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The Lost Cause Lives in Texas

confederate_flag_memorial

Over the past few years there has been an increase in Neo-Confederate propaganda, talk of secession and civil war coming from people who for the most part call themselves Christians. To be honest there is a reason for this, and that reason is because a Black Man was elected as President and all the underlying pent-up racism that never died despite the great advances that we have seen since the dawn of the Civil Rights Era. Doctor King may have a Holiday, but racism is not dead and often it is cloaked in the myth of the Lost Cause.

Over the past few weeks down in Orange Texas, the Local Sons of the Confederate Veterans chapter have decided to spruce up the monument to the Texas Confederate dead. Now I have lived throughout the South and in most of the former Confederate states there are monuments to the Confederate war dead, and it seems that almost every town has one. They are a part of history and those I vehemently disagree with what those men fought for and would have fought against them, such monument are a part of our history. Monuments to fallen soldiers are part of every almost every western culture and a way for families and communities to remember those who died.

However, the kerfuffle in Orange is a bit different. The monument has been there a long time and truthfully, the Sons of Confederate Veterans own it and the land that it is on. It not on public property actually, if the monument has fallen into disrepair I have no problem with them doing that. However, what they are doing is different. They are erecting flagpoles for 32 Confederate flags. Eight of them are various renditions of the flags of the Confederacy itself and twenty-four are going to be replicas of the flags of Texas Regiments that fought in the war.

Now I do understand that those flags do have some historical meaning and significance, at the same time that historical meaning and significance is connected to a cause that was about the rights of states to promote White Supremacy and slavery. The supporters of the Confederate flag project in Orange are saying that this was not the case.

“David Moore, Lieutenant Division Commander of the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, told The Post that Southern states did not fight the Civil War to defend slavery, but instead to defend state’s rights after they were “invaded by Northern troops.” He said the monument in Orange honors the ancestors of the 2,600 members of Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.” [1]

My feeling is if the Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted to honor their ancestors and remember the military organizations they could place plaques with the regimental histories and the names of those killed in action. They could actually try to make it somewhat reverent and at the same time educational, but this, the display of so many flags looks more like a display designed to incite division and make current the Lost Cause.

A couple of years ago washed up rocker, draft dodger and professional muckraker Ted Nugent made the comment that he wondered if it would have been better that the South had won the Civil War. Nugent’s statements, like those of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas are blatant examples of the enduring influence of the Lost Cause Myth, and show the revisionism and dishonest “scholarship” of the Neo-Confederates. The dishonesty and lack of truth in this quote, which is typical of the movement finds its genus in the discredited myth of the Lost Cause.

Sadly, a lot of the proponents of this are leaders in the radical, theocratic movement known as Christian Dominionism. This movement and its leaders believe that it is the duty of Christians to claim all of culture, politics and economics for God, and to disenfranchise or even kill those who do not agree. Many times their rhetoric is tinged with violence, racism, xenophobia and frankly paranoid and conspiratorial views of anyone that does not agree with them. Leaders of this movement are closely connected to, and often are advisers to prominent current and former Republican elected officials including Rand and Ron Paul, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Sam Brownback.

One of the most troubling things about this movement is its growing ties to and sympathy for neo-Confederate movements and the myth of the Lost Cause.

I have written about the ideological and religious roots of the American Civil War. While I was researching that article I began to see just who closely the language of this allegedly Christian movement parallels that of those who led the South to disaster in the Civil War and then to cover their crimes and to justify their actions.

These people are part of a growing fringe movement which advocates all the ideas espoused by the leaders of the Confederacy: secession, nullification, White Supremacy and some advocate violence and insurrection. Many of these despise Abraham Lincoln; they use state legislatures to pass Jim Crow like voting restrictions that particularly impact the poor, the elderly and minorities, and they use the cover of their religious rights to establish laws that allow the open discrimination against Gays. They favor an oligarchy of the rich and corporations that is very similar in its philosophy and ideology to that of the Southern elites and the plantation owners. People who not only enslaved blacks, but used their economic power to keep poor whites in their place.

