In Case You Thought I Was Kidding

I sometimes worry that people with little experience of the South will think I am exaggerating about the White South’s obsession with that damn war and the Confederacy, but White Southerners always come to my aid. In this case, it is in the context of a Facebook group for people who grew up in my hometown. Faced with protests against the Confederate flag across the South, one member posted this (I’ve left names out, but I posted a couple screenshots on Twitter if you don’t believe me):

I guess we’ll be meeting on the square to tear down the confederate soldier and burn the Carter house.

The solder in the square is the one I posted about the other day, of course. Perhaps he read my post? The Carter House is a home that survived the Battle of Franklin in November, 1864, and still bears its scars, including embedded minié balls and holes from cannon balls. It is now a museum, and like the statue, a big part of the town’s identity.

As of this point the post has 93 likes, and a whole bunch of comments, all but a couple of which are in support. A selection (mostly unedited, except for some ending punctuation):

And dig up the [Confederate – Chris] cemetery

I guess I have to get rid of my class ring. It has 2 flags and the word Rebels. Ya Right. As with my guns only from my bold dead hand.

Hell, we already surrendered once. Now they want us to do it all over again!

I will send in the names of my GGrandfathers so that they may be forever blotted from the pages of history…how dare they be born in the south, honorable men who farmed the land and owned not one slave… who fought in defense of their homes and families.

Minorities rule us now. I don’t know what is to become of our great country. Are we going to have to remove all the grave markers in the Confederate Cemeteries?

The school [My high school – Chris] can no longer use the Rebel flag…the name stayed but there is an undercurrent always brewing to change that as well. Sad times :(

So [Name Removed], what’s the school song now? I’m sure “Dixie” and “Are you from Dixie” have been banned.

The American flag may be next. Scary thought, but they are getting there little by little.

They don’t want our confederate flags and memorabilia which is part of our heritage but a japanese automaker can name our football stadium

[Name Removed], I head today Gone With the Wind is on the chopping block.

And so on. There are a couple flare ups of overt racism (one black commenter is told to “go smoke a blunt”), but for the most part, this is what you get: a concern that we, as White Southerners, are losing our history and heritage, which is almost entirely associated with the Confederacy and the War. You may notice that they also associate losing this heritage with a losing American heritage: once this flag goes, the other flag will go too. This is part of the White Southern culture, the part in which they believe, quite firmly, that they are the true Americans, the true inheritors of the American tradition and ideology. They’ve resisted, and continue to resist, taking down the flag because they see it as an attack on who they are, White Southerners with a distinctly White Southern heritage.

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53 thoughts on “In Case You Thought I Was Kidding

  1. a concern that we, as White Southerners, are losing our history and heritage, which is almost entirely associated with the Confederacy and the War

    Isn’t that the issue? So much has come from the South, why cling to the Lost Cause myth? What’s interesting is that while the history of the Revolution is huge and important in MA, it seems to be less part of the local identity than the Civil War is to Southerners and the Revolutionary War is far less morally suspect.

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      • you probably know better than I do, but my sense is that the whole thing is about “I’m okay”. Even the race part. Poor whites lived under constant threat of humiliation, but the organization of the Slave Power was that the big thing they had is that they weren’t black.

        I’ve talked to a few people from South Carolina. I liked them very much. Our conversations hit some odd points though, where they said things like, “it proves that the South didn’t lose after all”. Why does this matter to them? They are good, worthwhile people, they do work that is valuable to themselves, to the community and to the country? The Civil War was 150 years ago, and it still matters? Let that go, and love yourselves, I think. I don’t say it, because it seems too forward, and I am a coward.

        I am very happy to see the fetishization of the Stars and Bars go. I do not expect this to be easy, I’m surprised it’s happening at all.

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      • It’s just so convenient, too, isn’t it? We don’t have to talk about anything else regarding the Civil War because racism. We don’t have to talk about how the war was won and what it meant for American governance afterwards because racism. Any conversation about the issue has to begin and end (and have a big bit in the middle) about racism.

