Friday, June 26, 2015

Ave, Instapundit!

Quite likely the only such "Ave!" I'll ever give to Glenn Reynolds's (in)famous blog, this shout-out isn't for Reynolds himself, but for one of his guest bloggers: Randy Barnett, who had the balls to write a post that most definitely rubs certain conservatives the wrong way because it goes against the current rightie groupthink. Here's the post in full:

MAX BOOT: Rightfully Reversing Decades of Secessionist Rehabilitation:

But there is a big distinction to be made between remembering the past — something that, as a historian, I’m all in favor of — and honoring those who did bad things in the past. Remembrance does not require public displays of the Confederate flag, nor streets with names such as Jefferson Davis Highway — a road that always rankles me to drive down in Northern Virginia. Such gestures are designed to honor leaders of the Confederacy, who were responsible for the costliest war in American history — men who were traitors to this country, inveterate racists, and champions of slavery.

In this regard, honoring Jefferson Davis is particularly egregious, or, for that matter, Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. But I believe even honoring the nobler Robert E. Lee is inappropriate. True, he was a brave and skilled soldier, but he fought in a bad cause. Modern Germany does not have statues to Erwin Rommel even though he — unlike Lee — turned at the end of the day against the monstrous regime in whose cause he fought so skillfully. Thus, I don’t believe it is appropriate to have statues of Lee, or schools named after him, although I admit in his case it’s a closer call than with Jefferson Davis.

This is not “rewriting” history; it’s getting history right. The rewriting was done by Lost Cause mythologists who created pro-Confederate propaganda (such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind) to convince their countrymen that the South was actually in the right even as it imposed slavery and then segregation. This required impugning those Northerners who went south after the Civil War to try to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. They were labeled “carpetbaggers,” and their memory was tarnished while the actions of the white supremacists they opposed were glorified.

Boot is exactly right. I wasn’t kidding when I said before that I am glad to see Nikki Haley get the Stars and Bars removed from government buildings. Eric Foner and other historians like James Oakes and Richard Sewell are to be credited with correcting the historical record from the pro-Confederate revisionism that is still accepted by all-too-many on the right. Where the “Lost Cause” fable might once have been justified as a useful fiction to unify the country, lying about the Civil War and Reconstruction now only serves those who wish to sully the reputation of those who opposed slavery and promoted the civil rights of blacks when doing so took real courage (as it did for the civil rights activists of the ’50s and ’60s). In this way, like the Southerners of old, they can claim that there is a moral equivalence between North and South, between the USA and the CSA.

MORE HERE: I highly recommend the books I link to above about the men who opposed the pro-slavery reading of the Constitution before the Civil War, and who established the Republican Party to see their vision of the Constitution affirmed in its text. You can also read my articles on antislavery constitutionalism here and here. The more I learn about the history that has been concealed by pro-Confederate revisionism, the more I find to admire in our past.

Cross-posted on The Volokh Conspiracy. h/t Eugene Volokh

Posted at 5:09 pm by Randy Barnett

This is a reversal of the current conservative Zeitgeist. Conservatives, many or most of whom want, for whatever reason, to see the Confederate flag preserved, falsely equate the removal of the flag from public spaces like the state capitol to an erasure of history (a matter I discussed earlier: it's not). The above post rightly asserts that such a removal, far from being a distortion or an erasure of history, is a correction, a remedy for pernicious Southern revisionism. I can only say "Good!" to that. Imagine Holocaust deniers having their way, or imagine if Koreans abandon the fight to make Japanese textbook publishers publish a true and correct history of Japan's role in World War II. The above post is talking about something like that.

As of this writing, Barnett's post has garnered a whopping 382 comments, many of them outraged that Barnett would refuse to drink the Kool Aid.

All of this anger in the comment threads reminds me of one of Charles's posts.

Trivia: I know Jefferson Davis Highway. It runs through part of Arlington, Virginia, maybe 30 to 40 minutes from where I used to live in Alexandria.



John (I'm not a robot) said...

I have intentionally avoided weighing in on the flag issue because it has nothing to do with what happened in Charleston and I think it is both disrespectful to those grieving families and a distraction from more important race related discussions that should be taking place.

But your "rightie groupthink" statement motivated me to express my views regarding the flag. As a long time resident of South Carolina I always found it embarrassing when the battle flag was flying atop the State House. So I was happy when it was moved to the Confederate Memorial on the State House grounds. I certainly see nothing wrong or offensive about honoring those men who answered the call to serve their state. I don't want to get off topic, but it's important to remember that in those days most people considered themselves citizens of their state, not the federal government. Robert E. Lee famously said that he was not in favor of secession, but as a Virginian he would answer his state's call to arms.

Anyway, my point is that despite how wrong the Confederacy was, those who fought and died for that nation can be honored and remembered for their service and sacrifice without sanctioning "the lost cause". Using the battle flag for that purpose is stupid and wrong. That flag has obviously become irrevocably tied to hate groups like the KKK and other random racists. And just as importantly, it was NEVER the national flag of the Confederacy. Which is why those who spout "Heritage not Hate" in defense of the battle flag get no sympathy from me. If it is truly about heritage, use the Stars and Bars (the national flag that looks so much like the Stars and Stripes that they needed to use a battle flag to begin with) on your memorials.

Anyway, it's all symbolism and the state should not be sanctioning the arguments of those who hate, even if it offends the heritage folks by taking it down. Glad to see it come down. There is plenty of more offensive history to erase, right? Let's get busy!

Kevin Kim said...

It's a thoughtful comment that deserves a thoughtful response. I'll try to give you one later this evening, after my buddy Tom leaves. We're doin' burgers, man!

Kevin Kim said...

