Perspectives on politicizing history: the Confederacy, “white supremacy,” and tribalism

I wrote the following essay in response to a Facebook thread, in which some of those involved were invoking the all-too-predictable bugbears of “racism” and “white supremacy” to justify opposition to the Confederate flag, monuments of Confederate heroes and honoured dead, and so on. Basically, the left-wing narrative is that the Confederacy was racist and white-supremacist, and so, consequently, are any or all of its memorials, heroes, and iconography. As should be needless to say, I take exception to that notion; thus, this essay. I was told by a friend that I should blog it, so here it is!

It is problematic, for a number of reasons, to apply (post-)modern standards of “racism” to historical contexts. For one thing, it is an innate human characteristic to associate and affiliate primarily with one’s own people, and to mistrust and/or look down upon those who do not “belong.” Although of course, definitions of “one’s own people” vary; those who do not view the matter in ethnic or racial terms nonetheless tend to prefer the company of people who think like they do: merely switching one “tribe” for another.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was commonplace to think of Africans (and Asians, for that matter) as inferior – intellectually and morally, as well as technologically (the latter being true enough, at the time) – to Europeans. Those who did not hold that viewpoint were the exceptions.

Britain may have ended slavery in its territories in the early 19th century, but quite late in that century, well after the War Between the States had ended, the noted British author and poet Rudyard Kipling famously wrote about “the white man’s burden.” That burden was to “uplift” Africans and Asians from their (as it was seen) benighted, backward, and primitive existence; to “civilize” and Christianize them, for their own good.

This was a paternalistic view indeed, but one that would have found resonance with many or most Southern slave-holders, and one which was certainly not grounded in racial hatred. If Europeans (in Europe itself or in America) had hated them, why would they have helped them?

And if we were to consider the matter objectively and with open eyes, we would discover that all or nearly all cultural, racial, or ethnic groups on the planet are “racist” to some extent, depending on how we define our terms. And while I am not aware of any specific studies on the matter, anecdotal evidence from personal observation – not just of my immediate surroundings, but using a global and historical perspective – suggests to me that Asians and Africans are, on average, about as “racist” as Caucasians.

And anthropologists tell us that just about every single indigenous group that has ever been studied calls itself by a name that translates approximately to “the People,” with the strong implication that others, outside that group, are not really or fully “People.” I am not making a moral judgement in saying this, just expressing an objective reality.

Returning to the era of the War Between the States, it can be reasonably argued that, despite the fact that some whites – and a surprising number of free blacks – held people of African descent as slaves, the Confederacy as a whole was significantly less “racist” than the Union. It had integrated units, with blacks fighting alongside whites (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s personal bodyguard being perhaps the most famous, but not unique); it had troops from Native American nations, troops (and at least one Cabinet secretary!) of Jewish heritage, it had Hispanic soldiers and even (IIRC) a few Asian ones.

The Union Army, in ironic contrast, was lily-white, except for the “US Colored Troops,” who were strictly segregated, and fought under the command of white officers. The antipathy and aggression of Union troops, both during and after the WBTS, toward Native Americans is well-known; that toward people of Jewish heritage is less well known, but no less real; and Union actions and attitudes toward Southern blacks, both slave and free, were hardly what anyone could consider exemplary.

And what are we to say about the Northern ship-captains who transported African slaves – who had been captured and sold to these merchants, not by Europeans or Americans, but by other Africans of rival tribes, or sometimes Moslem Arab slavers – to these American shores? Are they somehow less racist than the owners of plantations? The Confederate Constitution actually forbade the importation of any additional slaves, and no slave was ever brought from Africa on a Confederate-flagged ship. The same cannot be said about merchant shipping flying Old Glory.

Or what are we to say of the English Colonies, later the original United States, who engaged in the “Triangle Trade” transporting slaves, cash crops such as sugar and tobacco, and manufactured goods between Africa, the Americas (including the Caribbean, as well as the North American continent), and Europe, for some two centuries before the so-called “Civil War”? What are we to say of the Northerners who, when their states abolished slavery, did not set their slaves free, but sold them south?

What are we to say about the plantation-owners – always a very small percentage of Southern society – who went off to war, leaving their lands, women, and children in the capable hands of trusted black “servants”? Nor did any of them, to my knowledge, have cause to regret that decision. A general slave uprising would have been relatively simple, and likely quite successful, during the War, but it never happened. It is hard to escape the conclusion that many or most African “servants” felt a greater affinity for their own “white folks” than for the invaders from the North.

And perhaps most of all, what are we to say of the so-called “Great Emancipator,” whose famous Proclamation freed not one slave in areas under Union control – including both Union slave states and even areas of the Confederacy that had fallen to Union armies – and who only “emancipated” slaves in areas where his writ did not run, whose words and writings made it clear that he believed blacks to be inferior to whites, did not like them or feel that they could ever be part of an integrated society, and who advocated for their removal to “colonies” in Africa or Central America?

These are considerations that are ignored or, at times, actively suppressed, when speaking of the South, the Confederacy, and its iconography – including flags and monuments – as being indicative of “white supremacy.” While it is true that there were aspects of superiority and inferiority ingrained in the worldview of most 19th century persons, the matter is far more nuanced than many on the left, whether in ignorance or arrogance (most likely some of each), are willing to admit.

