Rebels without a clue?
I have read your article on http://www.counterpunch.org attacking the Confederacy and its heritage attentively. It is an impressive 3,000-word walk on the well-trodden path that leads to the conclusion that the ‘Civil War’ in 1860s America (a misnomer since the conflict was not a struggle by factions for control of the same government) was fought solely for the preservation and perpetuation of slavery. Nothing could be further from the truth. The political issue, against the backdrop of the underlying socio-cultural and economic division of the country in two parts, the industrializing North and the cotton and rice plantation-economy South, was the expansion of slavery westward and its implications for the balance of power in Congress. The economic issue was the threat posed by the Confederacy’s probable declaration of a free-trade zone, which would have wreaked havoc on the Federal revenue. Financially, taxes were mainly paid by the Cotton South but predominantly spent on ‘internal improvements’ in the North. Socially, abolitionism, radical and vocal far beyond the numbers of those advancing it, was neither in the mainstream of public opinion nor a particularly popular opinion in the North, despite being perceived as such in the South. The existence of slavery – in the North as well as in the South, I might add – was not an issue at the outset of war, nor a cause of it. Its expansion westward and the implications for the balance of power between the two halves of the Union was. The immediate cause – the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – was the election, by the North only, of the Radical Republican party’s candidate, Mr. Lincoln. That is plain in the historical record, which anyone who can read English can consult.
However, let us respect your article’s focus on slavery and tackle that issue. I am more than willing to conduct the little experiment you mention at the start of your article. You’ve picked a white person, let me confess that from the start. You and most of your fellow educators have made sure that everyone ‘knows’ that persons of pallor – and only persons of pallor – can possibly be racist in thought, conviction or attitude, so this validates me as a fit subject for your experiment. Your stopwatch will keep on ticking, however, for this here whitie is no apologist for racial oppression, and I would never even consider denying that 19th century slavery, even in the relatively mild form in which it was practiced in the American South – read The Slave Narratives, a U.S. Government document – was a terrible wrong to inflict on black people, as indeed on any people. I am, however, an admirer of the Confederacy.
May I prevail on you to climb down from the curtains upon learning this, and invite you to a civilized discussion of the issue of the Confederate flag and its perceived relationship to racism and its perceived effect on black people today, whom you victimize so easily and naturally.
With the suavity and smugness so typical of progressive educators – and I trust I am not wrong in calling you progressive, just as you would not be wrong in calling me a conservative – you lay the terrible, 19th century wrong of slavery on the conscience not only of those who fought for the Confederacy in time past, but also on those who today dare to defy the prevailing climate of political correctness by honoring their ancestors who fought its battles, and now offend your delicate racial sensibilities by displaying a historical flag which you say ‘stands for racism’. Does it, though?
It may be subtle enough to escape those who benefit from being educated by you, but it’s pretty glaring to me that your article lies by omission – and I’m not even an American, although I am guilty of studying American history in the days before the force-feeding of opinion took the place of transmitting facts. You studiously avoid mentioning that slavery in 1860 was prevalent in both North and South, that the slave trade was exclusively in the hands of Northerners, that race relations before, during and after the war were much worse in the North than in the South (as, by the way, they still are). You do not note that mid-19th century abolitionism had an extremely limited appeal; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s unfortunate husband publicly disavowed his wife’s fictional propaganda work (she never set foot in the South in her entire life). You omit the race riots in New York during the war, for instance. You remain silent on the fact that the Underground Railroad ran all the way to Canada because nearly all Union states restricted or forbade residence by blacks, on pain of whipping and deportation.
Above all, you anxiously avoid mentioning that the Great Emancipator himself was, by modern standards, not by those of his own time, a racial supremacist: he repeatedly expressed himself in favor of racial separation, of deporting blacks to Africa at the federal government’s expense, and of winning the war to preserve the Union, if need be without liberating even a single slave. Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration was, at best, a crafty attempt at both pre-empting European recognition of the Confederacy and creating social havoc behind Confederate lines. At worst, it was an early attempt at provoking ethnic cleansing. It did succeed in its foreign policy purpose, but backfired totally in its military objective: no slave uprising ever occurred in the South. European leaders and intellectuals, Charles Dickens foremost among them, recognised the document, which at the time it was issued did not liberate a single slave, for what it was: a clever, cynical ruse, and denounced it as such.
