Virginia Doesn’t Know Much About Confederate History
I’m a bit of a Civil War buff — which is to say that I needed to check off the “knows about war” box in the manship handbook and I picked this one. I’m no Shelby Foote (R.I.P.), but I’m conversant in most of the military and political history surrounding that war. Hey, it’s the war that (indirectly) set me free, and it’s easily the most interesting war America has ever been a part of.
I love and respect the history on both sides of the conflict. The Confederates fought with courage, pride, and tactical brilliance. Their fight is something to be remembered, something to be studied, something that deserves its place in the annals of American history.
It is not something to be proud of. Sorry Confederates (and modern sympathizers), you were on the wrong side. Not just on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of morality. The often heroic deeds undertaken by Confederates on the battlefield were in furtherance of an evil cause. I repeat, an evil cause. Let’s not forget that Southern hero Robert E. Lee fought for a pro-slavery state. Sure, he seems to have been really uncomfortable with slavery, but when the chips were down he chose state over morality. Can we respect the man as arguably the best American general? Absolutely. Should we be proud that our greatest general chose the morally reprehensible side? No we should not. Love of country cannot and should not trump love of your fellow man. Unless you are an asshole. Lee, for all of his laudable qualities, failed the crucial moral test of his life. I respect him, but he was a dick. There’s a difference between respect and pride.
That difference is apparently lost on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell…
When Virginia declared April “Confederate History Month,” I didn’t have a problem with it. On it’s face, it’s just about respecting history. I mean, I probably would have called it “Civil War History Month,” but I’d also call February “American History Not Made By White People Month.” Whatever. I wasn’t going to let Virginia’s insistence on pandering to angry white people obscure the fact that Civil War history is something we should all know something about.
In a Huffington Post poll, I joined a minority of people who said that it was okay for Virginia to make a Confederate History month, so long as “they do it objectively.”
But then I read McDonnell’s proclamation; the man couldn’t get through one sentence before making me wish U.S. Grant would rise and beat the bag out of the whole damn state, again:
WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse;
Look, I know that wealthy Southern slave holders sold the War as a “fight for independence” to the poor Southern soldiers who had no slaves. But it’s 2010. Do you really need to use an antebellum talking point in the first line of your message? Why would you do that? You want to talk about history, just say that Virginia “joined the movement to make slaveholding safe for rich people.”
And as long as we’re here: it was a freaking rebellion, Bob. A dirty, dishonorable, bloody REBELLION. Virginia couldn’t win the argument using the political structures of its day, and instead of working within the process (like civilized people) they went outside of the political process like a violent and petulant child. Own it. The Founding Fathers did.
Next up from Bingo Bob:
WHEREAS, 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;
I. Am. So. Sick of people telling me that it was a “different time,” as if that somehow made it okay to be a racist slaveholding jackass. There were a lot of people living at the very same time who knew full well that slavery was morally reprehensible. It’s not like any of these Confederates were unaware of the concept of equally created men — they just didn’t agree with it. Again, even the greatest Confederate General knew that slavery was wrong. Lee said “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”
So please don’t give me this different time BS. Confederates knew, Lee knew, that slavery was wrong and they all defended it anyway. As if the rights of any state, any country, could justify enslaving another human being. Slavers knew what they were doing was wrong, they just didn’t want to put an end to it on their own. There was too much money involved. Would you willingly give up free labor that also happened to be the backbone of your economy, or would General Sherman have to come and burn it out of your cold dead hands? That’s the history.
Why is it so hard to say “it was a different time, when many in our own state were morally misguided, or at the very least confused by their lust for riches.” It’s entirely possible to highlight the good without ignoring the evil.
WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present;
Sigh. Virginians fought and sacrificed in the UNION Army too. General George “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas springs to mind (because I wrote a paper on him in high school). He was a Virginian. Is his history not also to be recognized?
I thought Bob McDonnell was supposed to be the Governor of the whole state, not just a pandering jackass to the part that elected him.
It’s such a simple fix, honor ALL of Virginia’s sacrifices during the Civil War. Honor the War, not the ideals of the losing and incorrect side.
WHEREAS, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”
… And then those returning soldiers promptly instituted Jim Crow laws to ensure that the recently freed black people would suffer at least another 100 years of oppression at the hands of pissed off white people.
But, so long as we are on the subject of allegiance, would it be possible for Virginia Congressman and Republican Whip Eric Cantor to actually work with the (gasp) black dude that just happens to be President of the Country instead of vowing to not lift a red finger to do anything to help govern? Bob McDonnell, would you like to swear allegiance to the United States of America right now, or are you afraid that would hurt your street cred with the Tea Party thugs in your party?
I expect to hear you remind all of your supporters that Obama is an American born citizen. Otherwise, kindly STFU and leave the word allegiance to people who know what it means.
Sorry, I’m getting angry now:
WHEREAS, 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, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all
See Governor, this was really all you needed to say. If you were genuine about the need for Virginia to remember its history, this is all you would have said. The Civil War should be studied, understood, and remembered not just by all Virginians but by all Americans … in context. The context of a great evil, the context of a changing American economy, the context of moderate politicians (like Lincoln) who didn’t really like the old institution, but didn’t have a damn clue what to do with a suddenly free minority population, the context of new weapons of war and old tactical strategies and generals who don’t lead from the front. Does any of this sound familiar?
Even if you can’t see the parallels between the Civil War and our modern day conflicts, it’s still worth understanding: because we are still fighting it. Ultimately, that’s the problem with Virginia’s Confederate Month. Instead of a solemn and needed look at the history of events which still shape our lives, McDonnell’s version of it reads like the latest attack. The proclamation is the latest tactical maneuver from a polity that still thinks it can win this thing.
At least Bobby Lee didn’t use the great conflict between North and South for personal self-aggrandizement. Bobby McDonnell is trying to use it so white Virginians think he is a good Governor. Lee didn’t want to fight, McDonnell is spoiling for one. Lee is one of the most respected Americans in history despite being an asshole. It seems that all McDonnell learned from that great tradition is the asshole part.