It is an unfortunate aspect of today’s political climate that the same few racist whites keep America from living up to the potential our founding fathers saw when they envisioned a country where “all men are created equal.” Yes, you can make the argument that the founding fathers were not living what they preached, but that is, in fact, humanity’s greatest strength: that we, as a society, as a group, can envision something better than what we have now, something better than what we are now, and strive to achieve that ideal, by giving ourselves a form of government, democracy, which allows us to try to achieve our lofty goals. Yet, there has always been a segment of our society who does not believe in the intent of our founding fathers to rise above ourselves. They were present at the beginning of our country, they put us through a fratricidal war, the bloodiest in our history, and they are undermining America to this day. Once they were called slaveholders, next they reinvented themselves as segregationists, then white supremacists, finally settling on what they saw as, and they hate this term, “politically correct,” white nationalists.
No matter what they name themselves, their beliefs and their message have never changed: white people are superior, to a man (because women don’t count), no matter what their intellect, character, or morals, simply because they are white. They ascribe this superiority to the accomplishments of white society as a whole, and all the advances in human technology that it has achieved. If you point out to them that this white culture was achieved by the suppression, enslavement, or elimination of other cultures, they are proud of that, insisting that that proves their point. Of course, their recollection of history is purposely flawed. It ignores, or diminishes, the accomplishments of non-whites, and also ignores, or mythologizes, the failures of white culture, the greatest example of which we are again suffering from the aftereffects of: the American Civil War, and the current battle over the removal of effigies to the greatest failure of white American society: the Confederate States of America.
The Civil War history that you (if you’re in your sixties, like me), and I, learned in school is one of those purposely concocted messes that proves conclusively Napoleon’s old maxim that, “History is a set of lies. Agreed upon.” The story of the Confederacy was intentionally altered after the end of the Civil War by southern historians into the myth of the “Lost Cause,” and the alteration was not challenged by northern historians, because reconciliation, not truth in written history, was the goal. By not challenging this rewrite of history by southern writers, northern historians, who knew from the start that this was a myth, agreed upon the set of lies. Somehow, the war about slavery wasn’t about slavery at all; it was a struggle between states fighting national government oppression of their rights, and states that supported the oppressive national government.
Of course, all this was bunk. All the preserved articles of secession from the various Confederate States prove that as soon as you read them, although some states were smart enough to include a few other inconsequential things, like tariffs, to make it seem like the war wasn’t just about slavery, because, even at the time, the rest of civilized world was having a hard time figuring out why the elimination of human slavery as an economic system was leading to war.
We are, sometimes unfortunately, a nation of firsts, but many times our firsts are not what others would consider intelligent, or correct, and our acceptance of the lost cause myth is one of those times. Believing your own bullshit is humanity’s worst trait. It leads to doing nonsensical things, like building statues to men who were, in fact, traitors fighting against their legal government, because their legal government did not believe in their inhumane economic system, or it’s perpetuation in western territories by altering it to include mining, which southern slaveholders were actively studying in the 1850s.
I do not include the common Confederate soldiers here, although some were probably aware that they were fighting for slavery. Most were probably simply fighting to defend their states, homes, and families; they themselves having bought the myth purveyed by the southern elite that the elimination of slavery would lead to chaos and murder throughout the south, because freed black men would seek their revenge against whites. Others were compelled to fight, because the Confederacy, vastly outnumbered by the north, had to immediately institute a draft. A draft, which, in fact, rich men could avoid by paying a bounty, or hiring a poor substitute, either for themselves, or their children. It was, to use a phrase coined by the common southern soldier, “A rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight.”
It is an unfortunate lesson from history that many a brave young man has fought for the wrong cause, or the wrong side, and I bring this up to drive home this point: No one is denigrating the sacrifice of the common Confederate soldier by trying to remove statues of General Lee. There is a critical difference between General Lee and the common Confederate soldier: Lee was a leader in a rebellion against the United States and the common soldier was following Lee. Lee knew that what he was doing was an act of treason against the United States, but he didn’t care. He chose treason. The image of Lee as the kindly old man who was about to free his slaves just as the war started is one of the central lies perpetuated by the lost cause mythology. Lee’s own writings, before and after the war, debunk this myth.
The correction going on right now, because of the attempts by modern Americans to remove statues honoring the myth of the lost cause, is both necessary and long overdue. Those who complain that this effort is an attempt to “erase history” conveniently forget that the myth of the lost cause was exactly what they are complaining about: the lost cause myth was a successful attempt to erase actual history and replace it with something more palatable to the south. We need look no further for evidence of this than to look at the history of William “Pete” Longstreet, a Confederate General who has only one known monument to him, placed at the Gettysburg battlefield park, conveniently hidden behind trees.
Longstreet was called by General Lee, “the staff in my right hand.” He was Lee’s most trusted subordinate, and was responsible for quite a few Confederate victories during the Civil War. After the war ended however, Longstreet made a critical mistake. He chose to be loyal to the United States, and supported northern efforts at reconstruction, going so far as to command forces that battled the Ku Klux Klan, forces that contained black soldiers. Of course, this lead to him becoming a villain in the Civil War histories being written by southerners in the 1870s. Like Ulysses S. Grant, Longstreet’s history was subtly changed, defiling the career of one of the south’s best generals during the war. The lost cause historians were willing to do this to one of their best generals, so anything they say about figures from the north should be even more suspect.
Today, white supremacists and neo-nazis cling to this tainted history, the mythos of the lost cause, preaching violence against those who are trying to correct history, not erase it. Unfortunately, the majority of us are being held hostage by less than six percent of our population which is ludicrous. The reason they are able to do this is because our last election was manipulated by a foreign government with possible collusion by the campaign of the man who most identifies with the six percent, because they are his true political base: Donald Trump.
Somehow, we, the American people who believe in democracy, who believe in the ideals that our founding fathers espoused, that “all men are created equal,” must find the political will, and legal strength, to overcome this tyranny of a small minority, a tiny percentage of our population, who have held this country back for too long, attempting always to drag us back to a past, and a history, that was not true then, and never will be true. We are not Donald Trump’s base, and his base is not America, they are a small, vociferous minority, and they have no right in a democracy to compel the majority to bend to their will. “We hold these truths to be self evident.”