Some of the Dominionists echo the words of the defenders of slavery. Douglas Wilson, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America in Idaho and apologist for Confederate views wrote: “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.” Wilson also wrote that “There has never been, a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” Of course there is no truth in that statement whatsoever as any actual student of the ante-bellum South would know. It is fiction and lies being propertied as truth by a Christian pastor in an established denomination.

The cause of the Civil War to the Christian neo-Confederates was not slavery, not economics or even Constitutional issues or anything else that real historians debate but rather a theological myth, as Steven Wilkins explained: “the cause of the Civil War was theological incompatibility between North and South, the former having ‘rejected Biblical Calvinism…“there was radical hatred of Scripture and the old theology [and] Northern radicals were trying to throw off this Biblical culture and turn the country in a different direction….” 

These thoughts are reiterated in many parts of the Dominionist movement in the writings of its godfather R. J. Rushdoony who through his own writings and the continued work of his son-in-law Gary North influence both Ron and his son U.S. Senator and now Republican Presidential Candidate Rand Paul as well as many others in the so called “Christian Right.”

So I have decided to post just a bit of my research on the Lost Cause here, just to show some of the similarities of thought.

As the Southern States seceded, the Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon in December of 1860: “Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [2]

The people who drove the nation to war incited secession, not for just any “state’s rights” but for White Supremacy and slavery. Henry Benning of Georgia was a strong Separatist, as proponents of secession were known in Georgia. He led the debate for secession at the Georgia convention, and spoke as a representative at the Virginia secession debate. At both debates the fiery justice proclaimed the disaster that would befall the South under Republican rule: In Virginia he presented a nearly apocalyptic vision of Republican rule:

“On the “not distant” day when the South contains “the only slave States,” climaxed Benning, “The North will have the power to amend the Constitution” and declare “slavery…abolished.” Then the master who “refuses to yield” will doubtless be hung.” Race “war will break out everywhere, like hidden fire from the earth. Eventually “our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds.” And “as far as our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate.” [3]

He closed his speech with the prediction that under Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” that: “We will be completely exterminated…and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…” [4]

When you read the words of many of the Dominionist and the Christian neo-Confederate leaders you see a similar cry of victimhood and an apocalyptic vision that is best described as paranoia run rampant. This is only a sample, my research on the Lost Cause, the ante-Bellum South and the contemporary Neo-Confederate Christians connection with the Dominionists continues. What follows here is just a sample of the research that his going into my Civil War and Gettysburg texts plus some additional commentary.

When Edmund Ruffin pulled the lanyard of the cannon that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter it marked the end of an era and despite Ruffin, Stephens and Davis’ plans gave birth to what Lincoln would describe as “a new birth of freedom.”

When the war ended with the Confederacy defeated and the south in ruins, Ruffin still could not abide the result. In a carefully crafted suicide note he sent to his son the bitter and hate filled old man wrote on June 14th 1865:

“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule- to all political, social and business connections with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States! … And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my last breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.” [5]

Though Ruffin was dead in the coming years the southern states would again find themselves under the governance of former secessionists who were unabashed white supremacists. Former secessionist firebrands who had boldly proclaimed slavery to be the deciding issue when the war changed their story. Instead of slavery being the primary cause of Southern secession and the war, it was “trivialized as the cause of the war in favor of such things as tariff disputes, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, cultural differences, and the conflict between industrial and agricultural societies.” [6]

Alexander Stephens who had authored the infamous1861 Cornerstone Speech that “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition” argued after the war that the war was not about slavery at all, that it:

“had its origins in opposing principles….It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation on the other.” He concluded “that the American Civil War “represented a struggle between “the friends of Constitutional liberty” and “the Demon of Centralism, Absolutism, [and] Despotism!” [7]

Jefferson Davis, who had masterfully crafted “moderate” language which radicals in the South used to their advantage regarding the expansion and protection of the rights of slave owners in the late 1850s to mollify Northern Democrats, and who wrote in October 1860 that: “The recent declarations of the Black Republican party…must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it where it is, not where it is not.” [8]

