Sunday, December 29, 2013

Denial Has Many Forms

Recently I spent about a week in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. I ate a lot of good food (I can recommend Parker's Barbecue in Greenville, NC) and met some genuinely nice people, including some distant cousins.

But some things I saw reminded me that the states of the former Confederacy are, in some ways, very, very different, even today, from the North. It's not just the statues of the confederate soldiers (here, from Windsor, NC):

(When I was in Colerain, NC in the summer, I met a guy with a Glock on the passenger seat of his pickup who told me to visit this statue in Windsor before "the niggers" got it taken down. He told me that the gun was to "put the fear of God" into anyone who would try to take it away from him.)

In Richmond I visited the Museum of the Confederacy. There were two men out in front, waving Confederate flags and handing out literature. The current museum location is scheduled to join forces with the American Civil War Center and move to a much larger venue elsewhere in Richmond. The protesters complained that the new sites are not "Confederate-friendly" and are "all about slavery".

I pointed out to one of the men protesting that slavery was obviously an important cause of the Civil War, but he denied this.

I find it a little surprising that 150 years later, there are still people fighting this war. In order to do so, they have to deny the words of the secessionists themselves. For example, here's what Mississippi wrote (in part):

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Here's what Texas wrote (in part):

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

And so forth.

I certainly concede that Lincoln didn't believe in the equality of races. I certainly concede that there were major issues other than slavery that contributed to secession. I certainly concede that the Civil War took a huge toll on both Confederate and Union lives, and had disastrous consequences for the South. I'll even concede that war might possibly have been avoided if Lincoln had attempted to simply buy the freedom of all slaves in the South. But to claim, as the men protesting outside the Museum of the Confederacy tried to do, that slavery was not an essential cause of the Civil War, is either dishonesty or lunacy. The seceding states themselves admitted it in detail.

When I came out of the museum, the protesters were gone. I saw a guy standing outside the museum, smoking a cigarette and walked over to him. It turned out to be S. Waite Rawls, CEO of the museum. In response to my question about the protesters, he rolled his eyes and said, "You can't reason with those folks." And I think he's right. The zeal of those protesters and their willingness to ignore the evidence reminds me of Holocaust deniers and evolution deniers. They have invested so much of their own identity in believing a falsehood that nothing could possibly convince them of the truth.

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