Posts Tagged ‘Confederate History Month’

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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.