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Revisionist History

April 7, 2010

Update:  Ha!  Sometimes it hurts being this good!

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history; and

  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/07/AR2010040705100.html?hpid=moreheadlines

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Virginia governor Robert McDonnell has officially proclaimed April as “Confederate History Month for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”  Given that Virginia was the heart of the Confederacy (what with its capitol being Richmond and Robert E. Lee being it’s native son) I don’t really have an issue with the idea, but there’s a right way to honor your state’s history and a wrong way.  Guess which one the Governor took?  Just like Lee deciding to get involved in a war of attrition with a far larger enemy, McDonnell has adopted the wrong strategy.  If you read the proclamation (http://www.governor.virginia.gov/OurCommonwealth/Proclamations/2010/ConfederateHistoryMonth.cfm ) you’ll find that there are certain peculiarities with the wording that smack of revisionist history, the goal being to play up the good parts of the confederacy and downplay the negative.  Here are some of the juicier sections:

1.  Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every  region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today

“Long recognized” means ‘we’ve always honored our Confederate past, who said we haven’t?’ Except that the previous two governors didn’t issue proclamations honoring the Confederacy.  The language is trying to create a false impression of Virginia’s take on its history in order to make the present course of action appear acceptable.  It’s the bureaucratic version of saying, ‘it’s alright because we’ve always done it this way.’

2.  …all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army…

In other words, ‘you didn’t beat us, we simply ran out of ammo.’  It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that the south still has the ability to rise again should they feel the federal government is assuming too much control over the states (i.e. health care – and don’t think for a second that this proclamation isn’t in part a response to the health care bill and the belief that the federal government has overstepped it’s bounds.  In this case, Governor McDonnell is manipulating the history of the civil war to play up the state’s rights aspect in preparation for the upcoming legal battle over the right of the federal government to impose health care legislation on the states.  See http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/Virginia-attorney-general-to-sue-over-health-care-88860017.html )

3.  …this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live,…

First off, ‘defining’ tends to connote a good thing.  Defining is never used in the context of a bad thing.  You never hear the phrase, ‘Slavery was a defining chapter for African Americans.’  While it’s not explicitly stated, the implication is that the Civil War was a good thing for Virginia.  Same with ‘understood and remembered by all,’ which is another way of saying ‘people today don’t really understand what the war was about and we need to educate them.’  Finally, “in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live” specifically implies that some of the issues over which the civil war were fought were legitimate (states rights) and others were not (slavery), which brings up my final point…

4.  In the entire proclamation, not once does the word ‘Slavery’ appear.  How on earth do you talk about the civil war and not even mention slavery except in some vague references to ‘the context of the time?’  The only people who don’t think slavery was a key issue over which the civil war was fought are the people who come from the south.  The argument is that the south seceded because the federal government was growing too strong and the states felt they would become ‘fiefdoms’ of an all-powerful government.  While it is certainly true that state’s rights were an issue, what these revisionists fail to mention is that the reason southern states felt emasculated was because of attempts by the north to limit the expansion of slavery!  Every major point of friction between the North and the South in the decades leading up to the Civil War were over the expansion of slavery into the expanding territories of the U.S.  From the Missouri Compromise to the Nullification Crisis to the Compromise of 1850 to the Kansas/Nebraska Act, every one of them was fundamentally over the issue of slavery expanding into the territories. 

Senator Sumner (MA) was almost beaten to death by Representative Butler (SC) in Congress over a pro-abolition speech Sumner had made. But you're right...I'm sure slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War...

Furthermore, the South had been threatening secession for decades by the time the election of 1860 came around, and it was only because a Republican (remember, Republicans started out as a left wing party that championed the rights of all citizens, in contrast to the right wing Democratic party that supported the expansion of slavery) won the election by stating he opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories (but did not believe the federal government had the power to abolition slavery where it already existed) did the south actually make good on their threats.  In other words, yes, the civil war was over slavery!!  Whether slavery was presented as a moral, political, or economic issue is another matter, but in the end, slavery was the main reason that brought about the civil war and for Governor McDonnell to proclaim April ‘Confederate History Month’ without acknowledging this is just plain revisionist history at its worst.  If you want to honor the history of your state, by all means do so, but you can’t cherry pick the parts you like and ignore the parts you don’t.  That’s the problem with history:   It’s rarely black and white, even when that’s what it’s about.