And of course, that leads to the grandest irony of all: that the very same human impulse to tribalism – to favouring one’s own group, and disparaging those who are not part of it – that led people of European heritage to first enslave, then endeavor to “uplift” and “civilize” Africans, is operational in those whose left-leaning social and political views of both history and contemporary life leads them to try to “convert” those who do not share their views, and to hate those who will not join them.

With the exception of those who are so completely relativistic that literally anything goes (in which case they would have no right to complain about any views held by anyone at all), we are all to a greater or lesser extent convinced of the rightness of our positions, and intolerant of those who do not share them. Some of us, however, have more grounds for our perspective than do others!

So to those who say (or imply), “check your white privilege,” I say, “check your ‘liberal’ privilege.” And perhaps, consider looking at the world through the larger lens of objective history, rather than the tiny aperture of ideology.

That is all.

The prescient wisdom of Robert E. Lee

General Lee - portrait photograph

“I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, is not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

~ Robert E. Lee in correspondence with Lord Acton

As “Marse Robert” accurately perceived, our Founders carefully set up a detailed and intricate system of “checks and balances” to preserve our Constitutional liberties, and our status as not a pure democracy, but a representative Republic.

And that included not only a balance of power between and among the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial), but between the Federal government and the States. Indeed, it it worth noting that the Preamble to the Constitution speaks of the establishment of a Constitution “for these United States.” Note that: “for these” States, as distinct, sovereign entities, not “for the” single entity called “the United States.” That is not accidental, or an infelicitous choice of words!

Unfortunately, since our Founding, the corruption that comes with the desire for power has been leading the Federal government to constantly accrue powers to itself, against the clear directive of the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” (the Tenth Amendment).

President Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union even at the cost of the Constitution – against which Lee, at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia, so ably but ultimately unsuccessfully contended – was a body-blow to the Founders’ intentions, and the pace of Federal usurpation has been accelerating ever since. For many of us, “aggressive abroad and despotic at home” is not too strong an expression of the unfortunate result.

Joan of Arc – Maid of Heaven – Joan of Arc & Robert E. Lee

Joan of Arc – you have heard her name, do you really know her story? The famous sword of Robert E. Lee contains one of St. Joan of Arc’s famous quotes: “Aide toi, Dieu t’aidera” – which means “aid yourself and God will aid you.”

Source: Joan of Arc – Maid of Heaven – Joan of Arc & Robert E. Lee

At last! Provenance for this. Sometimes rendered – and often quoted to me by my mother – as “the Lord [or God] helps those who help themselves,” it does not appear in the Scriptures, but is (or used to be) a fairly common axiom. I had not realized that it was from St. Jean d’Arc (Joan of Arc). Nor did I realize the Robert E. Lee connection! As the linked essay recounts:

There are many similarities between St. Joan of Arc and Robert E. Lee, the two most obvious being that they were both great generals and they both possessed incredible faith in God. How appropriate, then, that Robert E. Lee’s famous presentation sword, the one that he wore during his meeting with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, is engraved on one side with one of Saint Joan’s most famous quotes and spiritual truths:

“Aide toi et Dieu t’aidera”

(“Aid yourself and God will aid you”)

But there is more, which makes this especially meaningful to me, personally: this account confirms what I thought I understood: that the sword General Lee was wearing when he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse – a moment which must have been among the most, if not the very most, painful moments of his life – was the “Maryland Sword”:

This particular sword was a gift from an admirer who lived in Maryland. It was presented to him in 1863. It is said to have been commissioned in Paris by Louis-Francois Devisme. The giver of the gift has been lost over the years but the sword has been preserved and refurbished to its original state. The sword is forty and one-half inches in length, possessing a lion’s head on the pommel and has an ivory grip. The blade is inscribed, “Gen. Robert E. Lee CSA from a Marylander 1863.” The scabbard is of blued steel. Both pieces are flawless and priceless. Its beauty is something to be seen to be appreciated.

That the Sword of General Lee, the Maryland Sword, is also in a sense a Sword of St. Joan of Arc raises the hair on the back of my neck – but in a good way, a very good way! The essay’s author continues:

My thoughts are how many times Lee as a Christian in gazing upon the words [“Aide toi Dieu t’aidera”] did he think about the saying and use it as motivation to continue? During adversity, surrender and even death, those words inscribed upon that sword must have been recalled and shared with others.

I doubt it not. Amen, and amen!

Sadly, according to reports, some within “Take ’em down NOLA” – the main group behind the removal of four Confederate monuments from the city, which is dedicated to the removal or renaming of all “symbols of white supremacy,” so-called – are targeting not only Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, but the “Maid of Orleans”: Joan of Arc herself (*). Will idiocy never end? The lunatics, it seems, are running the asylum!

(* Jean d’Arc does not appear on this, supposedly “official,” list, but reports suggest that she may be on an unofficial list of “Take ’em down NOLA” targets. Sadly, I would not be a bit surprised!)

