Monday, April 12, 2010

Rewriting History And Civil War Memory


This piece by Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, "Southern Discomfort," sums up the whole point behind the latest push to rewrite the history of the War Between The States, he writes :

As the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter approaches in 2011, the enduring problem for neo-Confederates endures: anyone who seeks an Edenic Southern past in which the war was principally about states’ rights and not slavery is searching in vain, for the Confederacy and slavery are inextricably and forever linked.
That has not, however, stopped Lost Causers who supported Mr. McDonnell’s proclamation from trying to recast the war in more respectable terms. They would like what Lincoln called our “fiery trial” to be seen in a political, not a moral, light. If the slaves are erased from the picture, then what took place between Sumter and Appomattox is not about the fate of human chattel, or a battle between good and evil. It is, instead, more of an ancestral skirmish in the Reagan revolution, a contest between big and small government.
We cannot allow the story of the emancipation of a people and the expiation of America’s original sin to become fodder for conservative politicians playing to their right-wing base. That, to say the very least, is a jump backward we do not need.

Kevin Levin has an always thought provoking blog called Civil War Memory. He holds an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Maryland (1994) and an M.A. in history from the University of Richmond (2005). He writes "I started blogging in November 2005 and as of February 2010 have written over 2,000 posts. I blog about subjects related to how Americans have chosen to remember and commemorate the Civil War."

Thankfully the media circus is beginning to die down over last week’s Confederate History Month proclamation. I ended up watching more of the “debate” on the major news channels than I care to admit. It was downright painful to watch. The most disappointing aspect of it all was the almost complete absence of any professional historians. You would think that the major networks could have mustered up at least one legitimate historian. The closest I saw was a half-way decent interview that Rachel Maddow conducted with Patricia Harris-Lacewell, who teaches politics and African American Studies at Princeton. More often than not the audience was treated to the same talking heads who clearly do not understand the relevant history.

Another who writes on the Civil War regularly is Robert Moore at Cenantua's Blog :

Frankly, secession and the motivation to fight wasn’t a “grass roots movement”, but was sparked by those who benefited from slavery and saw the voice of the slave states/rights of these states (let’s call it the real threat to States’ Rights) to impact national legislation severely compromised. Furthermore, the common people were used as pawns. There were many a common dirt farmer turned soldier that felt that the conflict was better defined as a rich man’s war, poor man’s fight. I think a fair number of these same common soldiers began to realize with the passage of the Twenty-Slave Law they were much better defined as pawns in the deadly game.

The use of the tea party analogy shows us even more that some Confederate celebrationists are out of touch with the reality of history, and continue to fail to understand the more complex picture of why Southerners were in the ranks of the Confederate forces.

Earlier Moore wrote :
What has really happened here is that there have been multiple missed opportunities… to educate responsibly, and spread more understanding of our collective past. Instead of rushing to paste a “boogeyman” sign on the backs of people from history or placing halos over the heads of just as many, we need to get a grip on ourselves and our national history. Like it or not, it ALL has a place in understanding who we are today. In fact, I think what we are seeing is a fine example of why we should have a Civil War History Month in Virginia… not to praise and hate, but to pause, educate, and understand.

This debate is a constant topic on sites relating to the war and  has been for a long time.

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