The Glorious Cause

Below, J. L. Wall suggests that Rooster Cogburn’s character arc in True Grit is basically redemptive. I’m interested in an alternative hypothesis: What if Cogburn’s heroism is entirely consistent with his history as a Confederate guerrilla? Rooster shows no sign of being ashamed of his past; indeed, it’s not much of a stretch to say that his courage and frontier know-how are intimately linked to his wartime experience.

My favorite exchange in the new version of the film comes when LeBoeuf and Cogburn start arguing about their service in the Confederate army. If I encountered two World War II veterans squabbling over the merits of their respective Wehrmacht divisions, I would not give them the benefit of the doubt. But in the context of the film, it’s clear that LeBoeuf and Cogburn are basically decent, honorable men. They also happen to have fought for the Confederacy.

That bit of dialogue between LeBoeuf and Cogburn rang true because it gets at a peculiar human failing: Our unflagging ability to ignore or rationalize colossal moral blind spots even as we appear upstanding or even courageous in other circumstances. Read this article on Daniel Cobb, a respected and respectable citizen of Southampton, Virginia during the Civil War. The disconnect between the the man’s religious faith and his lifestyle is astonishing:

Cobb was a devout Methodist. He prayed every day, “kneeling, standing, walking, working sitting, prostrated on my face, lying on my bed, and even prayed in my sleep.” He devoted Sundays to churchgoing and quiet contemplation, fearful that those who failed to keep a strict Sabbath might “miss heaven . . . and being with Christ.” But that faith didn’t keep him from owning a dozen slave laborers who planted, cultivated and harvested his crops of corn and cotton. Indeed, he and some of them worshiped together at Indian Spring church (most churches in the Old South had black as well as white members; it was thought imprudent to allow slaves to organize separate congregations).

I liked True Grit because the film is unapologetic about Cogburn’s moral defects. He rode with Quantrill during the war. He was a bandit in New Mexico territory. He also saves Mattie’s life and tracks down her father’s killer. The frontier has always been a sort of gray area: Not quite barbaric, but not quite civilized either, and True Grit’s characters do a nice job of capturing that ambiguity.

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82 thoughts on “The Glorious Cause

  1. I refer here to True Grit as the greatest Western ever made, and I’ma stickin’ to it’! Here’s a blog I wrote:

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/postmodernconservative/2011/01/03/what-a-fellowship-what-a-joy-divine/

    Here’s a follow up blog by Peter Lawler on True Grit you may find of interest:

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/postmodernconservative/2011/01/16/the-next-level-of-true-grit-studies/

    The movie was brilliantly executed as the Coens usually do but I heard the book was better and I have to read it.

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  2. I will second that the conversation between the two was my favorite of the movie. I found it interesting because of the different views each man took specifically on Cogburn’s service. Rooster was obviously proud to have ridden with Quantrill while LeBoeuf clearly disdained that service since he was regular military in the more ‘official’ Army of Northern Virginia. My favorite line was when Cogburn was saying, “Captain Quantrill…” and LeBoeuf inerrupts him and kills the conversation by asking, “Captain of what?”

    I was a little put off by this statement of yours though Will:

    “Our unflagging ability to ignore or rationalize colossal moral blind spots even as we appear upstanding or even courageous in other circumstances.”

    Perhaps acting as a raider and committing true war crimes (The Lawrence, Kansas massacre) is indeed a moral failing of Cogburn, but should LeBoeuf also feel remorse for fighting for a losing cause with a traditional army? That seems akin to suggesting that any average soldier fighting on the losing side of a war should be ashamed.

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      • I could not diagree more strongly. I know this is well-worn ground but not every soldier was fighting to maintain slavery. In addition the estimates I’ve seen are that over 12% of Confederate troops were conscripted.

        I think it’s fair to say that commanding officers knew the politics involved and most of them bear some responsibility. To lay that at the feet of the average soldier is unfair.

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          • I don’t know that sustaining the institution of chattel slavery was a motivator as much as a byproduct for some of the Confederates, though.

            For example, I certainly would be pissed enough to shoot at Union troops if they tromped on my fields and shot my horse and raped my wife, even if I was an non-slave-owning abolitionist living in Georgia.

