Saturday, August 19, 2017

Historical revisionism and the Civil War

Apparently this kind of thing still needs to be written.

Complete the following sentences:

"When in the course of human events ____."

"We hold these truths to be self-evident ___."

Easy-peasy, right?  Why?  Because schoolin' works!  Note the irony of my choice to use an incomplete sentence, and contract the word, "schooling."  Sometimes I just enjoy doing things like that.  Regardless, you can complete those sentences because every American schoolchild has to memorize passages from the source document, and while you might not be able to recite as much anymore, those sentences probably still jog your memory.

We can have a discussion of the phrase, "all men are created equal," and of course, much of American history has been striving towards these goals rather than ever actually meeting them, but the document itself sets out lofty ideals that, in corporate terms, form a kind of mission statement for the country.

But I've led you to believe that this is a post about the Civil War, and historical revisionism.  What's the deal?  Well, if you grew up in the North, the Civil War was about slavery.  If you grew up in the South, they may have called it the "war of Northern aggression," or some other such nonsense, and Confederate apologists today still try to pretend that slavery was little more than a minor afterthought to, maybe, "the war between the States," in which noble rebels fought for lofty, abstract principles like federalism and some generalized, platonic notion of "states' rights," without any specific states' right in mind.  Hence, the lionization of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others.

You know how you had to memorize at least portions of the Declaration of Independence?  Well, um, did you know that the Confederate States issued their own Declarations of Secession?

Well, if their purposes were sooooo noble, then wouldn't Southern states make their schoolchildren memorize the high ideals contained in these noble documents the same way everyone memorizes the Declaration of Independence?  Huh.  Well, let's just take a little look-see at what's in those masterpieces of high-minded morality.  South Carolina was the first state to secede, so we may as well use their document, just for simplicity's sake.  Here's a link, in case you have never actually read one of these things.*

Anyway, let's get to a-readin'!**  Well, hey, what do you know!  Right there, in the first sentence, they say that the seceding states are the "slaveholding States!"  Gee, I wonder why?  Well, let's keep reading!  I like reading, don't you?  OK, so there's a bunch of stuff about history and generic blather about self-governance, which is about to be undercut by the hypocrisy of what comes next-- the reason for secession.  What do they say about that?  Remember, in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson ticks of a list of the wrongs committed by the King for which we, today, can still say, "yeah, fuck him!"  So, let's see what they said in the South Carolina Declaration of Secession.  "But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery has led to a disregard of their objections, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution."  And it continues like that.

Well, gee!  That sounds like the kind of thing we should make our schoolkids recite!  Hmmmm....  I wonder why Confederate apologists don't go around quoting those Declarations of Secession...  Maybe it's because the actual, historical documents make it pretty fucking clear what was going on.

When the Confederacy, which seceded to preserve slavery, wrote those documents, they had no idea that a bunch of people would come along, a century and a half later, and try to pretend that the Confederacy seceded for reasons other than slavery.  They didn't think that they should be ashamed of what they were doing because they didn't think that slavery was wrong, so they didn't try to hide their real motives in their actual documentation.  That's the thing about villains-- they rarely think of themselves as villains.  So it was with the Confederacy.  The problem with trying to pretend that they had any moral standing is that it requires either overt racism, or historical revisionism.  The Declarations of Secession, though, lay bare what really happened.  If the Confederacy had expected someone to come along, a century and a half later, and do what modern-day racists do when they defend the Confederacy and monuments to their soldiers, they would have written their Declarations of Secession rather differently.  But they didn't.

And here's some contrast.  I could argue that slavery was more central to the South's purpose in the Civil War than the Holocaust was to Germany's purpose in WWII.  Preserve slavery, and the South would have been happy.  Simply killing all of the jews wouldn't have done it for Hitler.  Something to ponder, for historical contrast.

* Pro-tip:  keep a copy in your bathroom.  Preferably pre-softened, and with pictures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis on it.  When you get tired of reading, you can wipe your ass with it.

** You know, like they murdered slaves for doing!

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