        And, of course, the people you talk to about it can be huge assholes about the whole thing, because they’re Opposing Evil, and you can’t be faulted for anything you do when you’re Opposing Evil. You can bypass thought entirely and hook your guts to your lizard-brain and turn into a rage-spewing id monster, something that is utterly anti-intellectual, but hey–it’s cool, you’re opposing racism. Extremism in opposition of racism is no vice, and moderation in discussion of some actions taken by people who were also racist is no virtue, right?

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  2. I was born and raised in Texas. I have literally never understood our (the South’s) fascination with our treasonous armed rebellion, in which we took up arms over the right to own slaves (despite the fact that the Confederacy lost the war, they were able to to write that out for a century. The number of people who think it was about State’s Rights, good god…) and then — and this is critical —lost.

    How many losers of armed rebellion generally get to celebrate their massive loss, fly the flag of their treason, and otherwise embrace their culture as absolute military losers of a civil war based on what is understood today to be a heinous crime? We were on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the war (we LOST), and somehow this is to be celebrated?

    WTF?

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      • Here’s Grant on that very thing (from his memoirs):

        It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies. At the time of the framing of our constitution the only physical forces that had been subdued and made to serve man and do his labor, were the currents in the streams and in the air we breathe. Rude machinery, propelled by water power, had been invented; sails to propel ships upon the waters had been set to catch the passing breeze–but the application of stream to propel vessels against both wind and current, and machinery to do all manner of work had not been thought of. The instantaneous transmission of messages around the world by means of electricity would probably at that day have been attributed to witchcraft or a league with the Devil. Immaterial circumstances had changed as greatly as material ones.

        We could not and ought not to be rigidly bound by the rules laid down under circumstances so different for emergencies so utterly unanticipated. The fathers themselves would have been the first to declare that their prerogatives were not irrevocable. They would surely have resisted secession could they have lived to see the shape it assumed. . .

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      • Point me to the constitutional provision about not being able to invade countries that attack our military bases, and I’ll evaluate the legal argument against the North’s participation in the war.

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        • If you believe that you have a unilateral exit right and then choose to attack a military base that you believe is invading on your sovereign territory, what difference does a constitutional provision make?

          One of the reasons the anti-Federalists fought so hard at the ratification debates (and a reason why some of them refused to ratify) is because they knew that some portion of their state sovereignty was being given up as a condition of ratification. We know this because a federal sovereign, We the People of the United States, a collective body politic comprised of the people of each ratifying state, established and ordained the Constitution.

          Because the states weren’t fully sovereign entities like they were under the Articles, to the extent they had a right to secede, it was purely extralegal and in the context of a natural right of revolution.

          So yes, I would argue that the states did give up that sovereign right but retained its extra-legal/natural right, as any state has today.

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          • If you believe you have a unilateral exit right, you don’t shoot at people who were there legally before the secession only a couple weeks after you secede. And you damn sure don’t shoot first, especially when they’ve already done one strategic retreat to avoid armed conflict (Fort Moultrie).

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            • Oddly, it is not generally mentioned by hagiographers of the Lost Cause that they could have had their slave state simply by not being stupid, reckless, juvenile idiots. If the South had been smart enough not to shoot first, there would likely not have been a war, and the Confederacy would have continued to exist at least until slavery became an economic loser. Since this would have become clear in different states at different times, and the Confederate constitution forced all states to support slavery, this would have led to a Confederate secession crisis,. Quite possibly the more industrialized southern states would have wanted to rejoin the US and leave the others to stagnate, not unlike what led to war in the former Yugoslavia.

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            • While I agree with you on the appropriate course of action, the unilateral exit right has nothing to do with whether or not they decide to shoot at people. We’re talking about a legal right and one the Constitution does not specifically address. Yet, we want to believe that the unilateral exit right doesn’t exist. How do we square the circle?

              On a side note, this was the subject that had originally inspired my two-part post on the Constitution and strict construction. Without that perspective, making an argument against secession is somewhat difficult. Personally, my favorite clause to invoke is Article V, but if people don’t understand sovereignty, they’ll have no idea how the amendment process stands the secession argument on its head.

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              • I keep seeing this pop up every now and then, this claim of a “unilateral exit right”.

                What would be the argument as to why we should all respect it?

                Edited to add- I am comparing it to the secession of cities from other cities, such as West Hollywood from Los Angeles; in this case, there is a process which is not unilateral, but must be agreed to by all parties, like a divorce.
                I am not clear on why secession should be unilateral.