            I could easily see someone saying, “Look, this is effed up but we’re trying to fix it, here, and having an army come in and force the issue isn’t going to work, so back off”.

            That said, there was plenty of *defending slavery* explicitly going on, so this isn’t an excuse for the Confederacy as a whole.

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            • I was wondering when someone would get around to that.
              I served under Reagan.
              At that time, our stated mission was to stop the global spread of communism.
              I didn’t really give a damn about communism, one way or another.
              I did buy into all the hype. Wearing a uniform tends to give me a bit of an attitude.
              But really, all I wanted was a job, and I could see that the roofing work after the big hail storm wouldn’t last much longer.
              But I would have been just as willing to roof a Russian’s house.

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              • Well, the douchebags in charge don’t necessarily represent everybody on the ground, Will.

                This applies to armies the world over. People enlist in the military for lots of different reasons. Some of them are honorable, some are dishonorable, some are rationalizations, some are foolish, and some are pragmatic.

                Leaders decide what the army is going to do. This has repercussions, which can lead to all sorts of consequences; one of which might be somebody else joining the army.

                I’m pretty sure you would be able to find an abolitionist or two among the people living in the South. I’m pretty sure, among those abolitionists, you would have found one after the war who would have said, “this was not the right way to solve the problem”.

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                • I think part of it comes down to this. Let’s say that your country was doing something utterly abhorrent. Let’s say another country said that this is abhorrent and we’re going to take your country over to put an end to it. Do you take up arms? Does taking up arms, and handing over control of your country mean implicit support of the policy instigating all of this?

                  This is somewhat complicated by the fact that up until the war (and after, and during depending on how you look at it) their country was a part of the United States. HOWEVER, it was not necessarily viewed that way by the rank-and-file soldiers. Their state leaders had decided otherwise. So it comes down, to some extent as to whether you consider yourself an Alabamian or an American. Given the context of the time, the former view was not such an outlier as it would be today. And viewing Alabama as “your country” was a more reasonable assumption*. Maybe a wrong one, but one made independent of whether you agreed with the policy that caused the war or not.

                  They were, in a fashion, defending what they viewed their homeland to be. Against what they perceived to be invaders.

                  And lastly, independence (from a war they had no say in starting) meant avoiding what became of the South after the war. That’s not to criticize the harshness of reconstruction. I am more easily convinced that they should have been tougher on the South rather than easier on it. But I am not a resident of the South during this time period. It’s easy to talk about how they should have grinned and beared it for the poor decisions of their leadership.

                  (And lastly, none of this should be construed as arguing that slavery was not at the root of the rationale of the South’s actions. It was. And God Bless Lincoln for keeping the country whole. But it was the reason for the political leadership’s actions. The rank and file southerners had a much wider array of motivations.)

                  * – Even setting aside that the relationship between the states and federal government was different then compared to now, the grunts were far less likely to have ever visited any other states. They may have had relatives in other states, but their only contact with them was by letters. If my state left the US (for whatever reason, but particularly for a morally reprehensible one), I’d return home to visit family. That I talk to on the phone weekly. That I remain close to. If I’d never left the state that I was raised in, and if I didn’t have relatives smattered (with whom I am in regular contract) all across the country, I would probably view things quite differently. I would probably view “my homeland” much more locally.

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                  • > Let’s say another country said that
                    > this is abhorrent and we’re going
                    > to take your country over to put
                    > an end to it. Do you take up arms?

                    That would probably depend on several other factors.

                    I stick by my assertion on another thread: no war is justifiable that is not in defense of the homeland from an invader (I will make some ground for certain types of “bound by treaty/alliance”). War, however, is in practice always going to lead to immoral acts.

                    I’m not even willing to say for sure that war is a justifiable response, ever. My own thought processes are still out on that sticky widget. But I know for sure it ain’t okay to impose thy will via war.

                    That does not mean that all wars of defense are justifiable, either, but at the very least these people that are invading me are behaving immorally, iff’n you ask me.

                    So whether or not I take up arms or not is probably, at that point, directly and totally a matter of what I think is the set of actions that are going to lead to the least set of danger for my family.

                    (I will also readily admit that it’s possible I may occasionally make decisions that are not moral. I ain’t no saint. However, that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of recognizing immorality.)

