB, you should work on someone else, because I’m not buying it.

  213. James Pearce says:

    @PD Shaw:

    This didn’t deter the continuation of guerilla warfare after the war by the KKK, but executing Lee would certainly have given more support for irregular warfare because he would have become an even more-overrated martyr.

    Thank you, PD…because this is a good point.

    Whether executing Lee would have made him an “even more-overrated” martyr or, in my view, “a source of shame” is, unlike the “Lost Cause” stuff from JKB, completely debatable.

  214. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Pinky: Fascinating point. You remind me of a factoid I picked up years ago — one of the most significant consequences of the Civil War was grammatical. Before the war it was “The United States are.” After the war, it was “The United States is.”

    That change from plural to singular represented the change of the status of the US from a small-c confederacy of semi-independent states to an indivisible union.

  215. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I was thinking that most of the people here calling for vengeance on the former Confederates were the most pathetic form of chickenhawks I’d ever seen. But then I thought a bit more, and came to the realization that they were saying that the Republicans should have killed Democrats wholesale.

    And there’s a part of me that simply can’t completely condemn such a notion.

  216. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And there’s a part of me that simply can’t completely condemn such a notion.

    Cuz that’s all it about for you maybe?

  217. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce: I’m not the one making the argument. I’m just saying that my opposition to it might have dropped from 100% to 99%.

  218. JKB says:

    @James Pearce:

    Well, thankfully your opinion, 150 years after the fact, is so much better than Grant and Sherman’s opinion of an opposing army they had fought for 4 years. The Confederacy was defeated. The Confederate army was defeated, but as Sherman said of Johnston’s army, they were not at bay and could not be restrained from dissolving and escaping in the given terrain.

    The Klan was not and never has been a guerrilla force. It was a para-military organization that acted in support of the Democratic party to ensure domination of Southern government by loyal Democrats in all three overt iterations (the post war period, the 1920s and the 1950/60s).

  219. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I’m just saying that my opposition to it might have dropped from 100% to 99%.

    I just find it funny that it’s party affiliation that moves you, but that “keeping people in bondage” thing…meh, that can be forgiven.

    My instincts are the complete opposite. Earlier in this thread, I called myself a “Radical Republican” on this subject. I am not, as you well know, a radical Republican. But if I were alive in 1865, I would be.

  220. JKB says:

    But we should take a moment to notice what has happened in South Carolina.

    A female, Indian-American Republican governor of South Carolina (Nikki Haley) lowered the Confederate Battle Flag from a memorial on the state capitol grounds in 2015 that had been originally hoisted by male, White, Democrat governor of South Carolina (Fritz Hollings) in 1962.

  221. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    Well, thankfully your opinion, 150 years after the fact, is so much better than Grant and Sherman’s opinion of an opposing army they had fought for 4 years.

    150 years provides some very keen 20/20 hindsight, bud. I’m not sure why you sniff at it.

  222. James Pearce says:

    @JKB:

    But we should take a moment to notice what has happened in South Carolina.

    Agreed.

    I’d give Gov. Haley a high five if I wasn’t waaaay over on the other side of the Mississippi.

    (Let’s put this Gen. Lee one to rest, shall we?)

  223. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @JKB: No, the flag was hoisted by an act of the SC General Assembly. Fritz Hollings has subsequently said he was wrong to go along with that act.

  224. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: Was it passed over his veto? Did he allow it to become law without his signature? Or did Hollings, like Bill Clinton, personally sign his name to it, officially enacting it into law?

    ‘Cuz if that’s the standard you use, you need to stop calling Iraq “Bush’s law,” because he just signed an act passed by Congress.

  225. Tyrell says:

    @James Pearce: Yesterday, in town, I saw a truck with two large confederate flags on the back and a bumper tag on the front. People were blowing horns, waving, and cheering. The news reports sales are skyrocketing and stores report high demand, for something that was fading out and got little interest.

  226. @Tyrell:

    for something that was fading out and got little interest.

    If you are suggesting that interest in the flag was dying and all of this has created huge new interest, I would suggest you must not live in the deep south. The flag was already all over the place prior to these events.

  227. wr says:

    @JKB: “Well, thankfully your opinion, 150 years after the fact, is so much better than Grant and Sherman’s opinion of an opposing army they had fought for 4 years.”

    Well, we do have something that Grant and Sherman didn’t — the ability to look at what followed from their decisions over 150 years.

    Oh, wait — you’ve a “conservative,” so what happens in the real world means nothing to you if it conflicts with your ideology. So never mind…

  228. Tillman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: There a reason my comment hasn’t come out of moderation?

    It’s a lot of links, but they’re mostly to other comments. 🙂

  229. @Tillman: Lots of links lead to capture. All have been set free!

  230. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JKB:

    I must be missing the part where this flag has moved in any way. Could you link to that please?

  231. gVOR08 says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    I have been sprinkling some of those sections with links to OTB

    What? Don’t tell everybody the route to Shangri-La. They’ll ruin it.

  232. gVOR08 says:

    @Pinky: The average non-slave owning southerner fought because regionalism was hugely stronger than now, because there was a lot of the ‘you’re not the boss of me’ attitude that seems to drive most conservative thought still today, and because even if they didn’t own a slave, they could, so they still saw themselves as part of the superior class. The southern states went to a lot of trouble to make it easy to buy a slave or two in order to foster identification with the slave owning class. Also, as in all wars, they were conned and manipulated by their elites, and many were simply drafted.

  233. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: Forgot, there seems to have been a significant, somewhat Freudian, element of ‘we gotta protect our women folk from those bucks’.

  234. Pinky says:

    gVOR08 – So essentially we agree. I’d say that the “protect our women” thing was more than Freudian, though, in that women were not expected to defend themselves, and as I noted there were a lot of horror stories that came out of the Haitian Revolution.

  235. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    and as I noted there were a lot of horror stories that came out of the Haitian Revolution.

    There were a lot of horror stories that came out of 200 years of American slavery, too. The slave plantations were in many ways rape camps, too, as the oh so genteel and courtly owners and overseers and their families took every advantage of their ability to rape and abuse their helpless black slaves.

  236. murray says:

    “An important tenet of the internet is “don’t read the comments.”

    235 and counting.

    I didn’t read them as I was afraid that, given the subject, their content would distract me from simply agreeing with you on all accounts.

    It’s about time this nation mans up and faces the shameful reality of chattel slavery and the evil of white supremacy which sustained it throughout segregation.

    The only reason we as a nation never “payed” for that sin, is that it so happens that nobody was, or is, powerful enough to enforce upon us at least a “walk of shame” on this topic.