Tuesday, July 20, 2021

When you erase history it's awfully easy to look like an idiot

So General Lee's statue has been removed from Charlottesville's main drag.  People have been tossing the word "traitor" around quite generously.  Of course, to these folks it's Year Zero, and there's never been any history until today.  Or something.

And so they look like morons.  They literally know nothing.

To help you understand this, here is a parable:

Let me try to make the decline of history more concrete by way of an analogy. Imagine that you had fallen asleep in 2005 and stayed asleep until 2150. Further assume that when you woke up in 2150, everyone loved the Iraq War. Not just Rumsfeld-style liked it, but fucking loved it. They loved it so much, that if you dared to question the righteousness of liberating the Iraqis from bondage, you’d be considered unfit for civil conversation. Intellectuals in 2150 prove their intellectual-ness by signaling to each other they support the Iraq War more than other people. In other words, by 2150, mainstream opinion on the Iraq War would be such that Donald Rumsfeld in 2005 would – by 2150 standards – be considered only moderately pro-war. 
Regardless of what you think about the Iraq War in the present day, you’d have a pretty low opinion of history as practiced in 2150.

We have all sorts of historians today rewriting the history of that period, because Reasons.*  Color me unimpressed.

As it turns out, there are a ton of primary sources from the day that are available to us, that we can use to check today's historical narrative.  That war was a defining event for the people of the day, and like the Greatest Generation's memoirs of World War II there were many, many who wrote of their experiences in the American War of Southern Independence.**  We can use these memoirs to see just how retarded today's narrative is, if we are careful.

We want to choose quality sources, of course.  There are quite a lot that can immediately be discarded as hopelessly biased - pretty much everything from Jubal Early and the "Lost Cause" school, for example.  But how can we tell reliable sources from propaganda?

We want to look for a number of things: We'd like someone who understood history and how it is documented; a professional historian would be ideal, as he would be writing at least in part for future historians.  We'd like someone who participated directly, of course, ideally fighting against the side that he defends in his writing.  As lawyers like to say, this "admission against interest" gives a lot of credibility.  And since the claim here is that modern historians lack credibility, we want credibility uber allies in the memoirs we choose from the time.

Is there such a source?  There is.

Charles Francis Adams, Jr. was a Harvard history professor, and first President of the American Historical Association.  Grandson and Great-Grandson of Presidents, he was from that Massachusetts Adams family,  He is more properly referred to as General Charles Francis Adams, having served in the Union Army during the war.

(Then) Capt. Adams of the 1st Mass. Cav. is second from the right.

And so to today's charge of Treason leveled against Robert E. Lee, what can we learn from General Adams?  After all, Adams ticks all the boxes in what we are looking for in a credible source from the day.

Adams wrote a book (actually the transcript of a speech he gave to the Phi Beta Kappa Society - another box for us to tick!) that is available for free download today: Shall Cromwell Have a Statue?  You can download it yourself (it's a pretty easy read), but Fosetti covered this years ago:

  The essay begins by questioning whether or not England should build a statue to Oliver Cromwell.  The purpose of the essay is really to discuss whether or not the US should build a statue to Robert E. Lee.  (Please keep in mind that Mr Adams fought on the Union side against Lee). 

Adams' answer is unequivocally "yes." 
He goes through a long argument about how Lee was not a traitor.  For if we wish to call Lee a traitor, we would have to call Washington, Cromwell, William of Orange and Hampden traitors as well.  Lee was loyal to his state, which was where he believed his primary loyalty lay. 
Then Adams tries to make a distinction between Virginia's decision to secede and other Cotton States' decisions to secede.  The latter states seceded when Lincoln won the election.  Virginia did not.  Virginia believed in secession (as did everyone who ratified the Constitution, according to Mr Adams).  Virginia was willing to let the other states peacefully secede, but did not wish to secede with them.  Only after the US government tried to re-supply Sumter, an act of war against a sovereign state (i.e. South Carolina), according to the logic of Virginia and the original understanding of the Constitution, did Virginia rebel.  According to Virginia, the North had effectively changed the Constitution at that point and Virginia seceded to defend the original Constitution.  Mr Adams understands this argument but sees it as hopeless outdated and out-of-touch.  Nevertheless, he sees it as consistent.  Lee then went with his state.

They should read Fosetti's review (or better yet, Adams' book) and learn what one of the best sources of the day believed.  Or they can keep calling Lee a traitor and keep sounding like morons.  Alas, my view of the world is so jaded lately that I suspect that I know how many people will choose.  That's why I have a tag for "Decline of the Progressive West".

* I think there's something to the idea floated on Instapundit that as long as the South voted Democrat, historians were happy to present a different history.  Now that the South reliably votes against the Democrats, it's book burning time:

But there’s also this: “Don’t overthink this, because it’s quite simple, really. When Democrats’ national position depended on unwavering support from ‘the Solid South,’ we got lots of pro-Southern propaganda: the Lost Cause, Gone With The Wind, Disneyfied Uncle Remus, etc. As a vital Democrat constituency group, southerners, even practical neo-Confederates, were absolved of all sins as long as they stayed in line.” If the south were still a vital constituency today, Democrats would sound like Bill Clinton did in the 1990s.

** It wasn't a Civil War because the Confederate States did not want to take over the north.  "War Between the States" is ambiguous, losing the underlying motivations.

Note: This is a repost from 2017 but is as topical today as then.


ambisinistral said...

"historical narrative"

One of the keys to demolishing history is to kill off portraying history as a narrative flow and replacing it with history as bits and pieces to be interpreted.

That's what Howard Zinn did in his People's History. Focus, in isolation, on the black experience, the women's experience, the 'cooly' experience, the worker's experience, etc., etc., and you can weave a story that tells the reader whatever message you want because the pieces cannot be assembled into a whole for the reader to judge the message.

Narrative history, like The Narrative history of the Civil War by Shelby Foote for example, tells a story that the reader can much more easily judge -- do the pieces fit together consistently? Is the narrative credible? Are the actions understandable in their context?

Borepatch said...

ambisinistral, it's said that there are two key issues in the study of history: what sources do you have and how much do you trust them?

Thus the re-writing of history, and the censoring of history.

Glen Filthie said...

There’s always a narrative in play, BP. Up here in Canada, Lincoln was a Saint, FDR walked on water, and Trump was a nazi.

Our social engineers are busy up here too, toppling statues of John A MacDonald, Queen Anne, and burning Catholic Churches down because our natives were supposedly genocided by nuns.

I am beginning to wonder. Maybe Lincoln got what he finally deserved. FDR shoulda got what Lincoln did. And maybe the wrong guys won WW2.

I’m gonna say it. I think it’s time to start shooting people. If you want to look at history, the kind of guys doing this are not only attacking our history. They are attacking our language, our institutions, our women and children. When they get spooled up and rolling, they can potentially kill tens of millions like they did in the Soviet Union, China, and the other moronic countries that slid into socialism.

But whadda I know?

drjim said...

Well done, BP!

Sherm said...

Damn nuance.
I too read Shelby Foote's narrative history. It's good enough to read more than once.

JaimeInTexas said...

War For Southern Independence

What I find amusing is how people here in these uSA can see how other countries have attempted to eradicate a culture and its traditions to entrench their claims of legitimize . At the same time, unable to see or accept that it is happening to the people of the South.

Lincoln and his ilk were the real revolutionaries. Marx agreed. Lincoln destroyed what little of the republic remained after the ratification of the Constitution of 1787. 1865 was the wake. We are at the funeral. I wonder when will the interment be?

Tam said...

Imagine not knowing that the statue in question was erected during the Wilson administration. Talk about historical illiteracy!