                    For the record, I believe that it’s very possible to be in the moral equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru. If everyone around me is at war, and I think the war is immoral (or at least, questionably so) on either or both sides, I may not be afforded the opportunity of opting out of the situation. Life ain’t just about me and my convictions.

                    I’m not keen on the idea of killing anybody, ever, for any reason. I’m hard pressed to find it justifiable to do so. I have no doubt whatsoever that I would be ready, willing, and able to kill someone who was threatening my children or my wife, in the most horrible, brutal way. I mortgaged the absolute right to sit entirely on my own philosophical high ground when I got married, and I got rid of the remaining balance when my wife gave birth to our first.

                    Maybe that’s one reason why I like Jaybird so much in these parts: we’re both very attuned to the pack. I’m still muddling about what my responsibilities are to the world, humanity, the State, and the Almighty if It exists, but I know for damn sure that I owe a little core group of people allegiance by default.

                    > Does taking up arms, and handing
                    > over control of your country mean
                    > implicit support of the policy
                    > instigating all of this?

                    It may for some (although in those cases I would not be surprised if it was explicit support). It may not for others.

                    Again, if somebody is bringing troops across my land, and they’re burning my crops, and shooting my neighbors, their justification for doing so is only going to be marginally relevant for my personal decision about what to do, in that case.

                    > This is somewhat complicated by the
                    > fact that up until the war (and after,
                    > and during depending on how you
                    > look at it) their country was a part
                    > of the United States.

                    Not somewhat. Immensely.

                    Unlike Bob, I’m utterly unwilling to cede moral superiority to the southern gentlemen. I’m not certain that secession or dissolution from an established government is justifiable in all cases, let alone this one.

                    If the South was unjustified in their secession, you can argue that the war was a war of defense for the North, just like you could argue that in many senses the war was still practically a war of defense for some people in the South.

                    This is kinda what makes moral quandaries quandaries to begin with.

                    In any event, there were plenty of asshats who were promoting secession *primarily and just because* they wanted to keep slaves, it’s historical revisionism to claim otherwise. Those guys are the reason the whole thing came about. Screw them. They had no honor, and deserve nothing but unmarked graves.

                    I quote Jefferson Davis, Feb 14, 1850: “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.” Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.”

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                    • I stick by my assertion on another thread: no war is justifiable that is not in defense of the homeland from an invader.

                      I don’t see much coming out of a debate on the subject, but we disagree here, even with “bound by treaty/alliance” exception. I will say, though (and you allude to this) that there is a treaty/alliance factor with one’s neighbors and, at the time, with one’s state.

                      For the record, I believe that it’s very possible to be in the moral equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru. If everyone around me is at war, and I think the war is immoral (or at least, questionably so) on either or both sides, I may not be afforded the opportunity of opting out of the situation. Life ain’t just about me and my convictions.

                      This was a point I wanted to make, but did not (along with another, that I have difficulty articulating).

                      If the South was unjustified in their secession, you can argue that the war was a war of defense for the North, just like you could argue that in many senses the war was still practically a war of defense for some people in the South.

                      This is indeed my perspective. I also agree with your other point about secession not being justified in all cases.

                      In any event, there were plenty of asshats who were promoting secession *primarily and just because* they wanted to keep slaves, it’s historical revisionism to claim otherwise.

                      Yeah. I added the parenthetical because I didn’t want anyone to believe I believed otherwise. It was the thing from which everything else arose. And the thing that, if resolved, anything else would have been settled bloodlessly the same way that regional issues now are hashed out bloodlessly.

                      I would actually go a step further. They didn’t just want to keep slaves. They demanded the North to aid and abed that endeavor.

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                    • “That all men are created equal is a self-evident lie” was a popular phrase in the South, from a congressman named Petit [I looked it up once].

                      Many of the more “Enlightened” arguments against slavery—as opposed to the “Christian” ones—focused on the injustice of stealing a man’s labor, as well as the desultory effect on the slaveowners. But that “all men are created equal” regardless of race was not admitted even by Jefferson or Lincoln.

                      Again, we have a problem getting into the heads of men of that age and the ages before it. The Southerners kept the black man in a state of degradation, and indeed Frederick Douglass himself was delighted to learn—after he taught himself to read—that he was the white man’s equal.