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5 comments

  1. Right or wrong, confederate soldiers were Americans and they fought and died as Americans. Sadly, most of them probably had very little information or reason to fight other than they happened to be born in a “southern” state. Still, our governor is an ass. This subject is WAY too touchy and it paints him as a total douche. Throw this on top what he thinks about working women and we got ourselves a real winner. I told you not to vote for him!


  2. I’d be interested in the difference of opinion among NoVA residents and the rest of the state (maybe excluding Hampton Roads)since we tend to be more transplants than generational residents. I guess it just shows you that history isn’t always written by the victors 😉


  3. Ok, Since Max emailed me this directly…”which means, Nick is southern, let’s get him to comment” I’m assuming you’re going to toss and turn at night until i do leave a comment. Luckily for you, it’s a slow day at work today. Well, Yes you’re point is taken; Slavery is wrong, evil, and immoral. Everyone know this. And the Governor is retarded…yes I said the “R” word, you can fine me for that too if you want.

    However, your foundation to this entire blog is shaky at best. And if you read on….I’ll explain. Below is a list of Monthly Heritage related events during the calendar, provided by usa.gov (so you know it’s accurate!!! right!?)

    -March is Irish-American Heritage Month
    -May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month
    -September is National Hispanic Heritage Month
    -October is the month celebrated by the German Americas for “Oktoberfest”
    -November is National American Indian Heritage Month

    At the announcement of all of these events, i didn’t see one blog from Max stating “Why don’t the Irish-American’s mention bombing innocent people in England as part of their heritage month!?”

    “Why don’t the American Indians mention scalping techniques for their celebration?!”

    I could go on and on with examples of flaws for Asian/pacific and the Germans, but I’ll let you pick your own for this.

    The point is, you ask “why don’t they mention Slavery?” I ask, why would they?! None of the above groups do, why would a confederate holiday mention their darkest flaw either? If you can explain that logic to me, I’m all ears. And, to shot more holes in your Alexandria backwoods statements…

    Your conclusions about Robert E. Lee are all wrong. You state “Just like Lee deciding to get involved in a war of attrition with a far larger enemy, McDonnell has adopted the wrong strategy.” It was not a poor choice to start a war of attrition; he almost won with that strategy. Ref the film “Gangs of New York” and the riots that repeatedly ensued in Northern cities throughout the war as a response to not wanting to fight. That would be a successful result of Lee’s Strategy when fighting a larger army. This tactic was repeated in the Vietnam War by the Vietcong and originated from Sun Tzu himself. I disagree with your statement and believe it was a brilliant strategy for the minuet army and resources he had to work with.

    Onward and upward,
    ~Nick , “The crazy yet logical southerner, who like to get max fired up”


    • 1. There’s a difference between a month that celebrates a culture versus a political movement. I would agree with you if the month were called, ‘national southerners month,’ but it wasn’t, it was called ‘confederate history month’ and it was explicitly stated that the reason for the month was to “reflect upon our commonwealth’s shared history” meaning the focus was on the events that led to the creation of the confederacy, rather than the people who made up the confederacy. It would be like having a month called ‘National Empire of Japan Heritage Month’ and not mentioning Pearl Harbor.
      2. As for Lee, how did that strategy work out? And the Vietcong did not engage in a war of attrition, they engaged in a guerilla war where, with the exception of the Tet Offensive, they avoided direct confrontation.
      3. Yes, your primary job is to boost my southern street cred.


  4. I’m with Max. It doesn’t matter how smart, clever or articulate Nick may think himself to be, his argument does not stand up to logic or reason. Sophistry will only work with those who do not have the intellect and factual knowledge to refute it.



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