Following the Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrations, a national movement seems to have taken root to remove all vestiges of America’s Civil War. The movement, obviously based on emotion, is attempting to rewrite our national history, is orchestrated by extreme factions of the left, and perhaps not surprisingly, is opposed by most Americans.
The Civil War is a historical verity, and the symbols associated with it are not inherently “racist,” even though they are presumed to be by a small faction of our populace to whom everything is somehow “racist,” or race based. While the underlying issues leading to the Southern state’s secession from the United States were economic, the trigger for the Civil War was their attempt to secede from, and attack the Union, which Lincoln and the Northern states deemed anathema. The Constitution was predicated upon the inviolability of the union or federation of states, and with the South’s declared secession and attack on the Fort Sumter, the war over secession was incited.
As History.com explains, “On 12 April 1861, a military unit representing the Confederate States of America, the seven southern states that had seceded from the Union, attacked Fort Sumter.
The presence of the Union-controlled post in South Carolina provoked Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, to order strikes. Within two days, the commander stationed at Sumter surrendered. But the assault spurred United States President Abraham Lincoln to rally thousands of troops to crush what he viewed as an insurrection ripening in the South. With that, the Civil War began. ‘Both sides deprecated war,’ Lincoln remarked later, ‘but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.’”
Would the Civil War have occurred without slavery being a significant component of the South’s economic system? No, of course not. But to them it was just that, a principle component to their economy. Although slavery was primarily race-based, they didn’t view it through 21st century lenses as racism; it was as much a part of their economy as tractors are to today’s agrarian producers.
The moral argument against slavery had taken hold across much of the northern states, but the moral argument for it, from the Southern plantation landowner’s perspective, to them, was no less viable; the northern states had no right to dictate the terms of their economic production.
Consequently, to the South, the Confederate Battle Flag (which was just one of five flags flown by the Confederacy) represents freedom from tyranny, and state’s rights for self-determination. It was not a symbol of slavery, of “racism,” or of oppression against blacks; it was, admittedly ironically, a symbol of freedom. As such, the Confederate Battle Flag became the rallying banner for the Southern states.
The same principle applies to those historical figures who fought for Southern freedom, against what they perceived to be the tyranny of the Northern states. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and other prominent Confederate heroes were not deemed as such because they supported slavery, or worse yet, were racists. They were deemed heroes because they fought for Southern freedom with bravery, valor, courage, and for the most part, dignity. They characterized the pride of the South.
What contemporary “racism” accusers are engaging in is a set of logical fallacies that vitiate their argument. The first is the etymological fallacy, where a word in contemporary usage is fallaciously presumed to mean the same today as it did in a foregone era. The second illogical error is the Historian’s fallacy, where it is assumed that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the situation. The third fallacy is presentism, which is a mode of historical analysis in which present-day ideas, such as moral standards, are projected into the past.
Most Americans get it. It’s part of our history, and retrofitting our contemporary “morality” to a foregone era, is no less than an attempt to rewrite our history. Just as individuals are largely the sum of their historical experiences, including their successes and failures, so likewise a nation’s history defines a country, and our ability to apply our founding principles to our economic reality within the first century of our existence represents a significant cultural and political achievement.
A new Marist poll sponsored by NPR and PBS NewsHour finds that 62 percent of Americans believe statues of Confederate leaders should be allowed to stand. Even a majority of self-identified “Soft Democrats” say Confederate monuments should remain.
The survey of 1,125 adults (at least 18 years of age), conducted August 14-15, 2017 queried what respondents thought of statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy. Nearly two thirds of the respondents said they should “Remain as a historical symbol,” with Democrats at 44 percent, Republicans at 86 percent, and Independents at 61 percent. An average of 27 percent of all respondents thought they should “be removed because they are offensive to some people.” Only 10 percent were “unsure.”
If we become such a wimpy and spineless society, collectively and individually, where everything is removed because someone might be “offended,” we will literally have nothing left! And certainly nothing of our history or the iconography of how we have evolved and changed over the centuries will remain.
As one great American once said, “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.” And contrary to what some suppose, there is no First Amendment right to not be offended. We can choose individually, and collectively as a society, whether to allow someone or something to have sufficient power over us as to create offense. It’s time to grow up, and stop perambulating through our lives with a chip on our shoulder just hoping someone might come along and knock it off! And rewriting our history does not alter the reality; it only adulterates it and dumbs down the populace.
By Richard Larsen
Award-winning columnist Richard Larsen of Pocatello is president of the brokerage firm Larsen Financial. He graduated from Idaho State University with degrees in history and political science.