                      Slavery as a political institution is often overlooked: the slaveowners had convinced themselves that their blacks were better off in bondage in America than bondage in Africa [let us recall it was the blacks of Africa who sold their excess captives to the slavetraders; Kunta Kinte was not snatched from his family by slaveraiders].

                      And of course, slavery in the ancient days was seen as a “humane” alternative to the outright slaughter of conquered enemies.

                      In Century 21, these considerations seem absurd, yet it was the prevailing mindset; some of it was comforting fiction, some of it an arguable realistic assessment of the way of the world.

                      Which is the “noble lie” [perhaps better translated as “magnificent myth”], Plato’s alphas, betas and gammas [gold, silver, and bronze/iron], or Christianity’s, that all men are created equal?

                      I do not quite support Mr. Cheeks’ thesis and argument, but this forum presumably prides itself on the free exchange of ideas, and I was shocked to see his comments threatened, as if there’s not enough palpably egregious nonsense that floats through here without comment.

                      Political correctness is the enemy of both philosophy and history. Nietzsche, for instance, a favorite hereabouts, is anything but politically correct.

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                    • Tom,
                      Thanks for your mature comments. Frankly, I’m not sure why Will found it necessary to threaten to ‘delete’ my ‘bloodthirsty’ comments. I’ve gone over them and don’t find anything anymore bloodthirsty then say, BlaiseP’s. Perhaps he was joking. If not I’d rather he just emailed me and asked me not to contribute. I really don’t enjoy sites where the commentariate-sp- are all ‘libruls’ or conservatives and talk happy talk among themselves.

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                    • Clearly, Mr. Cheeks, being a provocateur, a transgressive, a dissident, is a door that swings only one way in the current environment. I meself am waiting for a single libertarian voice like Matt Welch’s, who said very early on that Obama “stinks on ice.”

                      [Which he does, esp for a “libertarian.” He’s not even on record yet supporting gay marriage, so dear to the hearts of this “libertarian” crew. What’s to like?]

                      I take your arguments on behalf of the South—and more for the “solidarity” of the everyday Southerner who rallied to the “cause”—as opening a door of inquiry into the nature of political things, not an endorsement of slavery. That you would be even suspected of racism or, as a self-professed Christian, anything but a militant defender of the proposition that all men are created equal is a slander from anyone who’s read even a fraction of your comments on this blog. It’s just not right.

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                    • Tom (vD)

                      > The slaveowners had convinced
                      > themselves that their blacks
                      > were better off in bondage in
                      > America than bondage in Africa

                      This again may be true in cases, it’s certainly not universally true and in any event it’s clearly a rationalization. I mean, someone might be a “savage who is better off getting three squares and an eddication” than languishing under some tribesman somewhere… but no matter how incorrigible he may be, and how much largess you may grant out of the goodness of your soul… it’s clearly stupid to claim that his children and his children’s children aren’t deserving of freedom, especially when you’re educating them and giving them those three squares a day. Not all slaves came over on a boat, and I highly doubt that those who were defending slavery weren’t institutional slaveholders.

                      > [let us recall it was the blacks of
                      > Africa who sold their excess captives
                      > to the slavetraders; Kunta Kinte was
                      > not snatched from his family by
                      > slaveraiders].

                      I would like you to support this contention with a reference or three, please. While it’s true that early slave traders bought people who were already slaves, it’s my understanding that once the slave trade started to flourish, tribesman would wage slave raids specifically to find wares to sell to the Europeans, sometimes in effective joint ventures with those same Europeans.

                      In any event, culpability isn’t precisely a new concept.

                      > Again, we have a problem getting
                      > into the heads of men of that age
                      > and the ages before it.

                      Megh. There were plenty of published writings going back a long time condemning the slave trade. Bartolomé de las Casas lived in the 1500s, for crying out loud. Most European countries had abolished the slave trade before the American civil war. Most European countries had abolished *serfdom* prior to the American civil war, and serfs were clearly not chattel slaves.

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                    • Sorry, Mr. Cahalan, I’m not in the mood for 21st C armchair QBing.

                      I’m not defending anything. De las Casas, of whom I’m an admirer, as all men should be, didn’t have completely clean hands by 21st C standards. In fact, his complicity in the enslavement of man points out the complications of understanding these men “as they understood themselves.” I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned—or think I’ve learned—but only in a cooperative, not an adversarial environment.

