The Strawman as Other

The exchanges in the comments section during the last several weeks have reminded me that one of the characteristics of such arguments is that certain people construct strawmen in order to establish something to attack.  Ironically, the people who do this often are quite intent on saying that whatever they are defending has been subjected to the same sort of distortion and stereotyping.  Thus we hear of “anti-Southern”/”anti-Confederate” bloggers who supposedly are out to “evilize” the South as part of a “politically-correct” crusade.

Bunk.  The same goes for people who claim that these bloggers “hate” their critics.  Hate?  Really?

In such cases the line between amusement and boredom is rather quickly crossed.

One wonders what ends such irrational and extremist rhetoric is intended to serve.  One also wonders whether such language is deliberate distortion or sincerely-felt responses that tell us much more about the person making the claims and charges than about the people and arguments being characterized.

On the other hand, as we can see here, some commenters have made the big time with their rants.  Way to go, Connie!

Saturday Funnies

You can always rely on some things never changing, even during Thanksgiving.  From the gift that keeps on giving … more defenders of Confederate heritage complaining that people misunderstand slavery …

I perceive that almost all Black folk, now enjoying an artificial privileged status, only want to talk about the past if Whites come crawling on their hands and knees begging for forgiveness for the past “sins of slavery”. I WONT DO THAT!
Now, I could be wrong about my perception but I think not. I for one am quite willing to discuss the issue as I am convinced I probably know more about involuntary African servitude than most of them and they could learn from those of us who do. But I bet that they think, in their arrogance, that by virtue of their race alone they know more, therefore hold the high ground.

To which another poster replied:

… what past sins of slavery are you referring to? Slaves had free housing, free food, free clothing, free medical care, free child care, free old age care, and free job training. All they had to do in return was work 9 hours a day with Sundays off to attend church.

Yup, it’s all about heritage, not hate.  Of course, there may be a little fear there, too … for, as another poster notes elsewhere:

The Census Bureau has now fixed at 2041 the year when whites become a minority in a country where the Founding Fathers had restricted citizenship to “free white persons” of “good moral character.”

I guess some people are getting nervous.

Emancipation as a Licence to Steal and Kill?

From the gift that keeps on giving

Did you know that …

The Emancipation also gave carte blanche for any murders that slaves committed when they left their homes in their new freedom. In other words, Lincoln told the slaves of the South that any and all atrocities that they might commit in wresting the “freedom” that he had given them would not be prosecuted by the United States Government.

And that’s not all … according to Ann DeWitt …

Lincoln’s approval for slaves to destroy property, etc. was an end of war learned behavior; and many today choose to ignore the present day impact. …and guess who started it all and became the “Great Emancipator…” …emancipated from the cradle to prison.

It’s all Abe’s fault (although Ms. DeWitt also blames Grant).

I’m not sure how to reconcile Ann DeWitt’s claim with her claims about religion, African Americans, and their support of the Confederacy.  First she tells us about how the enslaved were willing to forgive … then she tells us that blacks went out stealing and murdering.  Such is the logic displayed by the discoverer of the regiment of black cooks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I close in on the first anniversary of Crossroads, I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.  This year I will be the token gringo at a Mexican Thanksgiving feast I like to call Occupy the Ortegas, although I will not be alone for long.  No word yet on whether Sheriff Joe Arpaio will join us.  Then it’s on to Black Friday, which commemorates the nighttime seizure of Lookout Mountain some 148 years ago by Union soldiers seeking doorbuster deals.  Rumor is that news that new items had arrived the next morning inspired George Thomas’s men to swarm over Missionary Ridge in an unstoppable wave in search of bargains.

The Holidays and History

We’re about to embark on six weeks worth of holidays to mark the end of the calendar year.  It’s a time for celebration and reflection, recreation and recommitment.  It’s also a time for gatherings of family and friends.

In short, it’s time for everyone to tell me that they know history, too.

That’s right.  Whenever I arrive at some holiday gathering, a time when I’m not supposed to be at work, I find myself at work again, under fairly trying circumstances that make oral examinations in grad school a piece of cake (well, actually in my case, they were a piece of cake, but I digress).  Someone finds out what I do for a living, and they feel compelled to ask me what I think, followed by telling me why I’m wrong, because there’s (a) an old saying that they’ve taken to heart (“history is written by the winners” is my favorite) (b) they’ve read something someplace (c) they watched a show (d) they want to share an observation that begins “isn’t it true that … ,” which is a sure sign that what follows is not true, and so on.

I’ve had my father-in-law tell me that he knows it to be a fact that after the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant went back to work at his father’s general store, which made him wonder why he became president.  He read it somewhere (I don’t think there’s a copy of anything I’ve ever written in that household).  I never knew white noise could be so intense.

Now, there will be those of you out there who tell me that I should be honored that people are actually interested in what I do and in my field of study.  Spare me.  These people are determined to tell me that they know more about history than anyone else could ever know, and they aren’t interested in what I think … they are interested in telling me what they think, because they know the truth, because they read it or saw it somewhere.  They are rarely sure exactly where, of course.