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              • It has everything to do with whether the North was justified in waging (not starting!) the war, which is the point of the unilateral exit argument as I understand it.

                In other words, I understand the argument to be: (1) the South had the right to secede; (2) it exercised that right; (3) the North’s war was illegitimate; (4) even if slavery was bad, what the North did was worse.

                The break in that logic is, in my view, that there was no right to secede. Even if there was, however, it’s legitimate to wage war against someone who attacks your military. Also is dead right about why that was also a dumb choice.

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                • Yes, is absolutely correct. However, that’s not the issue we’re discussing?

                  How do you “logically” conclude that the southern states had no right to secede? You’ve simply asserted and haven’t even begun to make the case against it. You’ve cited no text, no history and haven’t even begun to address the underlying debates over the nature of sovereignty, all of which is critical to understand before reaching a conclusion.

                  Yes, if you are part of the military that is on land covered under my rule (sovereignty), I have every right to drive you off of it. You want to say it’s legitimate to wage a war against me for me driving you off my land? I beg to differ.

                  Maybe I’ll spend the day defending the constitutional justification for the Lost Cause until someone knocks me off this hill with an answer that I find satisfactory. That is, unless I get run out of town first.

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                  • We (or perhaps only I) are talking about the second-level argument. Which is assuming a right to secede, so what? That’s why I’m not delving into the first argument.

                    As to the second argument, I trust you will concede that the US Army’s presence was wholly legitimate and legal until (at least) December 20, 1860. Yes?

                    In the next two weeks, the US Army abandoned four strongholds (an armory and Forts Moultrie, Pinckney, and Johnson). Then, when the US Army tried to get a boat to the island fort where its troops remained, South Carolina opened fire. Only then does South Carolina even ask for a surrender.

                    So the elision to “if you are part of the military that is on land covered under my rule (sovereignty), I have every right to drive you off of it” is, quite frankly, absurd. The troops at those forts were nothing at all like an invading force, and made significant concessions in an effort to avoid bloodshed. Is it your view that the death penalty is legitimate two weeks after an unprecedented and complicated political event?

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                    • We (or perhaps only I) are talking about the second-level argument. Which is assuming a right to secede, so what? That’s why I’m not delving into the first argument.

                      I got you. We talked past each other.

                      As to the second argument, I trust you will concede that the US Army’s presence was wholly legitimate and legal until (at least) December 20, 1860. Yes?

                      As far as I’m concerned, their presence was never illegitimate at any time. I’m just arguing the perspective of the other side. Nothing more. From that side, the answer is still yes.

                      In the next two weeks, the US Army abandoned four strongholds

                      My guess is that it had nothing to do with respecting southern sovereignty and more to do with the risk of being attacked, but by all means if I’m wrong, let me know.

                      So the elision to “if you are part of the military that is on land covered under my rule (sovereignty), I have every right to drive you off of it” is, quite frankly, absurd.

                      What was absurd was attacking Ft. Sumter if only because of the possibility that the US Government saw the secession not as a peaceful and lawful act but as an act of rebellion, which it did. That’s going to do nothing but invite retaliation, which it did.

                      The troops at those forts were nothing at all like an invading force, and made significant concessions in an effort to avoid bloodshed.

                      While that would provide me more reason to not resort to bloodshed, looking at this from the southern perspective, the troops had neither the right nor legal authority to be on the land of another sovereign without that sovereign’s blessing. They were at the sovereign’s mercy, unfortunately.

                      You’re correct to criticize the actions but I disagree if you think that there was no legal authority to act assuming that South Carolina was a wholly sovereign state, as dumb as such an action was.

                      Is it your view that the death penalty is legitimate two weeks after an unprecedented and complicated political event?

                      Legitimate as in legal or legitimate as an appropriate course of action? I’m not sure I follow.

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                      • What was absurd was attacking Ft. Sumter if only because of the possibility that the US Government saw the secession not as a peaceful and lawful act but as an act of rebellion, which it did. That’s going to do nothing but invite retaliation, which it did.

                        This is certainly where we agree.

                        Legitimate as in legal or legitimate as an appropriate course of action? I’m not sure I follow.

