Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery. Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America? ~ JACK KERSHAW, League of the South board member
I wrote at the beginning of 2011 — the 150th anniversary of the onset of the American Civil War — that it would be the year the South would rise again. Given the rapid-fire developments in the week since the racism-fueled massacre of nine black people in a Charleston church, will 2015 be the year that the South would be put back in its box? Is the Lost Cause finally and truly lost?
There is an immense difference between the Civil War and every other war in American history. This is because the Civil War, which cleaved a still young nation into two parts and led to the loss of a horrific 620,000 lives, is that it is still being fought by a rag bag of organizations like the League of the South and Council of Conservative Citizens that are fueled by Lost Causers who many generations on remain willfully wrong about the roll that slavery played in the destruction of their precious South. The latest generation of these delusionists include 21-year-old Confederate battle flag wearer and church shooter Dylann Roof, whose anti-black manifesto references the council, a contributor to no fewer than three Republican presidential candidates.
Yes, there were other reasons for the Civil War, including states rights and collapse of the two-political party system and emergence of the Whigs as personified by Abraham Lincoln, whose overriding purpose well into the war was to keep the union together and not to abolish slavery, a fact conveniently lost on the descendants of Northerners who in their own way also have abridged history to fit a more convenient story line and have their own share of racists.
But there is no other explanation than a purposeful ignorance based on racism for the endurance of flag-waving Lost Causers, their fanaticism stoked by Southern politicians who worshipfully embrace the Lost Cause with quotidian regularity and just as regularly walk back from their shameful statements after the damage is yet again done.
Yet this time is different, perhaps because the cumulative fantasy of the defenders of displaying the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina statehouse and thousands of other public places throughout the South that they are honoring their brave ancestors and not being racists became too monstrous to be contained any longer and exploded in their white faces with the massacre of the pastor and eight congregants at historically African-American Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17.
The Confederate battle flag and like symbols have long existed in a sort of shadow land between a fictive present and a factual past, and among the many lies told by white denialists is that the flag always has been displayed in the South. The truth is that only during the Jim Crow era and since was the flag reintroduced and defiantly flown as a reminder of white supremacy.
This is something that Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. bravely acknowledged in saying that even though the flag symbolized “Southern pride” to some people, it had a deeply sinister meaning to others. And, might I add, this is not merely a matter of free speech.
"When it is so often used as a symbol of hate," Riley said, "of defiance to civil rights, to equal rights, equality among the races, a symbol used by the Klan, a symbol you saw at every protest event during times of integration and racial progress, then, in front of the State Capitol, for those who harbor any of those kinds of feelings -- and we hope they are very few -- it nonetheless sends the wrong kind of message."
How good it was of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, in for the removal of the flag from the capitol, to suddenly understand that it was time to do just that after years of defending the flag’s presence. What had begun as scattered calls to strip symbols of the Confederacy from public places, license plates and stores online and off, had quickly morphed into a nationwide movement. Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Sears fell into step, announcing that they would no longer allow the sale of Confederate flags and similarly themed merchandise.
I give Haley very little credit and retailers even less. She could have ordered removal of the flag and asked the state Legislature to validate her order. She did not, and the collective cowards known as the Republican presidential field predictably suddenly found their voices, silently thanking Haley for letting them off the hook.
Typical among them was Scott Walker, who declared “I support her decision” within hours after his campaign sheepishly announcing that it was donating a contribution from Dylan Roof’s favorite organization to charity. All of this mushy-mouthedness in the face, lest we forget, of the amazing grace of the families of the church massacre victims in saying that they forgave the sick young man who exterminated their loved ones.
Opined conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin, of all people: "That any member of the party of Lincoln could not condemn veneration of the flag for which the martyred president and hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat is, frankly, stunning. Many who seek to lead the party and country in a divisive time showed they are just not up to the task."
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It comes as no surprise that in the 14 years since the 9/11attacks, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, anti-government fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims. After all, the Charleston church massacre was only the latest lethal attack by people spewing racial hatred and hostility to government.
Since 9/11, 48 people have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a survey by New America, a Washington research center.
But many of us do not want to acknowledge that sobering truth.
Efforts by government agencies to conduct research on right-wing extremism since the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, repeatedly have run into resistance from Republicans. A 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security that warned an ailing economy and the election of the first black president might prompt a violent reaction from white supremacists, was withdrawn in the face of conservative criticism.
In other words, Republicans have defended the most vile and deeply sociopathic elements in our society like Dylann Roof. It does not matter whether they have done so unwittingly or not. How else to construe that?
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Things certainly would be simpler today if the Civil War had not been about slavery.We could content ourselves with arguing about who was the better general, why the Confederacy was able to survive for so long despite an overwhelming disadvantage in troops and materiel, whether Pickett’s Charge was an avoidable mistake or Sherman was a war criminal because of his fiery March to the Sea.
"If the war actually weren’t about slavery, I think all our lives would be a lot easier," writes the inestimable Ta-Nehisi Coates, the blogger descendant of slaves who has studied the war with an enviably clear-eyed detachment.
"But as I thought on it, my sadness was stupid," he says. "What undergirds all of this alleged honoring of the Confederacy, is a kind of ancestor-worship that isn’t. The Lost Cause is necromancy — it summons the dead and enslaves them to the need of their vainglorious, self-styled descendants."
The greatest crime of the Lost Causers — and crime is not too strong a word in the context of the pain, beyond the neverending epidemic of hate crimes they continue to cause right-minded people of all colors — is that they deny the humanity of the very people whom they claim to venerate. In "honoring" the past they cannot cope with the present.
Although this comparison is not perfect, it works well enough: The Germans have fessed up to their history, the Japanese have denied it, while the Lost Causers have simply rewritten it.
Lowering the flag of the Old South will not erase the church massacre or return the lives of the many thousands, including civil rights workers, extinguished in the cause of racial justice. But may we be united in prayer that our nation will begin to turn the corner in renouncing our hateful past -- and present.
IMAGE COURTESY OF DEVIANTART