February 22, 2011

Your Side Lost. Get Over It.

There's an old episode of Family Guy where the family is relocated to the "deep South" as part of a witness protection program.  Peter and Brian attend a "Southern tradition" - a reenactment of the Civil War.  The reenactment actually consists of one guy playing a sober, dignified Robert E. Lee who is being insulted by a drunken U.S. Grant.  Lee gets up from the table, pushes Grant over on his ass ("I am vanquished!"), turns to the crowd and says, "I hereby declare victory, in the name of the Confederacy!"  The crowd cheers.  Peter stands up and points out the obvious - that's not how it happened ("that drunken idiot kicked your asses south of the Donna Dixon line!").  Unpleasantness ensues.

I used to think what made that scene so funny was that it took a kernel of truth, that Southerners still haven't gotten over losing the Civil War, and blew it up to an outrageous extreme.  I'm not so sure how outrageous it is anymore.

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War gets underway, some folks in the South are marking the occasion as something worth celebrating.  Something worth remembering fondly.  You know, like they won the war, or something.

First there was the "secession ball" held in (the other) Charleston last year.  Invitations promised "a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink."  What better way to commemorate the beginning of a crisis that nearly tore the country apart?

Now, last weekend we had a celebration of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the CSA.  At the event:
an amateur actor playing Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy on the steps of the Alabama Capitol on Saturday, an event framed by the firing of artillery, the delivery of defiant speeches and the singing of 'Dixie.'

What both events have in common, aside from a creepy nostalgia founded on the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, is the relegation of slavery to a bit part in the whole thing, if it's even mentioned at all:
The Sons [of Confederate Veterans]’ principal message was that the Confederacy was a just exercise in self-determination that had been maligned by “the politically correct crowd” through years of historical distortions. It is the right of secession that they emphasize, not the cause, which they often describe as a complicated mix of tariff and tax disputes and Northern attempts to politically subjugate the South.

The other matter of subjugation — that is, slavery — went unmentioned on Saturday. (Davis himself did not refer to it in his inaugural address, but he emphasized the maintenance of African slavery as a cause for secession in other high-profile settings.). And the issue of slavery was largely brushed aside in interviews as a mere function of the time, and not a defining feature of the Confederacy.

The idea that slavery played a bit role in the Civil War is, of course, horseshit as any number of Confederate leaders were happy to tell you at the time (see statements collected in these posts).  The fact that, in 2011, people stand up and assert otherwise comes down to two things.  One is our piss poor history education in this country, which mangles the Civil War up until the college level (in my experience).  The other is the fairly large hunk of Southerners who need to justify the actions of their ancestors and therefore do all they can to make the war about anything other than slavery.

The first problem can be fixed.  I don't know about the second one.  Folks are free to buy into whatever revisionist history they want, of course.  Hopefully, one day, those who try to divorce the Civil War from slavery will be no the same plane as Holocaust deniers - marginalized and mocked by those with some connection to the real world.  Will it happen in time for the 200th anniversary?  Somehow, I doubt it.

No comments:

Post a Comment