Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Battlefield Earth


So Robert McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, is declaring April Confederate History Month in his state. The reflexive storm of protest over such a heinous act is, I must confess, hypocritically amusing. On a site I visit, there were a couple of snide comments that sparked my response. I thought I'd share it with you.

I called it "Battlefield Earth:"

Not to defend the Governor of Virginia per se, but looking for tourism bucks in hard times isn't any crime, nor particularly ironic. Last time I looked, the chambers of commerce in places like Gettysburg, Omaha Beach, Hiroshima, Waterloo and Hastings, just to name a handful, do a pretty good business showing off the fields of the dead, and have been doing so for a while.

None of them places in Dixie, are they?

Our civilization is built on the bones of our ancestors, going all the way back.

Some folks even go to see where the Japanese were penned like cattle in California during WWII, and, hey, most of them survived.

Tourists still take the boat ride around the sunken ships in Pearl Harbor, and if you want real horror, drop by the ovens in Germany where the ugliest part of the Holocaust took place. You can stop at the hot dog stand for lunch before take the tour of Auschwitz.

History might be bunk, as Henry had it, but it is undeniably violent, and if you are ever in St. Louis and you go to the Curtis Club, every step you walk in, you walk in Billy Lyons' blood ...

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"


Jay Gischer said...

You know, Steve, they could have just called it "Civil War History Month" and avoided the controversy. But no, baiting and trolling liberal northerners in his bid for political gain is just too tempting for Mr. McDonnell. I am sick to death of politicians who's main qualification for office is that they have pissed off the right people.

That's my problem with this, not that I don't think the Civil War, in all aspects, is worthy of commemoration.

Scott said...

It wasn't a civil war; the South sought secession, not hegemony. Secession war or War of Northern Aggression, sure.

Dan Moran said...

The Confederacy was in existence for what, five years? And this is the only symbol of Southern history that this guy could come up with?

Germans want to be proud of being German, I got no problem with that. Southerners proud of the South, ditto. But nazi & confederate flags are a bit much in both cases.

Steve Perry said...

Small amount of time, big part of history. WWII didn't last that long, either, the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki took only a few hours to deliver, and the first step onto the moon took only a heartbeat, but there's a shitload of stuff connected to 'em.

Is the governor of Virginia playing games? Surely. But the notion that we should toss history because it was unpleasant doesn't seem useful to me.

The War Between the States killed more Americans than any war, fore or aft. It was was a bigger deal in those cities that were destroyed. There were a lot of villains, but heroes on both sides. War is hell, and the winners get to dictate the terms, but slavery wasn't the issue, money was.

History isn't always pretty, but I didn't notice that the Brits tossed out their flag after American Independence because they lost.

Dan Moran said...

I'd give you that one if it were some hick state like Alabama or Louisiana or something silly like that ... but this is Virginia, home of the first permanent settlement by Europeans, one of the 13 original colonies, home to Jefferson and Washington and Madison and Patrick Henry ... and Patrick Henry's the only one I would have forgotten if I hadn't glanced at Wikipedia, which is pretty good.

I admit, I know zip about Virginia history post-Civil War, but the state's got more history than California does, and we manage to find things to celebrate in our much shorter little piece of history.

Apparently he's backtracking, too.

Dan Moran said...

He seems a decent guy, for what it's worth -- looks more a miscalculation than a declaration of culture war.

Steve Perry said...

Had agriculture been anywhere close to as big in the North as it was in the South back then? I see no reason to believe that the yankees would have been any quicker to condemn it. Twelve of the first eighteen U.S. Presidents -- four of the first five fathers of the Republic: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe -- owned, at one time or another, slaves. And that dozen includes Ulysses S. Grant, by the by.

Wrong is wrong, but glass houses and sinners and stones and all ...

Shady_Grady said...

It is one thing to remember the Civil War if one also wants to remember the sickness that precipitated it and seek to bring folks together so that such a thing never happens again.

But for the governor to talk about only about the sacrifices or challenges of the Confederates is politically/culturally/morally tone deaf. One side was right. One side was wrong.

Can we imagine a German politician who wanted to talk about the bravery of the German soldiers in WW2 and the sacrifices borne by the German civilians while not saying a mumbling word about the German aggression that started the war and the yearn to murder Jews that engulfed it?