After the war a revisionist Davis wrote:

“The Southern States and Southern people have been sedulously represented as “propagandists” of slavery, and the Northern as the champions of universal freedom…” and “the attentive reader…will already found enough evidence to discern the falsehood of these representations, and to perceive that, to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause for the conflict.” [9]

Instead of being about slavery the Confederate cause was mythologized by those promoting the false history of the “Lost Cause” a term coined by William Pollard in 1866, which “touching almost every aspect of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war.” [10] By 1877 many southerners were taking as much pride in the “Lost Cause” as Northerners took in Appomattox. [11] Alan Nolen notes: “Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization.” [12]

The Lost Cause was elevated by some to the level of a religion. In September 1906, Lawrence Griffith speaking to a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans stated that when the Confederates returned home to their devastated lands, “there was born in the South a new religion.” [13] The mentality of the Lost Cause took on “the proportions of a heroic legend, a Southern Götterdämmerung with Robert E. Lee as a latter day Siegfried.” [14]

This new religion that Griffith referenced was replete with signs, symbols and ritual:

“this worship of the Immortal Confederacy, had its foundation in myth of the Lost Cause. Conceived in the ashes of a defeated and broken Dixie, this powerful, pervasive idea claimed the devotion of countless Confederates and their counterparts. When it reached fruition in the 1880s its votaries not only pledged their allegiance to the Lost Cause, but they also elevated it above the realm of common patriotic impulse, making it perform a clearly religious function….The Stars and Bars, “Dixie,” and the army’s gray jacket became religious emblems, symbolic of a holy cause and of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Confederate heroes also functioned as sacred symbols: Lee and Davis emerged as Christ figures, the common soldier attained sainthood, and Southern women became Marys who guarded the tomb of the Confederacy and heralded its resurrection.” [15]

Jefferson Davis became an incarnational figure for the adherents of this new religion. A Christ figure who Confederates believed “was the sacrifice selected-by the North or by Providence- as the price for Southern atonement. Pastors theologized about his “passion” and described Davis as a “vicarious victim”…who stood mute as Northerners “laid on him the falsely alleged iniquities of us all.” [16]

In 1923 a song about Davis repeated this theme:

Jefferson Davis! Still we honor thee! Our Lamb victorious, who for us endur’d A cross of martyrdom, a crown of thorns, soul’s Gethsemane, a nation’s hate, A dungeon’s gloom! Another God in chains!” [17]

The myth also painted another picture, that of slavery being a benevolent institution which has carried forth into our own time. The contention of Southern politicians, teachers, preachers and journalists was that slaves liked their status; they echoed the words of slave owner Hiram Tibbetts to his brother in 1842 “If only the abolitionists could see how happy our people are…..The idea of unhappiness would never enter the mind of any one witnessing their enjoyments” [18] as well as Jefferson Davis who in response to the Emancipation Proclamation called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.” [19]

The images of the Lost Cause, was conveyed by numerous writers and Hollywood producers including Thomas Dixon Jr. whose play and novel The Clansman became D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a groundbreaking part of American cinematography which was released in 1915; Margaret Mitchell who penned the epic Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With the Wind which in its 1939 film form won ten academy awards immortalized the good old days of the old South with images of faithful slaves, a theme which found its way into Walt Disney’s famed 1946 animated Song of the South.

The Lost Cause helped buttress the myths that both comforted and inspired many Southerners following the war. “It defended the old order, including slavery (on the grounds of white supremacy), and in Pollard’s case even predicted that the superior virtues of cause it to rise ineluctably from the ashes of its unworthy defeat.” [20] The myth helped pave the way to nearly a hundred more years of effective second class citizenship for now free blacks who were often deprived of the vote and forced into “separate but equal” public and private facilities, schools and recreational activities. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent organizations harassed, intimidated, persecuted and used violence against blacks.

