Friday, February 02, 2007

Truth should never be your enemy

Raising Kaine’s Lowell Feld linked a story on his site to a previous post of mine here at SLANTblog -- "Top Five Loony Losers for the GOP". Feld began with this:

“I really like this, courtesy of SLANTBLOG”

Feld then offered a portion of the text. Subsequently, he received criticism for part of what he copied -- the sixth position, the one to do with slavery. So, Feld promptly removed it, leaving the five apparently less controversial points still displayed. Click here to see the post at Raising Kaine.

Then, in the comments section of the same previous post at SLANTblog, the same blogger who worked Feld so effectively at Raising Kaine, “Dannyboy,” left this comment for me:

“I disagree, and will continue to disagree, with your last one.”

My response to Dannyboy was this:

“Without slavery there would not have been an American Civil War, as it happened. There would surely have been rough patches over states rights. There would have been plenty of trouble over any number of issues. But not the war that was. Yet, when I hear Robert E. Lee called a traitor, I bristle. To me he was a tragic hero, as were so many Virginians. When their home state was invaded, they stood with their state, instead of the USA. That was a dilemma. Calling those who chose to serve their state “traitors” is shallow. Nonetheless, that war was over money and power, like all wars are. In 1861 in Virginia, the money and power chose to defend slavery. The soldiers, like all good soldiers, did what they saw as their duty.”

There is the background. Now, I want to direct my comments from here on to Feld and all the other supposedly “progressive” Democrats that I frequently agree with over at Raising Kaine:

Please know that I am as Virginian as it gets. Still, when somebody says I’m trampling on his “Southern heritage,” when I merely refer to established history, as historians know it to be -- check out the Virginia Historical Society, nowadays -- I know I’m being bullied.

Look here, I can disagree with Dannyboy over the Civil War and still be happy to stand with him on other matters. As it is with many of my friends, I can dwell on what we agree about. But I won’t pretend Dannyboy’s old style, Lost Cause take on the Civil War is legit.

The truth is that same sort of denial perpetuated Jim Crow 50 years ago; it stands in the way of progress today. Catering to those in our midst who deny history is not the way to build a modern Democratic Party, a party that will actually last from one election cycle to the next.

Truth should never be your enemy.


Kathy said...

F.T. - I commented in that thread literally standing up and probably should try to clarify my view in a longer piece at some point.

This subject is so oversimplified and polarized sometimes - either the Civil War was 100% about slavery or 0% about slavery. Take your pick - they are both incorrect.

The real problems are about biases and prejudices today. On both sides. Some of the misunderstanding is because of cultural misreadings.

A lot of it is not. I agree with you that denial is a problem. Only I would extend that to denial that there is enormous prejudice against white Southerners from the left as well. I don't know which side jumps to conclusions the most.

I was very disappointed with Harold Meyerson a few weeks ago. Too many times people of otherwise egalitarian principles lash out with sarcastic attacks on irrelevant trappings of Southern culture. Like hanging clothes outside to dry. What could be greener? But no, it's "tacky."

Or consider intentional simplicity. Accidental simplicity (read poverty) is bad. Intentional simplicity = good. For the life of me I can't sort through it all.

Mosquito said...


You've definitely got great are a straight shooter and I admire that alot!

Keep up the great

Catzmaw said...

I agree with you completely. Had it not been for slavery and the argument between the states over whether the territories should be slave or free, and the issue of escaped slaves fleeing into non-slave states, the whole question of states rights would never have morphed into the South's justification for secession, which led to the Civil War.

I agree also that it is wrong to demonize Southerners who felt compelled to come to the defense of their states against invasion.

It is also wrong to demonize the Southerners who in good conscience could not support the secession and chose to fight against the Confederacy.

It is also wrong to act as if the Northern response to the attempt to divide the country and destroy what had been achieved a mere 80 years before was just a matter of Northern aggression against a helpless and virtuous South.

Anyone who has read the documents of the Civil War, in particular the declarations of South Carolina, the first to secede and the leading agitator for states rights for the very reason that the U.S. was seeking to curb slavery, knows that slavery and the states rights issue go hand in hand.

The South in the years leading up to the Civil War was repressive. In most states it was against the law to speak or write against slavery, to educate slaves, to do anything to offer aid or comfort to the opponents of slavery. The same people who in later decades would wax eloquent about the defense of their rights conveniently forgot the complete suspension of civil rights for anyone considered an abolitionist. Southern slave-owners took many steps, including sanctioning kidnapping and brutality, to obtain return of slaves who had fled to the North. And the people getting kidnapped were not always escaped slaves. Slave-owners turned a blind eye to cases of mistaken identity. Some defenders of slavery wrote with a religious intensity which makes the modern reader cringe. These were the voices urging the cause of states rights upon their non-slave owning compatriots. Spin and manipulation are not inventions of the modern age.

It is this aspect of Southern history I never see mentioned in the ardent defenses of the South in the war.

Vivian J. Paige said...

As usual, a very good post. Stick to your guns, Terry. Your 6th item was dead on.

Rather than repeat it all here, one of the comments on a post of mine laid bare the truth behind the "Civil War was not over slavery" argument.

Keep telling the truth :)

Kathy said...

catzmaw - thanks. That layer - the entire recapture industry - as well as origins of the states rights meme are not discussed nearly enough. And the tradition of oratory goes along with it.

I would add that some of the material in the Northern papers during that era is no great source of regional or national pride either, but it was during the Reconstruction period that some of the attitudes hardened.

I agree with your comment "It is also wrong to act as if the Northern response to the attempt to divide the country and destroy what had been achieved a mere 80 years before was just a matter of Northern aggression against a helpless and virtuous South."

Even today this viewpoint is not uncommon in the south, sometimes as historical understanding, but more importantly as an embedded attitude about the relationship of one's community to the larger world. Perhaps this has something to do with the current fear of invading Muslim hordes articulated by some. Irrational or not, people who self-define as defeated and colonized are more susceptible than those who do not to being manipulated around ideas like this.

Kathy said...

History from above via the ruling class, yes, the Civil War was clearly all about slavery and the economics of slavery. From below, it was all over the place. There's an analogy if you believe that Iraq is all about oil: how many of our soldiers have signed up to defend our oil interests? Probably zero.

It's easy to imagine a similar discussion a few generations out about the war we are in now. Family oral traditions passed along about soldiers will have nothing to do with the economics of oil.

Triscula said...

The Civil War (if you want to get technical) was about the secession. The secession was about slavery, clearly. One need only read the various declarations of secession from the Confederate States to see that. Slavery is the big issue, front and center, in nearly every state's official declaration of secession.