                        Legitimate as in legal. And, more fundamentally, legitimate as in making military response from the North illegitimate, which is still my understanding about why the argument about legitimacy of secession has any relevance.

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                        • Legitimate as in legal.

                          Legal? From their perspective, yes. I’m blatantly ignoring our agreement point above and answering this question on the most narrow grounds possible.

                          Legitimate as in legal. And, more fundamentally, legitimate as in making military response from the North illegitimate, which is still my understanding about why the argument about legitimacy of secession has any relevance.

                          My view of sovereignty is such that any sovereign has the right to remove a military presence on its soil. Yes, I acknowledge that this specific instance was a bit more complex because this was not an invading army but a military presence that was no longer welcome on that land. Still, I can’t come up with another legal principle that applies here.

                          The tactical stupidity notwithstanding, there was a legal right to do what they did under my understanding of sovereignty. Firing on an occupying force isn’t the same thing as invading a sovereign. They didn’t belong there meaning any further response wasn’t justified. Any argument describing a War of Northern Aggression goes into this.

                          I’m not saying I like this argument but that’s what the story is.

                          It almost doesn’t matter because the federal government didn’t recognize the secession and treated the firing on Ft. Sumter as an act of war, a wholly appropriate act if secession is recognized as rebellion or worse.

                          Are you suggesting that no legal right existed? You’re more than welcome to but you’ll have to point me to a legal principle that supports your position. I’m rooting mine in the laws of nations and the general rights of sovereigns.

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                          • I’m with here, and in fact I’ve always found this an interesting legal question.

                            There is nothing in the US constitution forbidding a state from leaving.

                            However, there is equally nothing saying they *can* leave. Yes, ‘powers not reserved to the US blah blah blah’, but by that logic, states can legally nuke surrounding states…*that’s* not forbidden by the constitution either. States don’t literally have the right to do *anything* not forbidden, and considering there’s a nicely defined process to *join* the US, does it not seem like there would be a process to *leave* the US if such a thing was intended to be allowed?

                            Moreover, would this vary between states that originally were sovereign nations (The thirteen original colonies, Texas, Hawaii, probably a few more I forgot) that joined as entities, vs. ones that were *created* out of part of the US?

                            The areas now known as Alabama and Mississippi were traded from Spain to the US government in 795, and *allowed* to form into states…by what right did those states have to exit the US and *take their land with them*? The US bought that land fair and square. (And, to a lesser extent, to what right did southern states have to Federal land like, for example, military base? Ahem.)

                            In fact, I’ve always thought that we’ve sorta retconned this entire thing as them not ‘really leaving’, when in fact the states did, in the legal sense(1), leave. Of course, even if the states were ‘legally allowed’ to leave and did so, the US could certainly fight back and conquer the land again, or, hell, just declare war on it. (It’s not like we had any international norms against just invading places in the 1860.)

                            The way the war was treated almost seems to argue that the secession actually happened, otherwise it’s hard to explain, for example, West Virginia, or who, exactly, surrendered to the US.

                            1) Which is not the same as doing it *legally*.

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  3. A couple days ago Sen. Jim Webb posted his thoughts on the Confederate Flag hullabaloo concluding by saying “[The confederate flag] should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.”

    Someone perceptively responded with “But Jim, the confederate flag IS ACTUALLY a political symbol of us (US) divided. That’s the whole damn point of the thing. Goodbye Jim.”

    I think that’s the biggest surprise to me in all this: realizing just how many people view the flag (correctly in my view) as a symbol of division. Just about everything about the flag is a symbol of either division or antagonism: towards blacks, towards the federal government, towards yankees or Notherners or Coastal Elites… It’s divisive!

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    • And to add one more thought to the above:

      I fully understand the positive associations some Southerners feel for what the flag symbolizes and conveys (well, not necessarily what it conveys, but that for them it conveys positive themes and principles and whatnot). It’s just that in the absence of those positive connotations associated with the flag – that is, if we strip those aspects from it – we’re left with a bunch of divisive, antagonistic, anti-fedrul-gummint, racist symbols not only associated with it, but actively proclaimed in its origins. And those negative symbols, it seems to me, exist irrespective of how positively an individual views it. For folks like me, who have no positive attachment to the flag or any of its positive symbology, all I see is the negative stuff.