“From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” [21] Lynching was common and even churches were not safe. It would not be until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks would finally begin to gain the same rights enjoyed by whites in most of the South.

That radical thought is still out there. The League of the South posted this on its website:

This 14th of April will mark the 150th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln. The League will, in some form or fashion, celebrate this event. We remember Booth’s diary entry: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” A century and a half after the fact, The League of the South thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity. [22]

Michael Hill, the co-founder of this organization wrote:

“As a traditional Christian Southerner, I want no part of “America.” I’m not talking about a particular piece of land in the western hemisphere; rather, I am talking about an idea, a proposition, a regime, a way of life. I am a Southerner, an old-fashioned Christian. The status of “American” is my antithesis.

Now before you tell me to “Love it or leave it” and pack up and move somewhere else, let me explain. The South, Alabama in particular, is my home. It is also a captive colony of this American monstrosity. Yes, many of our citizens have, wittingly or unwittingly, embraced Americanism for either survival or profit. I have not, and I intend to convince my fellow Southerners to join my side. I do not intend to leave Alabama or the South. Nor do I intend to leave them in the clutches of America. I intend to fight, and if necessary kill and die, for their survival, well-being, and independence.” [23]

William Ruffin outlived Lincoln who was killed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14th 1864. However the difference between the two men was marked. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln spoke in a different manner than Ruffin. He concluded that address with these thoughts:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” [24]

I have ancestors on both sides of my family who fought for the Confederacy. While they are my ancestors I cannot subscribe to or honor the cause for which they fought, and for which at least one died. The Confederate flag, though a part of American history is a symbol of White Supremacy, hatred and rebellion. The only reason that I can think that any group would want to fly thirty-two of them is to proclaim that their cause still lives and that they have not abandoned the ideology and beliefs of their ancestors. This is not about displaying history. It is all about promoting White-Christian Supremacy and to again elevate the myth of the Lost Cause as truth.

For me, the words and actions as well as the symbols of the old and new Confederates stand in stark contrast to those support and defend. I sincerely hope that they and their cause eventually fade away to insignificance without again bringing us to civil war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Holley, Peter These Texas rebels say the American flag is more racist than the Confederate flag Washington Post 8 April 2015 retrieved 10 April 2015 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/08/these-texas-rebels-say-the-american-flag-is-more-racist-than-the-confederate-flag/?tid=sm_fb

 

[2] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.511

[3] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.511

[4] Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.67

[5] Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865). Diary entry, June 18, 1865. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Retrieved from http://blogs.loc.gov/civil-war-voices/about/edmund-ruffin/ 24 March 2014

[6] Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan Alan T. editors The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.15

[7] Dew, Charles Apostles of Disunion p.16

[8] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury p.104

[9] Davis, Jefferson The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Volume One of Two, A public Domain Book, Amazon Kindle edition pp.76-77

 

[10] Gallagher, Gary and Nolan, Alan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[11] Millet Allen R and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, a division of McMillan Publishers, New York 1984 p.230

[12] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[13] Hunter, Lloyd The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at the Lost Cause Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.185

[14] McPherson, James The Battle Cry of Freedom p.854

[15] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.186

[16] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[17] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[18] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free p.106

[19] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.16

[20] Guelzo, Allen Fateful Lightening p.525

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[22] Hill, Michael Honoring John Wilkes Booth League of the South Website http://leagueofthesouth.com/honoring-john-wilkes-booth569/ retrieved 10 April 2015

[23] Hill, Michael. Why I am Not an American League of the South Website http://leagueofthesouth.com/why-i-am-not-an-american-566/ retrieved 10 April 2015

[24] Ibid. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

 

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The Never Ending Struggle Against Racism and Its Terrible Effects

ted-nugent-sotu-ap

On the 149th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg washed up rocker and right wing political activist Ted Nugent wrote in the Washington Times: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”  I found his remark appalling and disgraceful but I have come to expect such comments from him and and others who voice similar sentiments. If Nugent’s rant was a one time slip of the tongue there might be some grace, but even last week he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” a term so load with Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow and Nazi imagery it defies imagination to hear it used today. When I hear such words spoken towards anyone I can only believe that the man that utters them is an unrepentant racist bent on the reestablishment of White Supremacy.