History Prof: ‘Cultural Cleansing’ to Tear Down Confederate Monuments | LifeZette

Source: History Prof: ‘Cultural Cleansing’ to Tear Down Confederate Monuments | LifeZette

Many of us have been deeply concerned by what some have called “the purge of Southern culture,” the current version of which began in 2015: ostensibly in reaction to, and certainly enabled by, the mass murder of church members in Charleston, SC, by a despicable psychopath. But the situation may be – indeed, almost certainly is – even worse than it appears on the surface:

“The removal of all things Confederate is complicated,” said Dr. Marshall De Rosa, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University and expert on the Civil War.

“Some support stems from sheer ignorance about what those monuments represent,” said De Rosa, referring to those who see Confederate monuments as inherently racist. Others, however, are apparently motivated by far more sinister, ideological motives, he said.

“It’s a form of cultural cleansing that will not stop at Confederate memorials,” De Rosa warned. “There are discussions to tear down the Jefferson Memorial, rename Washington, D.C., change the U.S. flag, etc.,” De Rosa noted.

“The purpose is to make Americans, specifically white Christian Americans, ashamed of their ancestors, if not themselves,” De Rosa told LifeZette. “This makes them much more vulnerable to manipulation by and capitulation to the policy demands of the Left and their globalist supporters.”

Many of us thought – or at least hoped – that this sort of thing would end following the defeat and collapse of the atheistic, globalistic Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites. Unfortunately it has sprung up once more, under slightly outward forms, within the United States and Western Europe themselves. I am reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s warning,

Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.

Or St. Paul’s (Ephesians 6:12): “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

So, sadly, it seems to be.

Let us then heed also St. Peter’s admonition (1 Peter 5:8-9): “Be sober, be watchful; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist, steadfast in the faith.”

New Orleans is Ground Zero | Abbeville Institute

The social justice jihad to eliminate “white supremacy” was spawned by the successful eradication of Confederate memorabilia.

Source: New Orleans is Ground Zero | Abbeville Institute

Americans were not overly concerned about the disparagement of Confederate heroes but when the disparagement was turned against the Founding Fathers and Western Civilization in general, they began to take notice. The public finally realized they weren’t witnessing isolated incidents but a well-coordinated movement, promulgated by national and international forces.

If anything, I fear this statement may be a bit too optimistic: I am not at all sure enough of the American public has begun to awaken to the reality of the situation, at least not yet. I hope and pray they will! This blog is part of my contribution to encouraging that awakening.

At any rate, this essay is an excellent, if sobering, discussion of the situation. New Orleans is indeed “ground zero.” If the forces of violent revisionism, cultural cleansing, and the suppression and removal of anything deemed “offensive” by or to the decidedly illiberal left are successful in NOLA, they will only be emboldened elsewhere.

The camel’s nose is already in the tent. We need to make darned sure the rest of the camel doesn’t get inside!

The War against the Confederacy | US Defense Watch

The War against the Confederacy is a War against America. The War against the Confederacy is a war on American history. The War against the Confederacy is a war against all of us and a war on America’s institutions.

Source: The War against the Confederacy | US Defense Watch

This essay comes at a time when New Orleans is in the midst of attempting to remove four monuments pertaining to the Confederacy, in the heart of town. One, which has already been removed, was not directly representing the Confederacy itself; it commemorated a post-War Between the States conflict between Louisianians and a government which they perceived as being beholden to the “scalawags and carpet-baggers” that were busy kicking the South while she was down.

The other three, however, commemorate President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General P.G.T. Beauregard. Were it not for the efforts of a dedicated band of defenders, these statues would probably also have been dismantled and carted away by now. They may yet be. Yet as this article makes clear, that would be a grievous error, an action more suited to ISIS, Stalin’s goons, or jack-booted storm-troopers than the supposedly freedom-loving United States.

For a long time, after the War Between the States (erroneously called the “Civil War” – a civil war is contention between two or more factions for the control of the central government, which this emphatically was not), what some have called the “Great Truce” or “Great Compromise” was in effect. Continue reading “The War against the Confederacy | US Defense Watch”

If the South had been victorious…

johnpaulstrain-theparting
The Parting: General A.P. Hill and His Wife, Winter of 1862-63

I have not chosen to emphasize in this blog, but neither have I sought to conceal, my lifelong sympathy for the Confederate side in the War Between the States (1861-1865). The usual term, “Civil War,” is not factually accurate, since a civil war by definition is a conflict between two sides over who will control the central government, and that is not what was at issue in that war. Rather, the Southern (or to use the old term, Southron) Confederacy wished simply to be left alone to pursue its own destiny, while the North, under the Lincoln administration, sought to impose its will upon the breakaway States.

As a child, my appreciation for the Confederate States was based on my instinctive sympathy for the “underdog,” and my admiration for such towering figures of military prowess, personal honour, and gentlemanly conduct as Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and many more. As an adult, I have come to realize that the War Between the States was indeed what many Southrons have called it, a “Second American War for Independence,” wherein the South was defending the ideals and principles of our Founders and the Constitutional Republic they had given us. Continue reading “If the South had been victorious…”