My little sister, being considerably more emotional and therefore more liberal than I am, sent me a link to a write-up by a chap named Ta-Nehisi Coates in the wake of the church slaying down in Charleston, demanding the immediate removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolinian state capitol of Columbia:
The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…
This moral truth—“that the negro is not equal to the white man”—is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded—with human sacrifice.
Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation.
As polemics go, it’s not a bad one at all. As for Mr. Coates himself, who I am reliably told is a writer on race and politics of some note (read: as radically leftist as they come) among the literati, well, his writing is very much along the usual lines of the narrative taught in this country about the Civil War- more accurately and neutrally called the War Between the States, which is how I refer to it.
Namely, the War Between the States was fought primarily over the issue of slavery, an evil and horrific institution (I agree completely with this latter sentiment), and the equally evil and horrific South, by the morally virtuous and economically superior North. And because of its legacy of evil, the South can and should be punished by having all of the symbols of its past removed and destroyed, so that the people of the South might atone for and expiate their sins against black people.
The problem with this narrative is, of course, that it’s complete bunk.
There are several things wrong with Mr. Coates’s write-up. First is his insistence that Dylan Roof’s crime- and that’s exactly what it was- was motivated purely by the young man’s hatred of black people, and that the Confederate flag endorses the philosophy of plunder that Mr. Roof represents.
However, this is not clear at all. WND- apparently alone among most media outlets- has pointed out that Mr. Roof was in possession of some rather powerful mind-altering substances when he walked into a church and committed his foul act.
Mr. Roof may well have hated black people. That’s his problem- and if that’s a crime, then I would argue that quite a large segment of this country’s Latino population is “guilty” of it, given what we know of ethnic tensions between Hispanics and blacks.
Mr. Coates’s assertion that the Confederacy endorsed and embodied a philosophy of “plunder” is also not supported by the facts. As the Kennedy brothers point out in painstaking detail in The South Was Right!, the War Between the States did not erupt because of a pious and conscientious North taking the evil South to task for its abhorrent way of life. The war erupted because of very clear and quite calculated Northern aggression, mounted through tariffs and measures designed to block Southern representation in Congress.
The fact is that the North industrialised much faster than the South. That industrialisation spurred a population boom that greatly increased the North’s representation within the House of Representatives, and the rapidly growing wealth and power of the North also gave it significantly more clout in the Senate over time. The South could see the signs and knew full well that they would lose political power and therefore freedom to the North if things were left unchecked.
So they did the only thing they could in the face of very clear Northern provocations. They seceded.
Given sufficient time and opportunity, I do not doubt that the South would have industrialised, albeit more slowly and less easily than the North. Slavery is, as an economic system, hugely inefficient. Because it strips men of the dignity and freedom that comes with economic opportunity and specialisation, slaves are not motivated to work harder by anything other than brute force and fear. While a slave-based economy is initially considerably cheaper to run than an industrialised one, especially in agriculture and textiles, it loses out fairly quickly due to the rapid development and specialisation that becomes possible through the use of machinery and industrial production methods.
Returning to the content of Mr. Coates’s arguments, he then makes the further assertion that Mr. Roof’s acts were animated by the belief “that the negro is not equal to the white man”- the very same belief that the Confederacy embraced as one of its core tenets.
Mr. Roof may very well have acted on that belief- though whether he did so entirely of his own free will is not fully answered. However, to argue that the Confederacy alone embraced inequality as one of its core beliefs is simply silly, as the rhetoric of the so-called “Great Emancipator” himself reveals. In fact, the North was every bit as hostile to the idea of “equality between the races” as the South was.
Mr. Coates then quotes John Wilkes Booth, the slayer of the first- and by no means last- dictator in American history, at some length, and concludes:
By 1865, the Civil War had morphed into a war against slavery—the “cornerstone” of Confederate society. Booth absorbed his lesson too well. He did not violate some implicit rule of Confederate chivalry or politesse. He accurately interpreted the cause of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, men who were too weak to truthfully address that cause’s natural end.
Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real.
Unfortunately, it is Mr. Coates who embraces “the dream over the real”. His version of history is not supported by the actual facts. The War Between the States was NOT about slavery. It never was.
General Grant stated plainly at the beginning of the war that he believed the entire issue to be about preservation of the Union. This view was shared by most Northerners at the time. William Tecumseh Sherman’s own views on the subject of the causes of the war were clear: he believed the war to be about preserving the Union, and he was willing to do whatever it took, including devastating and destroying the South’s economy and people, to do it.
Even the Emancipation Proclamation, that great canard that liberals like Mr. Coates love to pull out to show how the war was indeed about slavery, was nothing more than a very cleverly scripted piece of propaganda. Not one single slave was actually freed by it. Instead, it provided the moral fig leaf cover for an utterly immoral war of devastation inflicted by the prosperous and industrialised North against the poorer and agricultural South.
In conclusion, Mr. Coates’s reading of history is utterly wrong. His premises are wrong. His supporting points are wrong. His conclusions, therefore, are wrong. The Confederate flag is inseparable from the odious and unmourned institution of slavery, and all of the evil that it represents, to most modern Americans, but that is simply because they have not been taught the truth about their own history. Those, like me, who have been lucky enough to teach themselves about the true facts of the matter, know full well that the Confederacy was flawed and problematic from the beginning, but that it also represented the true spirit of independence that motivated the Founding and eventually the Union of this country.
A reasonable man would, upon looking at the actual history of the War Between the States, have a very hard time taking seriously the notion that the Confederate flag is somehow the albatross that the entire modern South must bear and eventually relinquish for the sins of its ancestors.
Let the Confederate flag stay put. Let it serve as a reminder of what the old South truly stood for. Let it be a warning from history about the consequences of failing to stand up to tyranny. And let those with the wit and the will and the eys and the ears to see the truth, see it come forth from the hidden facts of the past.
A word about Dylan Roof himself. The fact that he walked into a house of God and massacred worshippers of the Lord in cold blood makes him unworthy of mercy. I personally have only one problem with the death penalty- namely, that giving the state the ability to execute people simply gives that institution unnecessary encouragement to do what it’s already very good at doing. However, if indeed he is handed the death penalty… well, let’s just say that while I will pray for his soul’s salvation, I won’t be at all unhappy to see a deranged slayer of innocent people removed from the world.