WHAT IS TRUTH?
It has often been said that history is written by the victor. That may be true but what isn’t said is that history is too often rewritten to fit the agenda of those currently in power as if rewriting it will somehow change it. It’s as if they believe that there is some quantum level where revising events past will cause their altered narration to become true.
A part of altering the past is removing icons that have been used to help remember that past. Signs, statues, images, works of art, structures named for bygone ex-heroes, all have to be removed or altered to fit the new narrative. Soon we lose touch with the original meanings and are left only with that which things have been altered to mean, a new and better truth.
One case in point: The Swastika. The word derived from Sanskrit – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be” and “ka” as a suffix.
This symbol denoting peace and prosperity had been used by cultures all around the world for over three thousand years. And then Adolph Hitler adopted it as the emblem of his Nazi party.
In an eye blink of history this highly respected and revered symbol became an object of scorn, to be hated and reviled unto eternity. What is the actual truth of the swastika? Is it the few years of the Nazi regime or its preceding three thousand years of history?
Here revisionism seems to have won but suppose all of the people on earth who had used the swastika as a positive icon had stood in unison and shouted, “no, you can’t have our emblem,” and then flooded the world with positive messages containing the bent cross? Perhaps the positive might have defused the negative.
In America today we are engaged in a great cultural cleansing of all things Confederate. In full disclosure I must say that my grandparents on both sides were immigrants. I had no direct family living in America at the time of the War Between the States.
However my wife did have. Her family history in America goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War. When the War Between the States broke out her family was living in the northern part of Georgia. The army came to call and said that the family had to send one of its male members to the war. Joseph Benjamin Westmoreland, the youngest son, volunteered and at age 16 was sent north to join the Army of Tennessee. He kept a detailed journal and wrote of marching from Tennessee to Mississippi, fighting at Vicksburg, being captured and paroled back to Georgia, re conscripted and fighting in the Battle of Atlanta.
Prior to and during the war my wife’s ancestors were poor farmers, share croppers who worked the same fields as did slaves owned by the more well to do. After the war they labored in the fields along with the freed blacks. Joe Ben didn’t fight to preserve slavery, he fought because his country said that he had to.
All his life he longed to take his family from the hard scrabble of northern Georgia, to a more prosperous location and it wasn’t until he reached age 62 that he could fulfill that dream by moving west to Oklahoma. Never in his entire history was there ever any indication that he was a racist, a bigot or held animosity for anyone based on the color of their skin.
He took up arms under the Southern Cross (Rebel Battle Flag), did his duty as he saw it and no amount of revisionist history can change who he was or what he did.
As to the larger picture, the war itself, historians disagree on just about every aspect of the conflict. Some insist that it was about ending slavery, others will say that it was caused by punitive tariffs and the northern desire to control the price of cotton. Not being a scholar on the subject all that I can offer is personal opinion.
To begin at the beginning, take the name of the conflict: “The American Civil War.” Classically, a “civil war” is when two or more factions are fighting to gain control of the same government. The War Between the States was more akin to the American Revolution. The grievances listed in the secession documents, while differing in type, echoed the sentiments to be found in the Declaration of Independence. Tariffs (taxation) and unequal trade practices were prominent factors yet only the issue of slavery seems to be noted today.
The term “civil war” was probably used to obfuscate the fact that the south was using basically the same arguments that the colonies had used when separating from King George and the north did not want to draw attention to that comparison.
No one can defend the institution of slavery but it can be examined in light of its history. The economy of the southern states was based on cotton and to a lesser degree, indigo. The variety of cotton grown at that time was extremely labor intensive and given the economic constraints in place, impossible to produce without slave labor.
Slaves were not kept for their amusement value. I am convinced that any reasonably intelligent plantation owner would have preferred to not use slave labor but would rather have paid wages to free men and then allowed them to be responsible for their own housing, clothing, food and health care. The slave owner’s responsibility didn’t run only from sunup to sundown and using a free, paid labor force would have drastically reduced those responsibilities.
