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Friday, 26 June 2015

The confederate flag controversy.

The new craze sweeping "progressive" circles is anger at the use of a confederate flag because sometimes unsavoury people use it.
The fact a mass shooter is a fan of the old confederacy is irrelevant.
This to me drives home a very important point; these are people that DO NOT CARE about real issues.
They care about political point scoring.
The confederacy lost the civil war, and the victor writes the history. We however are not seeing the historical revisionism of a victor in war.
We are seeing the historical revisionism of a generation one hundred and fifty years removed.

Slavery in the south and historical racism of southerners is being invoked to generalise and demonise people long dead, many of whom do not deserve such treatment.
Now, moral relativism shouldn't be used to excused or justify current behaviour, but it can and should be applied historically.
To do any less is to disregard context, which is disastrous when trying to understand history.
This is made even more galling by the whitewashing of American national history at convenience.
The star spangled banner is soaked in the blood of slaves, natives and "tyrants" (you know, the British government pre revolution that was more popular than the current US congress and whose other holdings don't seem to be all that dystopian. Worst tyrants ever. This is said understanding the historical context that there were no moral sides and the revolution itself probably contributed to the later dismantling of the Empire. It's just funny that the tyrants spoken of by Americans abolished global slavery 50 years before Americans even started)
We are talking about a nation which celebrates past presidents that PROUDLY owned slaves, thought it indeed their moral duty to "educate the Negro" and whom in modern thinking might also have been rapists (having sex with a slave. I'd call that rape, even if consensual. A slave's consent seems rather ineffectual even if we recognise that not all slavery is the same level of evil)

The past crimes of the North are ignored or disregarded because "the confederacy" are the bad guys.
Only they weren't.
Just as during the revolution there were good, moral people on both sides.
War is messy and no side has a monopoly on evil. (yes, this applies to my revolutionary rant. The British are well aware of how big a bastard our nation could/can be. We teach our own history warts and all)
The confederacy had many racists. There were slave owners, and those who would kill a man just for wishing to escape slavery. The North had racists too.
The South did not lack celebrated generals and politicians though.
I will focus on the man most associated with the confederate flag.

Robert E Lee is renowned for his role in extending the war and causing no end of trouble for the North.
He was also a deeply compassionate man, who believed the moral teachings of his time and culture.
Not that slavery was cool bro, but that slavery damaged the white man more than the black man, pointing to the state of Africa (large swathes of which remain not overly pleasant to live in. I expect Africa to emerge as a global power within the next century myself, but much like the middle east internecine war holds back many nations) and that slaves benefited from their slavery.
Perhaps that is a little short sighted of him, but the Christian teachings of the time were exactly that.
These were people convinced beyond all doubt that slavery was the will of God.
To me, this is not an argument that the people were evil, but that religion makes people do things that they would otherwise not do.
His conduct after the war and statements made before and during proved the man one of discipline, duty and honour. Not malice. He was still a slave owner. Still oversaw punishments and captures of escaped slaves, but did so because those were the moral teachings of the time. Not because he hated them.

When Lee became president of Washington college he vehemently opposed violence against the Federal government and black Americans, to the point of expelling students for attacking a local.
He did oppose the vote for free black Americans, but argued not from hatred, but from the opinion that they lacked the education to vote intelligently.
He would have preferred mass emigration of ex slaves to their homelands, a cause championed by his wife and daughter.
He was also a leader in establishing state schools for black pupils.
A complicated man who by today's standards would be fairly racist (but not violently so) but in context of his culture was fairly progressive.

I believe that when the confederacy is thrown under the bus the only thing served is a political elite with no interest in solving problems, but only in whitewashing history, finding scapegoats and escaping the responsibility to do anything meaningful.