Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the defeat of the Confederacy in the civil war. (Or, the War of Northern Aggression, as I say when I want to annoy some of my more liberal friends.) It’s an important moment in American history which summons up mixed feelings of pride and sober reflection, depending who you’re talking to. But there are at least a few liberal wags who don’t feel it’s getting the full recognition it deserves, though for very different reasons than you might imagine. One example popped up this week from Brian Beutler at The New Republic, who feels that the defeat of the Confederacy should be a national holiday.
This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.
It’s unfathomable that anyone today would attempt to name a new military installation, or rename an old one, after a Confederate general. But at the time these bases were named, there wasn’t nearly as much of a consensus behind the argument that the Confederates committed treason against the United States in support of a war for slavery.
The purpose here is obvious without doing too much digging. Election season is getting underway and the Democrats have some serious leaks in their lifeboat to put it mildly. Liberals love a good distraction at times such as this and there’s no better way to shift the narrative than by trying to tempt some Republicans into commenting on a subject where progressive media commentators can claim they are “supporting slavery.” One surefire way to do that is to try to turn the Civil War into a 2015 debate topic.
The truth of the Civil War is complicated and deeply personal to many people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon. I know that it came as quite a shock to me in my early adult life to learn that the realities of 19th century America were very different from what I’d been taught in a New York public school system. Slavery was certainly a pressing issue of debate at the time, but it was hardly clear cut, since so many of the “good guys” in the North were also slave owners. The parts of the story which went almost entirely untold when I was growing up concerned the considerable economic oppression which the North had been imposing on the South by making use of their considerably advanced industrial might as compared to the more agriculturally based southern states. Access to open trade was also a big factor for some, leading to a general sense that the South was being relegated to second class citizen status.
But a call to remove the names of Confederate leaders – or even foot soldiers – from public pillars, or ban new ones from being erected, is just being insulting for the sake of causing trouble. Those states were part of the union before the war broke out and they are states today. The blood shed by southern families was every bit as red as that leaked out by the Yankees. And there remains considerable pride among those families for the bravery, heroism and sacrifice of their ancestors no matter who won the war, as well as the subsequent ability to write the history books.
All of this is known, but it makes for a poor liberal talking point. Therefore, it’s ignored. But when you need to troll the conservatives, I suppose you just run this up the flagpole again if you’ve run out of fresh ideas. Bonus points for the effort, though. We can all appreciate some classic trolling during a slow news period.