Why do you so carefully avoid mentioning that slavery was an accepted part of the American order and culture of that period, in both North and South? That the war had other, at least as significant causes? Yes, the Confederacy had a white supremacist culture in the mid-19th century. So did the Union and the European powers at the time, for all their high-minded abolition of slavery. England and France could afford to do so without repercussions at home; the effects were limited to their despised colonials. Your selective use of the historical record is appalling, though hardly an isolated case.
You also make a fatal error in linking Confederate emblems to white supremacism prevalent almost one and a half centuries ago. Ancient Rome practiced a hard version of slavery, and sex with young boys was very common among the aristocracy, yet merely considered a rather amusing little vice at the time. Today we judge those practices very differently, and for very good reasons. My point is, do you refer to the ‘Ancient Roman Racist and Pedophile Empire?’ You don’t, because cultural and moral patterns have shifted much since ancient Rome, as have politics and economics, and it would be a mistake to judge Rome by the standards prevailing 15 to 20 centuries later. There is no need to condemn the Romans’ cultural attitudes in 20th and 21st century terms, only a need to understand their failures and achievements in terms of their own period. Yet you judge the Confederacy in your own, late 20th, early 21st century terms of racial equality, now a widely accepted precept.
Surely you are aware of the dangers of looking at the past through the prism of our own time, our own convictions, our own cultural bias? I will not insult you by insinuating otherwise. Yet you ignore this. It follows that you are doing so deliberately. Regrettably, this is typical of the education establishment in America, which prefers to advance the progressive agenda over offering a meaningful education. Hence the third-world quality of many of its public schools, and the spectacle even its top universities make of themselves by their self-imposed role as incubators of leftist ideology, inviting tyrants to address the public from their forums, banishing the military behind whose protection they crouch from their campuses and suppressing any opinion that deviates from the increasingly hard left.
Let us return for a brief moment to the issue of slavery and its effects on America’s black population. Let’s be honest here. In reality, how much remains of the racism that once was? In my visits to America’s Southland, from Florida to Arizona, I have never witnessed a single expression of it, in word or deed. What I have encountered, more than once, is extreme reluctance to discuss anything that could even remotely be construed as containing even the minutest degree of criticism of any minority or minority sensitivity whatsoever. When it comes to minorities, Americans walk a minefield. So much for your vaunted free speech. I might add that it’s just as bad in Europe, when it come to Muslims or Islam.
Racism in America and indeed in the West, whether you admit it or not, is all but extinct. Now that America has elected a black President, from the ranks of a minority that is barely 13% of its population, the argument that racism continues to limit, oppress and disadvantage black people strikes me as utterly ridiculous. Apparently catching sight of a Confederate emblem on someone’s purse hasn’t flung Barack Obama into paroxysms of racial offense, nor has it held him back much.
But, truth be told, are whites the only people who love to live in the past, as you write? Any interested observer of America is perfectly able to see that race baiters do continue to flourish, as does the racial inequality industry, struggling as it does to continue to justify its existence in an increasingly un-racist America. The race baiters are fed by the media, academia and certain special-interest groups that fan the flames of perceived racism for their own ends. As a progressive educator, I count you among them.
Why this need to provide blacks with the alibi of racism to cover up group underachievement? There is no denying that American blacks, as a group, are less advanced by most standards, in statistical terms, than other ethnic groups. Who is to blame? The Confederate flag? No, sir – you are.
Public education in America is a shame, thanks to a leftist education establishment. The progressive agenda has done incalculable damage. Consider the root of the problem, black families, or rather the lack of them. Black families survived slavery, as best they could – and they did to a surprising extent, proof positive of their moral, intellectual and physical strength and stamina. Black families survived the Jim Crow laws in the postbellum South and enduring racial discrimination up to and including the Civil Rights period a century after the War Between The States. But black families did not survive the liberal agenda of economic dependency, cultural experimentation, laxity on crime, and the soft bigotry of positive discrimination, the ‘need’ to reserve for blacks and other minorities places in education, in government, in economic life, to the detriment of others and in violation of the merit principle. The results are plain to see.
And you call the Texas declaration of secession ‘putrid’!
Well, sir, I call the liberal agenda putrid, and I can prove it. If I were a black American, I’d ask myself why no whites engage in White Studies, and why Asian-Americans don’t have a rap culture that glorifies violence, rape, fornication and rioting. Why I would need a specially reserved slot anywhere. Why my intellectual or professional merit is held to be inferior to another’s. Black people can, and will, lift themselves higher as a group, as soon as they break free from the liberal agenda, from your attempt to provide them with an alibi for underachievement by blaming Confederate emblems on a purse, a car sticker, a T-shirt or a flagpole.