                      The larger point being that political correctness is the enemy of genuine understanding. Infra in my point is that “all men are created equal” has a theological foundation, not a philosophical [via Plato] one, least of all an empirical one. We, the human race—the civilized world, at least—rejected eugenics not on scientific grounds, but on sentimental ones.

                      And good for us.

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                    • The fact is that before the American Revolution, there was a significant number of people who thought slavery to be a moral abomination, and by the time of the Civil War, when much of the civilized world had already abolished slavery, there was a huge abolitionist movement in the U.S. Because southerners viewed slavery as a “noble institution” doesn’t mean that we can’t see them through better eyes, because better eyes existed then. And plenty of them!

                      The “as they understood themselves” nonsense is a cop-out. There is no one way that people understand themselves at a given time. Bolsheviks (and their opponents, let’s be fair) viewed their slaughtering of any and all opposion, or even potential opposition, in 1918, as a necessity. Do you think it’s wrong to judge the Bolsheviks by our standards? And what’s to stop us from applying this pernicious view to today’s world? I suspect, in fact I’m quite sure, that you don’t look at radical Islam and judge the rightness or wrongness of suicide bombing by considering how radical Muslims “understand themselves.” But that is how they view themselves? In your relativism lies the route to the justification of every irrational and inhuman prejudice, every sort of oppression, because they are merely products of the way people view themselves.

                      So whose “understanding of themselves” do we choose when thinking about the Civil War and slavery? I’m going to go with the side that respected human dignity. I suppose you can pick whichever side you please, just don’t pretend that in doing so you’ve selected the only, or even the most historically accurate position.

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          • Pillage is very common in a wartime environment.
            Bosnian women do all kinds of freaky sh!t for an MRE.
            Right or not, it’s just the way the world works.
            That you & I have been fortunate enough that we haven’t had to experience that in our own neighborhoods doesn’t change things in the slightest.
            It’s still out there.
            And it will still chew you up and spit you out.

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              • I am looking at what form it took, and there’s too many variables to get very upset about something that I actually know next to nothing about, when there’s all this other stuff, contemporary things, that is, without question, verifiable fact.
                I live right next to some of this stuff that these guys are talking about. I don’t know all the history. I was raised in New Mexico. But I know that this is the site of the old Brenner farm. Google maps tells me that I’m 26.3 miles away from the James farm as I sit (well, the Jesse James Farm & Museum).
                And yet I can read about this raid in Osceola, where a fellow had returned an escaped slave to his owner. The slave returned willingly, because he was anticipating emancipation (by whatever means). And it was this raid on Osceola (a place that I remember more because of a certain somebody’s collection of vinyl) that caused the incident in Lawrence.
                And I’ve seen a few of the markers around. I read them.
                That little baby in the papoose on the Sacajawea dollar coin? I know where he went to church. Nice place. Never went inside, but I used to work over there.
                And I’m wondering, if “slavery”– just the mere thought of it– is so repugnant, then why would this escaped slave choose to return from the place where he had just escaped from?
                I’m thinking it was probably more like working in a mine before the days of MSHA. But that wasn’t slavery per se, so it’s somehow acceptable.
                Now then, a 13-year old girl showing her pussy to a group of Marines– men that hadn’t seen a pussy in literally months– only to see that she has some pineapples tied in a belt around her belly right before the big BOOM!– well, I think that’s just a little bit worse than something which causes me to assume unknowns.
                And the fate of these escaped slaves is unknown. Unless you know something you’re not telling me. But there is very little that has been established other than they were taken prisoner at this point.
                I don’t know enough about the men in question to consider it a certainty as to what their fate was. I’m sure that a good portion of them had to undergo things I would prefer not to.
                Same for everyone else on the field that day.

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  3. Would we say Plato was morally defective? He spends quite a bit of time justifying slavery in Politics.

    I had the privilege of hearing a lecture by Barbara Tuchman many years ago. She observed the bad historian looks at the past through the lenses of the present.

    Lots of things don’t jibe in this story and a whole lot of sly jokes are inserted for the benefit of Civil War cognoscenti. For one, Rooster Cogburn worked as a deputy for the entirely un-fictional “Hanging” Judge Parker, a Union man who did supervise the last Indian Territory.

