Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How The South Lost The War But Won The Narrative

Statute of the treasonous General Robert E. Lee,
Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA
In For Cause and Comrade:  Why Men Fought and Died in the Civil War the great historian James M. McPherson explores letter of soldiers on both sides.  The title conveys the thesis.  It was, as Kevin Philips calls it, a cousins war.  People fought to defend what they believed in and for their comrades and tribesmen.  In that sense there was honor on both sides.  Former Sen. Jim Webb makes this point.
But the modern use of the Confederate battle flag has nothing to do with that.   It is part of the southern legend, the trail of heroes - the justification of the Jim Crow laws, of racial segregation, of white supremacy.  If any good comes from the Emanuel A.M.E. Church massacre it will be the beginning of the end of the lionization of the justly defeated cause. - gwc
How The South Lost The War But Won The Narrative
by Tony Horwitz

***With the Civil Rights struggle, scholars of the Civil War era gave new emphasis to race and slavery, and this trend has continued ever since. The evidence is overwhelming that Southern states seceded and fought to maintain slavery. Don’t believe me; believe the words of secessionists and Confederate leaders. Among the most often cited is Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens who in 1861 declared the Founders “fundamentally wrong” in judging all humans equal. “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—the subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”

The same view was expressed by the secessionist conventions in Southern states that published their reasons for leaving the Union. The authors sometimes couched their declarations in Constitutional arguments about sovereignty, but left no doubt about the state right at issue. Mississippians bluntly declared, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” Texans cited a Northern “crusade” against the “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery,” and Texans’ conviction that bondage “should exist in all future time.”

There are countless such statements, scores of scholarly works documenting the cruelties of the slave economy and how much it was bound up with Southern life and politics. Most textbooks follow suit. Yet the prevailing popular view of the Civil War still reflects a strong Southern bias: that the Confederacy fought for vaguely defined “states’ rights,” and its battle flag isn’t intrinsically racist, it’s an anodyne emblem of Southern “heritage.”

I’m not very optimistic that the debate over South Carolina’s flag will bring a deeper reckoning. Furling the statehouse flag may bring temporary relief to South Carolinians, but what we truly need to bury is the gauzy fiction that the antebellum South was in any way benign, or that slavery and white supremacy weren’t the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Only then, perhaps, will we be able to say that the murdered in Charleston didn’t die in vain, and that the Lost Cause, at last, is well and truly lost.

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