When I hear such sentiments, I think of men like Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a college professor who served in the Union Army and won fame and the Medal of Honor for the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. There is a quote from the film Gods and Generals which I think about when I hear anyone suggesting that it would have been better for the Confederacy to have won the war:

“Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it, Tom. War is a scourge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic coercion of one group of men over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis. It exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right in front of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness, there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine, is part of the price to end this curse and free the Negro, then let God’s work be done.”

There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When the war ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union. As a penalty his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia were confiscated and sold by the Federal Government. James Dundas was a true believer in the romantic and confused myth of the “Lost Cause.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. But that is something that I will not do. While some join that organization to honor their ancestors, others that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument for the South is “states rights” or “economic freedom.” Those that make these arguments frequently romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. But sadly they often ignore or obscure the racism and evil of the Southern economic system.

full_1361408284slave.market

The “rights” and the “economic freedom” espoused by those that led the secession and that are lamented by those like Nugent were categorically evil. Those rights and freedoms were built upon the rotten edifice of slavery. The South fought to maintain their rights to enslave and exploit Blacks to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization enshrines the myth of the “Lost Cause” no matter what my family connections.

Some attempt to place the blame on the North, to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners. These arguments serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because to such people the “cause” is greater.

The fact was that the longer the Southern economy relied on agriculture supported slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress. The same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. Because it cast its lot with King Cotton and slavery the South lagged in all industrial areas to include transportation infrastructure. Most non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line. They were disrespected by the wealthy Plantation owners only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them in the sociological and economic hierarchy.

To support its slave economy the South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the United States. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law and even raised troops and threatened to revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners.  The only exception to this were those that owned the land and the slaves, and small numbers of entrepreneurs. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even Southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians all broke away from their parent denominations in the 1840s over the issue of slavery.

So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of  the “cause” that one has to wonder just why Southern political and religious were willing to defend such an inadequate and evil economic system. Perhaps it was an innate sense of racial superiority that ran deep in the South, perhaps it was a misplaced sense of political pride and honor. Regardless of the reason, the war that they brought about devastated their homeland. The radicals that ran “Reconstruction” after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and impeded any real efforts to promote reconciliation between the races and between the regions.  Their misguided and often brutal rule ensured that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

BWeqwULCEAA72jU.jpg-large

Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are most often used as a symbol of continued racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by White Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s.

Some of this is based on libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business. Some is religious opposition to some social policies, while some is based in xenophobic racial hatred, not just of Blacks, but also Latin Americans, Asians and Middle Eastern immigrants. The divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War.

I often see the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Somehow I find the display of that flag outside of its historic context revolting.

For such people the Federal Government is the enemy. I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance or ideology.

Today quite a few people on the political right call for revolt or secession. Some moderate politicians have attempted to compromise with such radicals, but those efforts only make things worse. Radicals are never satisfied and view compromise as weakness. Thus Thomas Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion. We have allowed those with almost no historical understanding and who promote myth stake claims and promote ideas that are destructive to our union. Unfortunately I do not think that we have reached the high water mark of this movement. I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as some prepare for conflict.

A few months after the Battle of Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln made a few remarks at Gettysburg war cemetery.  Lincoln is reviled by men like Nugent and others that romanticize the Lost Cause. He is often demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today, but his remarks are still remarkably pertinent:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today with so many radicals doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s words. We need to rededicate ourselves to this Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked in 2011:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right and that Ted Nugent and those like him or defend his hateful ideology are ignorant racist fools. But hatred, ignorance and the belief in myth are often quite powerful in the hands of those who desire to maintain their power at any cost. History proves this, thus we must always confront them and not back down until we truly know that “new birth of freedom.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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