    In the book, Rooster Cogburn had a cat named Sterling Price, named for a Civil War general who never actually surrendered. Instead Price ran off to Mexico, only coming home to St. Louis to die. Rooster Cogburn is a cornucopia of disrepute. He’s a caricature of all the Lovable Tough Guys whose spurs ever jingled across a Hollywood sound stage.

    LeBoeuf is another caricature, the White Hat Western Dandy. The pun on his name should be obvious.

    As for Maddie and her precocious command of English, how often have you heard anyone admit to being a dumb, frightened kid in retelling the tale of their life?

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  4. I know this is well-trodden territory, but the assertion that being proud of fighting for the Confederacy is not a moral blind spot is absurd. Sure, as Bob says, many southerners (particularly after 1862) fought because “they were down here,” but that’s just the immediate cause. It always surprises me that someone like Bob, who’s always talking about underlying causes, focuses only on the immediate cause here, but I suspect he has ulterior motives.

    Even if we look only at the immediate cause (for some, not all Confederate soldiers), the argument that it was not a moral failing falls apart quite quickly. For example, there were certainly many who volunteered or were conscripted into the Heer in 1944 or ’45 who fought because they, the Russians and the Americans-British-Canadian-French-Polish were moving in on Germany or actually on German soil. Were they not still fighting for the army of the Nazi State? Should they be proud of that fact?

    What’s more, still sticking with the immediate cause (and accepting that it was the main one) it ignores the fact that they still had a choice. By some estimates more than 100,000 southerners fought in the Union army. These peoples’ homes and families were equally threatened (in some cases, more so, as many were from states like Tennessee and Virginia where most of the fighting took place), but they made a choice not to fight for the Confederacy. And it was a difficult choice, but the right choices often are.

    But the immediate cause was not the only cause, or the primary cause, of the war. They were down here because the southern states seceded, and made it clear that violence was the only way to restore the Union, short of accepting the South’s position on the main issue that resulted in secession: a guarantee that slavery could still exist in the South. And most southerners supported secession, and most favored states rights, which at the time meant slavery.

    And it’s clear that many, many soldiers considered themselves to be fighting for states rights (read just about any war memoir by southern foot soldiers — not officers, enlisted and noncoms). The culture of the Confederate Army promoted states rights, in much the way that every army promotes a cause (fighting terrorism, say, even in Iraq). And states rights meant slavery.

    By the way, it’s equally absurd to say “we see slavery as wrong now, but times were different then.” There was a large abolitionist movement by the time of the Civil War, and plenty of people saw slavery as a moral evil.

    BlaiseP, Plato had plenty of moral blindspots. Slavery? Infanticide?

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    • Chris, I’m going with BlaiseP’s Tuchman quote, which nails the standard all historians should shoot for. I’m a little disappointed that your effort above reflects the myopic teaching standards in our public schools. I’d expected a little better from you.

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      • Yes, the Tuchman quote should be so self-evident that it’s not even worthy of note, yet it is. My own studies are of the American Founding era, and I’ve found many or most current academics [esp with their modern prism of raceclassgender] are completely incapable of “understanding them as they understood themselves,” as one great thinker put it. They presume to judge the men of the past from their comfortable 21st century armchairs, as if man started out there instead of the primordial slime. [Where, in much of the world, he still lives.]

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      • Bob, since I actually presented several arguments, from different perspectives, arguing the same thing (and it’s not the view of today only, it was a common view then as well), I’m not sure you’re doing anything more than rationalizing your own indefensible position by convincing yourself I, not you (or Tom), am the one who is biased.

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        • Heh, I sure am in your head, Chris. You do drive-bys on me because whenever you attempt to engage, you get your ass kicked. You seem to think you can talk your way out of anything, that “truth” is a matter of technique and not substance.

          But I’m flattered that you suspect there’s something wrong with your method and so make me the object of your self-dissatisfaction. Our mutual friend Dr. JamesH is doing some very good work lately if you’ve noticed, his rage abating, his reasoning acquiring more rigor.

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            • Yes, Chris, by all means keep repeating your “previous critique,” your drive-by on me. But you have the scars on your bum to prove my point. And I admit they weren’t all put there by me.

