Thursday, August 6, 2015

History According to Jim, Vol. 1, No. 13

Confederate Monuments Need to Go

            In a closed historical society on FaceBook last night I got into an argument that would later collapse into polemic bickering over politics. The controversy began when one member posted an informative post about a confederate monument being boxed up to protect it.
This was not a post made to start a debate in my opinion. I feel that the person who posted did so merely to share a story which he did. A rational conversation was taking place until some people started making comments supporting the retention of the monuments to traitors. From there the conversation devolved into the argument. My rebuttal went as such: 

                        Monuments are placed according to the values of the cultures that place them. Those values change over time. In the case of many of these monuments in question the values were those of white supremacists who controlled the governments that placed the monuments. Should those monuments which were placed not to honor the men that participated in the CW, but instead to commemorate white supremacy remain when the current society rejects those values?

            At that point the reason men fought in that war came up. In the case of the Confederacy, every man who fought for the South did so knowing that he was helping preserve slavery whether he wanted to or not. It may not have been the main reason for their being in the Confederate military. However, it played a role in their choices. This has been borne out in multiple studies. James McPherson has detailed this quite well in his studies on the subject. He has advanced beyond the older interpretations of why Confederate soldiers fought through his analysis of primary sources and states that ideology played a very strong role in their will to fight. Here is the blurb for his book:

McPherson, James M.. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

James M. McPherson is a professor of United States History at Princeton University. Professor McPherson has written many pieces about the social history civil war soldiers. In this book, McPherson compiles a sample of soldiers from the Union and Confederate sides and analyzes thousands of letters and hundreds of diaries from them to come to his conclusions that he provides in his book. McPherson argument is broken down into three parts. First, McPherson argues that the enlistment motivations for union and confederate soldiers included: patriotism, a sense of duty and honor, the spirit of adventure, and communal pressure. These reasons for enlistment serve close to Dr. Wiley Bell’s argument and Dr. James Robertson arguments for soldier enlistment, however, McPherson takes the argument further to encompass motivations that kept soldiers fighting during the war. McPherson concludes that political ideology, religion, leadership, honor, and courage are the driving that kept the soldiers fighting. McPherson, however, gives the most weight to political ideology and finds that soldiers were more aware of the political ramifications of the war than previous historians have given credit.

            I also brought up Joseph Glatthaar’s research on the Army of Northern Virginia and it too was dismissed as was McPherson’s research. Sorry folks, but you do not hold a candle to either one of these two men. What is really going on here is that the placement of the confederate monuments to support the lie of the Lost Cause and white supremacy has influenced the beliefs of people. It can be very subtle, but in analyzing the argument last night it became pretty clear that the influence was there. The men who fought for the Confederacy did so knowing they were supporting slavery. They may have been lied to, coerced, or something (they sure were not well paid), but they still fought for their way of life which was white supremacy based on black chattel slavery.

            However, when it comes to giving these men monuments, let’s look at that a moment. Most of the monuments were erected to enshrine the Lost Cause lie thereby helping to continue a new version of white supremacy. How is a man who took up arms against the lawful government of the United States of America a hero? Confederate soldiers did fight bravely. Anyone who fought in that war was brave. It was a deadly conflict and by far the bloodiest we have ever had. Yet, why were those men given hero status while the men from the same states, same counties, same towns, and sometimes same families ignored when they fought for the Union? Why were the black men who fought against the slave power ignored by those who erected those monuments? 

            No, those monuments were erected to create a lie which is known as the Lost Cause. There was no united south in that conflict. The cause of the conflict was slavery. The men who started the war were secessionists who attacked Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor on the orders of Jefferson Davis. Ft. Sumter was the legal property of the United States of America. Secession was and still is unconstitutional without the consent of the Federal government. There is no compact of states because the compact theory has been rejected by the US Supreme Court multiple times prior to the Civil War. 

            Here’s the thing with the Lost Cause. Those monuments help preserve that lie. They are not representing actual history. They are representing a false history. The entire argument that we has last night came about because of the way those monuments preserve a lie. They’ve been doing so for several generations. You want history? Get rid of the monuments and put up ones that explain what happened. Admit the truth and quit hiding behind the myths. What the Confederate monuments do commemorate are men who committed treason and fought for a cause that was all about preserving slavery. Preserving them for that purpose has meaning as long as that meaning is expressed and explained clearly. Somehow I do not expect the SCV and UDC to be happy when signage is put up explaining why those monuments were placed. 

Remember, the CBF has never been used as a symbol of racism
            Personally, I think they should be removed, but I do think this is where a case-by-case situation exists. Several other bloggers have stated that the local community should be the people that make the decisions regarding the monuments. Interestingly, local communities are being denied that privilege by state governments who want to retain the lies of the lost cause. I find that ironic when they champion local control for government except when they don’t like the results. So let’s see how local communities made their choices. South Carolina took down the confederate battle rag finally. That would be a local choice. Note who threw a fit about it? 

 (Nazis are Confederates too? How about that? I haven't found that in historical documents, but it sure looks like these people think they were. Or was it Confederates are Nazis?)

 In Memphis the city decided to move the bodies of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife back to the place where Forrest wanted to be in the first place. Note that they were moved after their original internment so that they would be part of the Lost Cause lies. Who complained? Note how the state government reacted to renaming places a few years ago. Where was the concept of local control then? If you want local control to be real, then you have to let it exist with all the good and bad results.
Run, Forrest, Run

            Basically what we have is the dying gasp of a group of people trying to preserve a lie because it supports their belief structure. While I think C-4 is a good way to go for the monuments, others have decided to express their feelings with spray paint. I don’t think vandalism is necessary the best way to go, but those people are the people living with those monuments. If they want the chunks of rock that tell a lie to go, then the rocks need to go. What we are seeing is a transformation of perception on a large scale here (see Transformative Learning Theory by Jack Mezirow) and that perception is that the monuments are wrong. That perception is correct. The monuments are about a lie, not history.
Sound familiar?

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