An uncivil war

No, Mom, I'm too hot and sweaty to entertain you ... but not to drape over your shoulder!

No, Mom, I’m too hot and sweaty to entertain you … but not to drape myself over you!

Hot weather tends to make me a cranky, especially when an 18-pound mass of fur and muscle decides to share the love … and sweat.

That means I get a bit crankier than usual when people try to rewrite history.

I’m not just talking about the (doomed to fail) movement to rid us of Civil War history as a whole, but about those who seem to think that if you really, really believe something, that makes it true, historical record be damned.

I’ve tried that belief thing, but cookie crumbs still have calories. (But maybe if I close my eyes and cross my fingers and hold my mouth just so …)

Abe Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Rumors are that the war was ongoing ... but history's obviously wrong. Image found on Vanderbilt.edu.

Abe Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Rumors are that the war was ongoing … but history’s obviously wrong.
Image found on Vanderbilt.edu.

No amount of trying, other than traveling back in time to completely rearrange matters (and muck a whole lot of things up) will make it so the Emancipation Proclamation was signed a year after the Civil War ended. That’d be a neat trick, especially since Abraham Lincoln would have been dead for a year by that time.  (But then again, Lincoln was also a vampire hunter, so …) The proclamation was still signed and issued on Jan. 1, 1863, at which time the war was still going on.

Nor was the South’s manufacturing more mighty than that of the North. Agriculture, not industry, was king in the South. The Civil War Trust states: “The northern soil and climate favored smaller farmsteads rather than large plantations. Industry flourished, fueled by more abundant natural resources than in the South, and many large cities were established …”

Even after the war, life wasn't all that rosy for many former slaves who had freedom and nothing else; many became sharecroppers just scraping by. Image found on Civil War Experience.

Even after the war, life wasn’t all that rosy for many former slaves who had only their freedom; many became sharecroppers just scraping by.
Image found on Civil War Experience.

As for the climes south of the Mason-Dixon line, the trust says: “The fertile soil and warm climate of the South made it ideal for large-scale farms and crops like tobacco and cotton. Because agriculture was so profitable, few Southerners saw a need for industrial development. Eighty percent of the labor force worked on the farm.”

By 1860, though, the South’s agricultural economy was beginning a decline, according to the Civil War Trust, just as industry in the North was booming.

Slavery wasn’t the only reason for the war, but denying its impact as impetus would be foolhardy. Even a cursory glance at the secession declarations of the Confederate states shows how important slaveholding was, even couched in terms of states’ rights.

For some, Southerners must admit, the right to own slaves was the chief reason for the war. Image found on PBS.

For some, Southerners must admit, the right to own slaves was the chief reason for the war.
Image found on PBS.

The Sentinel-Record of Hot Springs recently published a letter by Earl Babbie of Hot Springs Village making just that point, noting part of Arkansas’ Secession Convention resolutions from March 11, 1861, which had marked similarities to those of South Carolina:

“‘1. People of the northern states have organized a political party, purely sectional in character, the central and controlling idea of which is, hostility to the institution of slavery, as it exists in the southern states …’

“Points 2 and 3 charge the Union with ‘refusing them the same protection to their slave property therein that is afforded to other property’ and claiming ‘the power to abolish slavery.’ So it’s pretty hard to say the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.”

Not that that will stop some people from pretending slavery had little to nothing to do with the war. Instead, despite evidence to the contrary, we get the argument that it was economics or states’ rights … but slavery? God forbid!

Editorial cartoon by Walt Handelsman, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Editorial cartoon by Walt Handelsman, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

I see this as symptomatic of a sort of jingoism, defined by Webster’s as “the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries.” The South is better than the North, the U.S. is better than every other country, and if it means selectively leaving out history that might not reflect well on us (slavery, the Trail of Tears and other ill effects of Manifest Destiny, etc.), so be it.

But the teaching of history should include the good, the bad, the indifferent and the uncomfortable, and we should trust students to draw their own conclusions from what they’ve learned.

An altogether too familiar sight in the South before slaves were freed. Image found on acton.org.

An altogether too familiar sight in the South before slaves were freed. Image found on acton.org.

Should we forget that this happened? In the words of an unreconstructed rebel,

Should we forget that this happened? In the words of an unreconstructed rebel, “Fergit, hell!”
Image found on U.S. Slave.

Ignoring the bad parts of history won’t make them go away or cease to be a factor in succeeding events. My history teachers didn’t gloss over that stuff because it was, well, history, and part of what made us who we are. Thanks for that, fellas, especially Mr. Elsken, who provided my first real exposure to warts-and-all history.

Where do I stand on the flag/statue/other Confederate artifacts matter? As a born-and-bred Southerner, I see no need to outright ban the battle flag, but it should not fly at government buildings, local, state or federal, as it implies endorsement or allegiance.

A South Carolina Highway patrol honor guard lowers the Confederate battle flag as it is removed from the Capitol grounds  July 10 in Columbia, S.C., to the cheers of thousands.  Image by John Bazemore, AP, found on sacbee.

A South Carolina Highway patrol honor guard lowers the Confederate battle flag as it is removed from the Capitol grounds July 10 in Columbia, S.C., as thousands cheered.
Image by John Bazemore, AP, found on sacbee.

Individuals are free to fly the flag; public officials in official capacity, not so much. If you want to fly the battle flag at home or on your pickup (gun rack optional), that’s your business; just don’t demand that it be flown at, say, a Capitol building.

As far as removing Confederate memorials and the like, I think most should just stay where they are unless they pose an actual danger to the public (or are just butt-ugly like the one below). Those monuments are there to remind us of our history, and sometimes our history is hideously ugly.

This one should definitely go ... it's just creepy, which is partly why the Nashville Metro Council asked the Tennessee highway agency to block the view of it from the interstate.  Image found on Nashville Business Journal.

This (privately owned) one should definitely go, though … it’s just creepy, and an insult to art, which is partly why the Nashville Metro Council asked the Tennessee highway agency to block the view of it from Interstate 65.
Image found on Nashville Business Journal.

Common sense and restraint are needed on both sides. Getting rid of a statue or paving over a battlefield won’t cause history to mend itself, and going overboard on removal of Civil War relics will just result in more digging in by those opposed to such action. Picture, if you will, a toddler whose toy has been taken away.

And there is that quote about being doomed to repeat history if you fail to learn from it … and surely we don’t want that.

Editorial cartoon by Lisa Benson, Washington Post Writers Group.

Editorial cartoon by Lisa Benson, Washington Post Writers Group.

Along those lines, science fiction writer and editor John W. Campbell Jr. opined: “History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, ‘Can’t you remember anything I told you?’ and lets fly with a club.”

Think of Civil War relics as that club.

On the other hand, there’s an anonymous quote I found: “If history repeats itself, I am so getting a dinosaur.”

Sign me up. There are days I could really use a velociraptor.

... and a really cool bike! Jurassic World image from Amblin Entertainment.

… and a really cool bike!
Jurassic World image from Amblin Entertainment.

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