              I quote the great thinkers on occasion not by argument from authority—although they have some, as great thinkers—but that they put the point perfectly well before you or I were born, and they deserve the credit.

              History and philosophy didn’t start with your birth or mine. The modern conceit is that they did, that there is something new under the sun.

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    • I remember working through Plato. I worked through Politics and then Republic. I’d heard about Plato, how important he was, but reading him left me literally angry. If Republic had been instituted in reality, it would resemble nothing so much as a particularly brutal sort of fascism.

      All the Greek I’d read to that point was Biblical koine, a very different animal indeed. Suddenly the Epistles of Paul came into focus: this was a world so brutal, so utterly incomprehensible, even its bones were cruel to behold.

      She looked over his shoulder
      For athletes at their games,
      Men and women in a dance
      Moving their sweet limbs
      Quick, quick, to music,
      But there on the shining shield
      His hands had set no dancing-floor
      But a weed-choked field.

      A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
      Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
      Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
      That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
      Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
      Of any world where promises were kept,
      Or one could weep because another wept.

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  5. Hey. I don’t mean to interrupt this conversation as it is the right of every world citizen to discuss whatever topic it is that they happen to feel like discussing, but you should tell the fellow who was allowed to call for the murder of Julian Assange at this blog, and whose status as an employee of a certain government agency was nonetheless regarded as holy in accordance with the Trinitarian ideals of this outlet, that he is going to be outed within the next 48 hours. Calling for someone’s murder is now considered a crime amongst my faction. I know, I know; we’re creepy people.

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  6. I’m curious – if it was immoral to be a Confederate soldier (the victors always write the history books)… what about those Union soldiers who served under Sherman? Or to go a step further, what about the men and women who served in the same Army that fire-bombed Dresden?

    I agree with Pat – ALL war not in defense of a homeland is immoral. That doesn’t mean I believe no war is just, but the taking of lives, especially the intentional taking of civillian lives, is by definition an immoral act.

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    • The winners may write the histories but the losers write the songs.

      War, as Drill Instructor McFarlane assured me long ago, is what happens when the politicians stop doing their jobs. Wars stop when the politicians start doing their jobs again. In the mean time, the in-between time, it’s up to soldiers to manage the mess. It doesn’t matter why people and nations fight: they’ll always find half-a-dozen reasons. The immoral part is considering war as a viable solution to anything.

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    • I’m curious – if it was immoral to be a Confederate soldier (the victors always write the history books)… what about those Union soldiers who served under Sherman? Or to go a step further, what about the men and women who served in the same Army that fire-bombed Dresden?

      I’m not sure what you know or don’t know about Sherman, but their actions once they crossed the Savannah were immoral, to be sure, and being proud of that service in South Carolina would be a moral blindspot. In Georgia, the atrocities were minimal and generally committed by rogue units, whereas in South Carolina there was an organized plundering and widespread pointless destruction (Union soldiers weren’t too fond of South Carolina). I don’t consider what Sherman did in Georgia any more immoral than war generally. The fire-bombing of Dresden, or Tokyo, and perhaps even dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would also constitute moral blind spots for anyone who was proud of participating in them (it’s interesting to watch McNamara deal with the conflicts between the moral and economic calculus of these acts in Fog of War).

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      • From Sherman’s Letter to Atlanta:

        You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.

        We don’t want your Negroes, or your horses, or your lands, or any thing you have, but we do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and if it involved the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.

        You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, bu the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or title of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.

        But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

        Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes in Atlanta.

        Yours in haste,
        W.T. Sherman, Major-General commanding

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        • You seem to be confusing what an army or nation is fighting for and how it fights. The fact is, in any war, every side will commit highly immoral acts. It’s part of war, and one of the many reasons why war itself is immoral and should therefore be undertaken only when all other alternatives have been exhausted. But if one is proud to have helped defeat the Nazis, Fascists, or Imperial Japanese, that doesn’t seem like much of a moral blind spot, unless one participated in such acts like the fire-bombing of civilians or killing of unarmed POWs. Again, if one is proud of that service, then one certainly has a moral blind spot.

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          • So it’s okay to be proud of engaging in a broadly immoral act (war) but not okay to brag about specifically immoral acts like firebombing civillians… and it’s okay to brag about being on the victorious side of the Civil War, despite Union atrocities in South Carolina and elsewhere, but not okay to brag about being on the losing side even if slavery had nothing to do with your motivations?

