Greatest Hits from Civil Warriors: The “Politically Correct” Strawman

(this post originally appeared in somewhat different form on Civil Warriors, November 13, 2009; note that the blog in question is a multiauthor or group blog, and I’m replying to one of the bloggers, whose views may or may not be shared by his colleagues)

The blogosphere’s an interesting place.  Really.  Anyone can gain a measure of legitimacy by setting up a blog or posting reviews on Amazon or making comments on websites.  In an age of ever-opening information and access, everyman can be his own historian, as Carl Becker once put it … and everywoman as well.

Indeed, blogs are one way to challenge the supposed boundaries between professional and amateur, scholar and buff.  People who would not have gotten a hearing twenty years ago are now players in an ever-broadening discussion about the history of the Civil War era.  I count many of these people among my friends, even if they rooted for the wrong team in this past fall classic.

But with access comes responsibility.  If one enters the conversation and wishes to be taken seriously, then one must not run away when one is taken seriously and has one’s arguments subjected to scrutiny.  Here’s one example.

I don’t care much for the phrase “politically correct.”  All too often it’s simply a signpost that the author has decided that whatever he/she finds disagreeable can be dismissed simply by calling it “politically correct.”  It’s a neat way of sidestepping the issue of whether something is historically accurate, and it carries with it the assumption (an all-too-revealing one) that one’s perspective on historical events is hostage to one’s political beliefs.  Oddly enough, that characterization is often quite true when it comes to describing the very people who resort to this cant of “political correctness” as a substitute for sustained historical analysis.

Can anyone identify a scholar who subscribes to the set of beliefs outlined in this blog entry?  Does such a person exist?  Or is this to be taken as being more along the lines of a screed protesting uncomfortable truths by distorting them?

So, tell me, dear readers … can you name a historian who embraces the notion that the North was 100% right or the South 100% wrong?  I can’t, especially as “the North” is a rather diverse place, as is “the South,” and there was no single “Northern position” or “Southern position” (for example, black slaves in the South were southerners, too, as all those fans of black Confederates like to tell us).   Does any historian say that slavery was the only difference between North and South (especially as some slave states did remain in the Union)?  And what is this rant about black Confederates?  I don’t know of any historian who rejects the notion that the Confederacy employed slave labor (thus Butler’s contraband policy), or that a handful of people of African American ancestry served in Confederate ranks.  The debate is over what this means, as well as a demand that those who argue that there were tens of thousands of African Americans who voluntarily served in Confederate ranks produce a shred of evidence to support their contention (this is one place where the cry of “politically correct” comes across loudest, from people who would rather not submit their assertions to any sort of scrutiny).

Much the same can be said for some of the claims the author of this column makes about Reconstruction (the author’s own blog reminds us that he is also a “top 500 Amazon .com reviewer”).  And, of course, there are also some bizarre assumptions implied in the post.  Is someone going to argue seriously that Gone With the Wind (both the movie and the novel, but especially the novel) was not influenced by racist assumptions?  Its history of Reconstruction shows its dependence on a combination of the Dunning school, Thomas Dixon, and Claude Bowers.  The author is so angry about John Brown that he comes up not once, but twice, in the laundry list, but he has some kind words to say about the Ku Klux Klan as being somewhat misunderstood.

But here’s my favorite part of the rant:  “A defining trait of the PCM is the insistence that there is no such thing as the Politically Correct Myth of the American Civil War.  A second part of this argument is that there is no such thing as political correctness, just the truth.”  In short, to challenge this garbage is evidence that the author’s charges are true.

People who know me know I don’t suffer foolishness or stupidity gladly.  Sometimes the best way to deal with it is to circulate it for wider discussion in order to expose it for what it is.

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9 thoughts on “Greatest Hits from Civil Warriors: The “Politically Correct” Strawman

  1. Brett Schulte February 26, 2011 / 8:51 am

    As I did at Civil Warriors, I want to point out that TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog tends to be a pretty diverse place in terms of opinions on the Civil War. As creator of the blog, I allow contributors to post what they want as long as it pertains to the Civil War. I do not necessarily agree with all of those posts, but I allow them to be posted and I allow comments criticizing them as well.