Unfortunately the price paid for cotton was controlled and kept as low as possible by the textile mill owners and their pet politicians making it impossible for the plantations to use hired hands. In effect, it was the desire in the north to suppress the prices paid for cotton that perpetuated the need for slaves and the northern mill owners were among the staunchest supporters of that “peculiar institution” known as slavery.
While the slaves in the north were being freed due primarily to the industrial revolution, the south had no such advantage.
Although Great Britain had freed the slaves in all of her colonies and territories some thirty years before the war, there was little sentiment in America to follow her example. During the time when President Andy Jackson was arranging that pleasant little nature walk affectionately known as “The Trail of Tears,” England, realizing that slave holders had a legitimate financial interest in their slaves placed a monetary value on them, paid the owners accordingly and then outlawed the practice. The US government could have used that approach had there been any desire to do so.
While maintaining slavery was an important issue to the southern states, ending it was not a root cause of the war. Freeing the slaves did not enter into the debate until 1862 and then as a propaganda tool to gin up support for the war. Lincoln greatly desired to free the slaves but his end game was to relocate them, en masse, to Africa, Central or South America or to some Caribbean island. He held a meeting with several prominent freed black men and tried to convince them to take up the cause of relocation but was not successful. Lincoln failed to realize that in the time of his presidency, some fifty years after the importation of slaves had been banned, most of the slaves in America had been born here and regarded this as their home. They simply wanted to be free in their own land.
Now that history has been rewritten and sanitized, now that the antebellum south has been vilified and turned into a bastion of hate, the final stroke is to remove everything that suggests the southerners might have had any trace of humanity and were merely people reacting to the times and situations in which they lived.
The reasons for racial division in this country today has little to do with the fact that black people were once held in bondage or that this was true for a longer period of time in the south than in the north. Hatred, racial or otherwise, has to be taught. Following the War Between the States, the freed blacks and the poor whites were a natural coalition. Had they united as a labor force conditions for both would have improved drastically. Reconstruction drove a wedge between them and fostered hatred as a tool of control, much as apartheid was used in South Africa and Rhodesia for the same purpose.
And the racial division in America is bound to continue for as long as it is profitable.
I apologize to the reader for having run on so long but this is a subject that does not lend itself to sound bites. I realize that I have barely scratched the surface and have included links at the top of the page. Follow any of these if you would like to read what was being said on the subject back at the time when it was happening.
Thanks for the post. I would like to point out that your wife’s ancestor probably did not fight under what we now consider to be the Confederate flag, which was a battle flag of northern Virginia and thus General Robert E. Lee’s flag. He would have fought under the regimental flag of his units. I appreciate hearing about his experiences with conscription as it is often forgotten that the vast majority of Confederate troops were not themselves owners of slaves – or much else.
It is also true that the Stars and Bars was not used as a symbol of the Confederacy in the decades following the war. It wasn’t until the civil rights era that the KKK and other groups resurrected Lee’s flag and used it as a rallying point to intimidate those fighting to end segregation, lack of voting rights, and other discrimination. Unfortunately, this is an analog for your example of the swastika above, where what had been a symbol of honor became a terror tactic. It is terribly hard to undo such an association.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. The KKK did indeed usurp the battle flag but it is noted that they also prominently display the Christian cross and the American flag. If those who are condemning the emblems used by hate organizations wish to be consistent shouldn’t they attack all three? I fly the first official flag of the Confederacy at my gate and am often asked to explain “which country is that from?” Sometimes I’ll just mess with them and say, “Yugoslavia.”
I think the difference with the US flag and the Christian cross is that those symbols are widely used in other contexts across the country. People see a US flag and think of the local post office or elementary school. They see a cross and think of their neighborhood church or their devout grandma’s necklace. They don’t think of the KKK.
You’re absolutely right but then, most of the people I use that one on aren’t as sharp as you. On the other hand, in my opinion the Rebel flag would have been ignored in that or any other modern context had not the hate mongers chosen to pick up the banner (no pun intended) and use it to press their points. Hatred is usually taught and/or promoted in furtherance of some other agenda.
Sadly, true. Hatred – and fear – are used as weapons of manipulation and control.