Barrett Brown: Neoconfederate civil war revisionism

Roundup: Talking About History

[Barrett Brown is a contributor to Vanity Fair, the Huffington Post and Skeptical Inquirer, and is author of Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny.]

Since moving back to my home state of Texas, I have found myself living about 400m from a statue commemorating a man who was the moving force behind a military and political uprising that led to the deaths of several hundred thousand US soldiers; an uprising that was prompted by the lawful election of an American president who was widely seen as being insufficiently committed to the perpetual practice of black slavery; an uprising that, even after having been put down, was followed by well over a century of often successful efforts to deny the franchise and other basic political rights to America's citizens of African descent – efforts perpetrated with suspicious concentration among those who revered the uprising and lived in the lands from which it was launched.

General Robert E Lee, still so widely honoured in the American South, has any number of endearing qualities and quotations that may be pointed to by any man who prefers that we see the warrior in a positive light rather than a negative one. But this is true of all men. His commemoration, and that of the Confederate entity for which he fought, is no less horrid – nor less informative – by virtue of his having been similar to all men in possessing some good along with some evil.

Relative to whatever mix of those two forces that existed in the North in the mid 19th century, the Confederacy possessed a greater degree of evil – or at least, it did if we consider slavery to be such an evil. And whereas most men in most places that have truly embraced western and Enlightenment values would not consider such a sentiment to be worth pointing out, there is a large contingent of people for whom it is not only controversial, but considered a slight against their own respect and that of their ancestors.

Such folly is not merely an abstraction; it is, instead, a driving cultural and political force that informs the views of a significant portion of the American voting citizenry, and thus translates into a significant portion of American foreign policy...

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