Note that no one comes up to a chemist and begins to talk about the grand experiments they performed with their chemistry set they received one Christmas.  No one tells a lawyer that they know a lot about the law because they watched Boston Legal or L.A. Law.  No one tells a soldier that they know how challenging combat is because they’ve played Call of Duty.  And a woman would be sorely tempted to slap the man who claimed to understand the pains of giving birth because they were in the delivery room.  But history?  Sure, they know all about it.  They can tell you about how Lincoln won the American Revolution (and, if in trying to be helpful, you suggest that they might mean Benjamin Lincoln, they will look at you in astonishment, and chide you for forgetting the fellow who flew that kite to attract lightning in order to demonstrate the principles of nuclear fission).  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It was with that in mind that I watched the video below, which Kevin Levin kindly brought to my attention before posting it in a somewhat different context on Civil War Memory.

Before you laugh too loud, this curious discourse (which echoes in bizarre ways arguments advanced elsewhere … Morris read Kevin Phillips’s The Cousins’ Wars [1998], which is an odd book) sounds like some people I’ve encountered at holiday gatherings (except you can chose whether or not to hear Morris hold forth on other historical topics, in the spirit of Andrew Napolitano and Chris Matthews [a swing at the right, a swing at the left]).

Here’s Morris on how the Union won the Civil War:


Man, does Dick Morris look like Michael Fellman.  Look here …

That’s right, the historian Michael Fellman.  Is there any other?

Note that as you click on these videos, you lead Morris to believe that his views are in demand, which will encourage him to offer still more discussions on history, which will provide more fodder for blog posts.  Feed the monster.

Enjoy the holidays … and spare the historians.  We’d appreciate it.

The Confederate Flag Controversy in Historical Perspective

Recently I posted a link to a statement by several historians in support of the display of the Confederate flag in South Carolina.  It occurred to me that in so doing, I had deprived readers of hearing other observations made at the time.  So you can look here and here (the latter concerning a related controversy in Georgia) to sample the diversity of informed opinion offered by Americans at the time.

No word yet on how many of these people are now members of this group.

History as Memory

Sit back and think …. what is the first historical event that you remember?

For me, the answer is easy:

November 22, 1963 … some 48 years ago.

I recall this event rather distinctly because that day I was in a play at Seaford Avenue School, as the second “N” in Thanksgiving for Miss Bayliss’s first grade class.  My grandmother (mother’s side) had come down from Great Neck to see my inaugural appearance on stage.  We did not hear about the shooting or the president’s death at school; the first I heard of it was when I arrived home after the usual noisy bus ride to see my mother in tears.

It was a tough week in the Simpson household, for that very week my grandfather (father’s side) had passed away.  I was not present at any of the funeral events that followed; however, I distinctly recall sitting before our large black and white television for the next four days as I watched the Kennedy funeral and the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.  For weeks to come one could not escape the impact of the assisination, from magazine covers with their color pictures through the early stages of the discussion of the assassination itself.

In the summer of 1966 we would visit Washington and make our way to Arlington, where we saw the Kennedy burial sight from the front porch of Arlington House.  It was far different then, for the current site was still in the planning stages.  The following year I recall becoming engrossed in one of the first adult history books I had a chance to peruse: William Manchester’s The Death of a President.  It’s still a tremendous read, and I think it’s stood the test of time rather well, although at the time several of the Kennedys were none too happy with some of what Manchester had to say, especially about tensions between the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson (after all, Bobby Kennedy was contemplating his political future).  It’s a point of some pride with me that when Manchester’s daughter Laurie joined our faculty as a professor of Russian history that she mentioned to me that her father knew who I was.

What’s your first memory of a historical event?


A Defense of the Confederate Flag

One of this blog’s most determined (and angriest) commenters shared this link in a comment, and I thought it should get the full attention it is due.  It’s an effort to defend the use of the Confederate battle flag on top of the South Carolina State House.  Of course, the flag came down, although it is still displayed on the state house grounds, where it is still a subject of controversy.


New Discoveries From Ann DeWitt

Ann DeWitt, who oversees a website that claims to explore the world of black Confederate solders, has offered a new explanation as to why blacks willingly served the Confederacy:

People also forget that slaves were converted to Christianity. When you read some of the slave narratives, you will see common themes because of their Christian beliefs. Such as forgiveness, honoring  thy mother and father, and seeking rewards from heaven and not earth. Thus, many blacks forgave and went to war based on family reasons to protect their love ones to the best of their ability because in the end heaven was their greater reward and home.

To help us all out, Ms. DeWitt offers:

… the top 9 bible scriptures which may have influenced 19th Century Christian Southern slaves and freedman in serving and staying throughout the war with the Confederate States Army and Navy. I surmise that Christian values exhibited by many 19th Century Christian slaves and freedman have often been misconstrued by 20th/21st Century pundits as “happy slave” syndrome.

In her way, Ms. Dewitt’s outdone herself again … for this is right up there with her discovery of a regiment of black Confederate cooks.

By the way, Connie Chastain can’t say she overlooked this one.  Her comment in reply to the first observation?

Royal, like so many on this thread, you bring up an excellent point.

The delusions continue.