The Civil War wasn't just about slavery but slavery was the primary cause. That's what the Confederate leaders at the time said.

In 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, Stephens bluntly declared that slavery was "the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution." He said the United States had been founded on the false belief that all men are created equal. The Confederacy, in contrast, had been "founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural moral condition."

Dan Moran said...

If you're hearing yankee condemnation out of me, I'm being unclear. I don't have a dog in that hunt and I don't doubt for a second that if the northern states had needed slaves for agriculture, they'd have done the same as the southern states. People are people, in all sorts of ways.

I do think the legacy of slavery did tremendous harm to the southern states, and not just from losing the civil war -- but I don't think Southerners now or then are evil in particularly unusual ways for normal human beings. You have to go to Boston for that.

Steve Perry said...

I am in no way condoning that institution of slavery, nor denying the awful things that were done during the times it held sway, in any version of it around the world over the ages. In no way did I bespeak such, nor imply it, and anybody who thinks I said so that brought that axe with them. Wrong is wrong.

Up until a few years before the 1860's, that negroes-are-a-lesser-people was the prevailing opinion in the North, too.

I expect that if I were a descendant of American slaves, I'd have no use for the Stars 'n' Bars. If I were Choctaw, I might not have much use for Old Glory, either. Jewish, the swastika would really piss me off. Had my father gone down on a ship at Pearl Harbor, the Rising Sun would no doubt leave me cold. The world is full of symbols that some people find glorious and others see as repugnant.

Lot of that going around.Always has been.

Then again, people impute a moral tone to the North that wasn't there. The decision to deal with slavery wasn't based on any high-mindedness by the government. It was all about money and power, just like it almost always is.

You do know that Abe Lincoln, who, while personally against slavery, pragmatically said: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union." He cared about the United States, and slaves were a distant second. (And Lincoln's favorite song was "Dixie," too …)

Randy Newman's song "Rednecks" pretty much sums it up for me. I don't mind that the South gets lumps for being racist and ignorant as much as I mind the pretense that nobody else in this great country is. Step off the main roads in New York, Idaho, California, see what you find.

When it comes to casting the first stone, I don't see a lot of folks without sin in this arena.

Dan Gambiera said...

No Scott, it was the War of Southern Aggression. From destroying arsenals to the attack on Pensacola the South was committing acts of sedition, terrorism and war against the United States for decades before the Civil War started. Unfortunately, the duly elected government of the United States was too tolerant of this sort of criminal behavior and made the classic mistake. They believed that bullies and thugs would be content with most of what they wanted and not take that final step.

Sad to say, they were wrong. The South's insatiable hunger for the abominable trade in human flesh couldn't be satisfied. And they were willing to kill hundreds of thousands to preserve it. That's the "Southern Culture" they were fighting to preserve and wanted to cram down the throats of the new States. That's the "Property we gained by honest toil" in The Bonnie Blue Flag.

AF1 said...

I too would see no problem with having a Civil War history month or what have you.

But celebrating the Confederacy is inevitably going to be divisive. In my view it's no different than having a Nazi History Month.

Steve Perry said...

There was a time when I was ashamed of my southern heritage -- I was quick to bad-mouth the south when the ain't-they-awful conversations started. I eventually came to realize that people are the same everywhere, and the rest of the country had plenty of things about which to be chagrined. 

The Civil War was not so simple as evil southern slave owners versus the enlightened north, but it tends to get parsed that way and I'm pointing it out because the sound-bite mentality these days doesn't examine things critically. 

Christianity revolves around a man who ends up being nailed to a cross and encouraged to die in agony. We celebrate his birth, his death, and his resurrection, and the Christ-on-a-cross icons can be found hanging on walls all over. Were an alien to land on Earth tomorrow and see one of those icons and hear the rationale for it, I could easily imagine it would think us barbaric in the extreme. 

Some folks see the Confederacy as something shameful, but to 80% of those people whose great-grandparents died in that war, slavery was a non-issue -- they didn't own any. And the notion of a weak central government with most rights belonging to individuals and to the states in which they lived was much more widespread than it is now -- look at the Tenth Amendment.