[The 4096-character limit kicked in, so... Part 1 of 2 below.]


I used the term "rightie groupthink" for a two reasons. First, obviously, it was to indicate my disagreement with and disparagement of a certain point of view. Second, I felt justified in referring to "groupthink" because

(1) a large group of conservatives
(2) all at roughly the same time
(3) began parroting exactly the same talking points.

This isn't to say that the left doesn't have its version of groupthink, but I think the right has a harder time admitting to its own groupthinkfulness because people on the right fancy themselves individuals and individualists, each arriving at his conclusions on his own. That's not how it actually works in these Net-connected days, but it's a common fantasy. The exactness with which rightie talking points are reproduced is strong evidence of this, e.g., the point that Robert E. Lee was himself against slavery but was also doing his duty by answering the call of his state. I've seen this point pop up within the past couple of days on several different sites. It's uncanny.

If the point of your comment was that you don't deserve to be lumped with the groupthinkers, then based on your comment, I gladly concede your point. The views you expressed regarding the Confederate battle flag are certainly not in line with rightie rank-and-file opinion. What's amazing is that I've seen conservatives from the North who, like Malcolm Pollack did in a recent comment here, say something to the effect of, "I don't have a dog in this fight, but...[something about preserving the Confederate flag because of states' rights, etc., etc.]" It's disappointing to see people justifying the flag's continued presence on public property.

Again, to be clear, I'm not for abolishing the flag or for eradicating it from public consciousness: we need to keep it to preserve a sense of history and to be mindful of our blunders so as not to repeat them. But maintaining such odious symbols in active rotation isn't constructive, in my opinion. Take them down.


Kevin Kim said...

[Part 2 of 2.]

As for your point re: honoring those who served... I admit I find this hard to swallow. Do I accord this same respect to the soldiers who fought under Hitler? It's a complex and provocative question. A French movie, "Joyeux Noël," came out in 2005 and dealt with the World War I Trêve de Noël (Christmas truce) in 1914, one of several truces to happen among the French, British, and Germans during the intense trench warfare of that era. The movie made the Germans look sympathetic and human instead of monstrous. The same thing was done in a German film, "Das Boot," which dealt with the stresses of operating inside a U-boat in World War II. (See a review by my friend Steve Honeywell here.) That said, these soldiers, however human, fought for a monstrous cause under a monstrous banner. So I confess that I wrestle with this question.

Commenter Sperwer, over on Facebook, has written a sarcastic "proposal" saying that we now should exhume and destroy all the bodies of the Confederate soldiers as a way of expunging this terrible, shameful aspect of our history. We're not meant to take Sperwer's proposal seriously; it's a sort of reductio to show how ridiculous the current, and supposedly liberal-driven, attitude is. I question the logic behind the reductio, though: this isn't what people are asking for then they talk about removing the Confederate battle flag.

Should I honor soldiers just for being soldiers, or should I take into consideration the cause they fought for? This is impossible to judge, especially since many soldiers were grunts merely doing their duty, while many others were well aware of what it meant to fight on the side of the South.

Making the question even more complex is the black attitude toward the flag issue. I just saw an article that noted (not in a survey, but anecdotally) that most blacks interviewed on the flag-removal question were for the flag's removal, but at the same time, most of the interviewees believed that the flag's removal was beside the point: there were other, greater ills to address than the question of symbols. So perhaps, on the left and the right, there's some agreement on the issue of symbols, as both sides seem to think that flag-removal is a distraction from larger points. For me, I see flag-removal not as a cure but as a step farther down the correct path to take.

John (I'm not a robot) said...

Sorry for the delay in responding here. Certainly one of the downsides to being employed full time again.

As I alluded to in my first comment, I haven't been engaging on the flag issue, which includes reading what others have written. I recalled the Robert E. Lee thing from high school history (back in the days when they actually taught history in school) and didn't know others were referencing him in their arguments. Regardless, the issue isn't about what our ancestors thought about the war, the issues leading to it, or the flags that were flown. The fact is that in the 21st century the battle flag has been appropriated by those with evil intent, and what it meant before is not comparatively important. I think we are in complete agreement there.

I do want to address the issue of honoring soldiers who served in wars that governments brought about for all the wrong reasons. The German Army (excluding the SS) was not manned by Nazis. Those men were largely regular Joe's answering the call of their homeland. Some no doubt volunteered, but the Army was largely consripts (hell, Hitler even forced citizens of conquered nations to serve the Wehrmacht). I guess my feelings here may be colored by things I did in my past of which I am now ashamed. In high school I was a Vietnam war protester. Although I never went so far as to call the returning soldiers from that conflict "baby killers" or god forbid spit on them, other's obviously didn't show such restraint. It now embarrasses me to be associated with such ignoramuses. I have a helluva lot more respect for the draftees who answered their nation's call to duty than I do the punks who fled to Canada. Ah, the perspectives that come with age, eh? So, hate the war, honor the soldiers is all I'm saying. If you haven't read the poem The Blue and the Gray, please do. It sums up my feelings nicely.

Here is what's been pissing me off since we started this discussion. It begins with government's not sanctioning the discredited battle flag. But of course, that's never enough. Now we shouldn't have Confederate memorials, and Army posts named after Southern leaders should be renamed. Hell, Wal-Mart won't bake a cake with the battle flag (but will do the ISIS flag). Insanity. And now I read where some are agitating to rescind the Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars of the 19th century. That's beyond ignorant.

One last point. I've long believed that applying 21st century moral values to peoples who lived hundreds of years before us is unfair and foolhardy. Yeah, we can look back and say they were wrong. But at the time, they didn't think it was wrong. It's tantamount to passing a law and applying it retroactively. Where's the justice in that?