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  4. As ever, history is never about what happened then, its about whats happening now.

    There is something unfamiliar to the American character in ancestor worship- Henry Ford famously sneered at history, and Mark Twain speaking as his Connecticut Yankee did as well.

    I would bet money that most, if not all of the people who speak so reverently of that 1 great-great grandfather who fought in the Confederacy had another 15 great-great grandfathers who were, at the time, in Europe, the North, or other parts of the world and had nothing to do with it.

    But its that 1 that they cling to.

    They don’t give a rip about their Polish oe French or Scots great-great grandfathers, or the various and sundry wars the other 15 fought in, or the thousands of different historical outrages and sufferings that they went through.

    No, its just that one guy, and just that one cause that they single out to lavish adoration and reverence on.

    Which is where people like me point out that this ancestor worship really only got going in the aftermath of Little Rock and accelerated on January 20, 2009.

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  5. Removing the Confederate flag will change nothing.
    It might make some people feel better, but only on false pretense.

    The fact of the matter is that the Stars & Stripes has supplanted the place of the Confederate flag as a symbol for whatever racial oppression it could be held.
    It has been that way for the past 150 years.

    All I see in the hub-bub over the Confederate flag is another instance of generating supreme importance in a non-issue in order to avoid a real and pressing issue.

    All of the sundown towns I know of are located in former Union states.

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    • I think the vehemence and the content of the defenses of the flag put to lie the sentiment that taking it down will “change nothing.” It means a lot to people as a representation of a particular identity, and taking down the flag is a very big sign that identity is not just under threat, but is no longer wanted. That identity is an old and well-worn form of white supremacy.

      Granted, taking the flag down and moving the monuments to museums won’t change things over night, but it is a very clear sign that change is inevitable, that a segregated view of history is no longer tenable long term, and maybe it’s time to start integrating our views of ourselves.

      Plus, that flag really hurts people. It doesn’t hurt you, obviously, but you’re not the object of the hate that lies behind it. Taking it down definitely changes that, whether you recognize it or not.

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      • I think you’re taking some jumps there that aren’t warranted.
        To count them, little jump, big jump that lands wrong, then another big jump which ends questionably.

        To the extent that the Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacists, then yes, it is offensive. I don’t believe that though, except for some outlier groups.

        . . . a segregated view of history is no longer tenable long term, and maybe it’s time to start integrating our views of ourselves.
        Exactly what I’ve been saying all along, and exactly why removal of the flag is irrelevant.
        More below.

        that flag really hurts people.
        I’m not sure what “hurt” is used to mean here.
        I’m mixed race, ftr, and I don’t think I would be holding any high office in the Confederate states, were that option available to me.

        When’s the last time you read Spinoza’s definition of “finite of its own kind”?

        While I disagree with admitting Texas as a state into the union, I find the subjugation of the Hawaiian monarchy highly offensive.
        What on earth should I be doing to the Texas flag to show my disapproval?
        And what about that Hawaiian flag? What should I do to that one?

        More as promised:
        If you take the narrow view that the American Civil War was all about slavery. you can come to this conclusion. The one fallacy makes the other possible.
        The real fault is the English system of property, where property (the right of disposal), rights, and liberties are all effectively aspects of the very same thing.
        In this view, there is little to separate the North and the South other than industrialism.
        The South held a more ancient view based on peonage, and continued to enact a variant of that later through sharecroppers and the like, while the North was invested heavily in corporatism. This is reflected in the development of tort law in the United States, as it is essentially the history of the railroads and the expansion of corporatism.
        Thus, the key distinction between the North and the South was one of Direct Liability vs. Shielding from Liability by the Corporate Body.
        Variations on the tensions between these two views continued to dominate the history of the US well into the XX cent.

        Now, take a look where Pekin, Illinois is located.
        This is a sundown town.
        Some ten years ago, a mixed couple’s home was burned after moving in. The home was re-built, and it burned again, then a sign placed in the yard, “If you bring him back, it will happen again.”
        All of this occurred without recourse to the authorities; i.e., it’s perfectly lawful to burn a mixed couple’s home to the ground in Pekin.

        Now, what again is it that’s so “hurtful” about this flag?

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