As Jefferson wrote in the Kentucky Resolutions:

"Resolved, that the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that by compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes, delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: That to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party -- each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress." 

Jefferson wasn't alone in his belief about this, and according his and others' philosophies about government, if the fed overstepped, the states had the right to tell them to fuck off. 

Which they in essence did. But when you do that and the other guy is bigger, stronger, faster, and better armed, you risk getting your ass kicked. Which is what happened.

The governor of Virginia might be a twit, and certainly every word from his, or any other politician's mouth needs to be heard knowing there is always an agenda connected to it. But you are talking about a war in which a lot of men fought and died for what they believed, and right or wrong, to dismiss those deaths and their beliefs as a source of shame is as insensitive as anything the white governor might be blathering about.

Much of what the south is today goes back to the carpetbaggers who came to punish the confederate states after the war. The fed put its boot on their necks -- they won, they could, and they did. 

I don't think any war should be celebrated, but we we do. We put up monuments to them, we give the soldiers medals, we glory in the ones we won and regret the ones we lost.

Want to see a war of aggression? How about Vietnam? Iraq? We lost both of those and yet there are walls and statues, and we honor those who fell in battle -- and how could we not?

Was the country better for the north having won? Yes. But simply put: Every time somebody points their finger at the South and says "Shame!" it is going to grate. Doing so makes you part of the problem and not the solution.

Mick said...

Not wanting to completely derail what has just been said but Auschwitz is in Poland. I never got a hot dog but a friend of mine did have a hooker, if you know what I mean. Also, Hastings is barely remembered for the battle in 1066, other than the name. I remember it more for being the supposed birthplace of TV because John Logie Baird lived there for a couple of weeks...

Steve Perry said...

I didn't say Auschwitz was in Germany, did I? My mistake.

Shady_Grady said...

I don't think anyone should ever be ashamed of their heritage or birthplace. No one today bears responsibility for the 19th century. And there are good people or bad people in every race or region.

That said the South lost. I see a tremendous inability- NOT from anyone on this blog- but by some Southerners and likeminded Confederate wannabees across the country to admit either that the war was wrong or that slavery was wrong.

And that's been the case ever since the guns stopped firing.

There are many ways to show Southern pride or state pride without invoking the bloodiest war in American history. The South is about more than the Confederacy.

There were slaveowners who fought on the Union side. And there were people that didn't own slaves that fought on the Confederate side.
But that's the same thing as pointing out that there were also imperialists and racist colonialists that fought against Hitler. The larger arc is that one side, despite its hypocrisies and failings, was better than the other. The Confederacy made an explicit call to arms based on the right to slavery and white supremacy.

Perhaps it would be easier to overlook or ignore such "Confederate History Proclamations" if after the Civil War Reconstruction period, the Confederates and many of their descendants hadn't spent the next 100 years doing their best to keep their environment at pre-1865 conditions. All that meaning is also bound up in "Confederate History". If people wrap themselves in that without analyzing or even admitting that anything else was going on, then yes they will get some criticism.

I think, racial issues and such aside , that the post-war white South was ashamed of having lost the war and that this sense of shame manifested itself in extravagant declarations of support for the Lost Cause and monuments and dedications and so on. I think people just ought to be able to let it go now.

Anonymous said...

"How about Vietnam? Iraq? We lost both of those "

We did? Baathist murders still in charge in Iraq?

Didn't think so.

Tim said...

"And the notion of a weak central government with most rights belonging to individuals and to the states in which they lived was much more widespread than it is now -- look at the Tenth Amendment."

And herein lies the problem. Most people have so little concept of this in part because they can't even imagine what that would look like. Lacking the ability to see it, they can't really take seriously the idea that anybody would go to war over it.

They're wrong, and it's a measure of what we lost that they can't even see it.

We also lost race-based chattel slavery, and that's all to the good. But in trade, sovereign states became subject provinces and we all became property of a strong central government with delusions of messiahship. Poetically just, but man, what a price.

Travis said...

Only kind of related but I'm wondering if there has ever been a nation of unified states that in which the central government didn't take more and more power over time?

Not that it really matters but it seems like that's a common trend, that these alliances, confederations, leagues, etc. are formed for trade benefits and mutual defense but then start running towards a central authority.