    I encourage those readers who find TOCWOC through this blog entry to make sure you check out more than just one blog post, one which I would not describe as very typical of TOCWOC. At the very least, recognize that different people post at TOCWOC, so please don’t paint with a broad brush as a recent commenter did at Andy Hall’s Dead Confederates site.

    I want to conclude with the thought that this comment is in no way directed at Brooks, who took one blog post and challenged it, much the same way Andy challenged one of Jim Durney’s posts at Dead Confederates. My fear is that many people unfamiliar with TOCWOC will see one blog post and assume every post at TOCWOC is the same.

  2. Andy Hall February 26, 2011 / 9:15 am

    It may be helpful to note that the blog you cite above, TOCWOC, is a group blog and Jim Durney is only one of several authors there. The bloggers have very different approaches.

    Durney is, among other things, and advocate of the black Confederate soldiers narrative, using much the same “evidence” as other websites. His use of Arthur Fremantle’s account of two incidents in the Gettysburg campaign was particularly notable, as he misrepresented the English officer’s description of these events so completely – and always in ways that favored his thesis — that it cannot be anything other than intentional.

    • Kevin February 26, 2011 / 10:21 am

      That is one of the dangers of the group blog. One bad apple does reflect poorly on the overall quality of the site. That is not to say that all of the contributors must be held responsible for the views of one person, but you can’t fault someone for drawing broader conclusions. In fact, they would be irresponsible not to do so.

      • Lyle Smith February 26, 2011 / 11:20 am

        I have to disagree with this logic. If you’re not ignorant of the fact that it is a group blog and know that the blog provides a platform to all views related to the Civil War, why would you ever draw any broader conclusions about the blog from one blogger’s views? This is kind of like people judging a solo blogger by the blogger’s comment section, as if the views in the comments are an extension of the blogger’s own views. That’s not responsible thinking, but irresponsible thinking.

        I agree with Andy Hall’s approach. You judge and interact with the blogger on their own, based on their own words.

      • Andy Hall February 26, 2011 / 12:04 pm

        @Lyle:

        I didn’t initially realize myself, though, that TOCWOC was a group blog when I initially criticized it, until Bret recently set me straight on that. So, mea culpa, y’all.

  3. Brett Schulte February 26, 2011 / 12:16 pm

    Thank you Lyle. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. Closed-minded people who are sure they are always right tend to paint with a broad brush with no critical thinking. See The Raven’s comment at Andy’s site for a textbook example.

    I don’t see any “danger” in a group blog. The entire byline screams group blog and the disclaimer page is also in the top menu. Instead, I see it as an opportunity for a lot of different viewpoints to interact, both through the comments and through responses to the other authors’ work. See my responses to Jim here and here for example.

    I see a group blog like an anthology of essays by different authors. If you don’t agree with one author’s essay or an author is later found to have fabricated sources, do you throw out the rest of the book as well?

  4. Kevin February 26, 2011 / 1:30 pm

    Lyle,

    You can disagree all you want. In this case I know that Brett’s blogging has value, but in cases where I can’t identify anyone in the group I tend to stay away rather than try to sift through the garbage. I have a very high threshold for the credentialing of Online content.

    Finally, your analogy with the comments section of a blog doesn’t work because everyone understand that those contributions are external to the content of the site itself.

    • Lyle Smith February 26, 2011 / 3:24 pm

      I do. The comments analogy is not perfect, I admit… but its useful, because not everyone understands that those contributions are external, otherwise some people wouldn’t use comments from a comment section to criticize the blogger themselves, which people do. In the political blogosphere this happens often. Things get personal, people grab hold of whatever they can find and throw it…. even if it’s not the blogger’s own words or view.

      I just don’t agree with the idea that is responsible thinking to assume what a blog is about based on one blogger’s post, particular when the name most associated with the blog is Brett Schulte and not Jim Durney. Further reconnoitering is required beyond the one post, I think. Now as to the actual post and its author, you know, fire away.

      Look, I have been guilty of rushing to judge people or groups of them on much less than a blog post. We’re all irresponsible with our thinking from time to time.

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