            Seems like a lot of contradictions there.

            If the US military had a specific policy of total war, which many people now consider to immoral, then aren’t any US soldiers guilty of immoral acts by association? It’s no different than a Confederate soldier who goes off to join the Army for state pride, to prove his bravery, honor, etc but is blamed for fighting to keep slavery.

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  7. I, personally, would not be proud of killing people or participating in the killing of people, even if I believed it was for a just cause (like stopping the Nazis, Fascists, and Imperial Japanese). But I don’t think it’s a moral blind spot if people are proud of their work in service of a just cause, as long as they fought as humanly as it is possible to do when killing other human beings.
    I’ve already made my points about the motivations of Confederate soldiers, which no one has disputed (save Bob saying that I’m a product of the public education system, which I believe he considers to be a counterargument), so I won’t get back on that little hobby horse of mine, but I will say this: the Union Army fought “total war”, to a greater or lesser extent, in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Mississippi (Tennessee, which was full of Unionists, was fairly free of destruction not caused by the fighting itself), but I don’t see that how it was much different from any other major war of that century, or any past century, in which one army invades the territory of another which is occupied by a civilian population loyal to the enemy of the invader. Again, I wouldn’t be proud of it, but it’s what war is. There were truly egregious instances, to be sure, but for the most part the Union fought like an invading army (and the Confederates like a desperate one, which means they weren’t always so great to their own civilian population). I, personally, wouldn’t be proud of serving, even though I consider the results of the Union victory to be highly just, but I don’t think it’s a moral failing in someone who is proud of service that results in such an outcome simply because in some cases some soldiers on their side went beyond the boundaries of the ordinary conduct of war, or even because some generals told some soldiers to do so (as happened in South Carolina, e.g.).

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    • <i"…I don’t think it’s a moral failing in someone who is proud of service that results in such an outcome simply because in some cases some soldiers on their side went beyond the boundaries of the ordinary conduct of war, or even because some generals told some soldiers to do so…"

      …And I don’t find it a moral failing of certain Confederate soldiers to have served in a war that may have been motivated by the desire of some participants to prolong the institution of slavery.

      As for motivations of front line troops, is it your contention that they were all fighting to prolong slavery or were they simply willing dupes?

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  8. Chris, nice to see you coming over to my side of the Lord.

    The Lincolnites determined that they couldn’t defeat the Confederate armies in the field so they determined to commit war crimes and plunder and pillage farms, and kill and rape civilians, to cut off vicutals and war material to the armies. Bobby Lee made war on the Yankee armies.

    Lincoln and his Sec. of War set about to assassinate Jeff Davis and the CSA Cabinet but the scheme failed. In retribution CSA Sec Judah Benjamin order the hit on Lincoln, which didn’t fail.

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  9. Who said 12% of Southern soldiers were conscripts?

    Are you mad? Try over 90% after1863. And by 1864, Jeff Davis himself said 2/3 of his soldiers deserted.

    Got that — 2/3 by the summer of 1864, deserted. Guess who said so?
    Jeff Davis. By 1865, over 3/4 had deserted, which is why they lost/

    The real truth is that for 150 years, the South has hidden, covered up, and tried to bury the awful truth about not only slavery — but the massive cowardice and desertion by Southern troops.

    Your own leaders ran like cowards from Richmond, on the mere rumor of a breech in the line — a false rumor. Lee would not stop running, despite pleas from his soldiers to stand somewhere and FIGHT. Lee, who never got close to a battle, was not about to get in the middle of one personally. He snuck off to surrender, against the orders of his Congress and President.

    True to form, the South has tried to spin this into some heroic act.

    The same measure of truth is found in the entire history of that era. Men who tortured children — like Lee— are protrayed as freedom loving gentleman. Did you know in Lee’s own papers he offered six times his normal bounty to capture one specific slave girl — a mulatto girl, 13 or 14?

    When his bounty hunters finally caught her , Lee had her tortured, then sold her WHITE looking child. That is your Robert E Lee.

    You have taken sociopaths, lunatics, and menwho tortured children, and tried to shape them into heroes.

    It’s all BS.

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