Friday, May 05, 2006

Whom Defeat Could Not Dishonor

Shandy noticed a damned good question from the comments on TNR's report of a Virginia Senator's affinity for the Stars and Bars:

Can anyone explain to me the allure of the Confederacy? I've heard plenty about how the romance is "not all about slavery" but about other things worth cherishing.
We spent some time in Dixie--near Atlanta, where there is a theme park with a huge granite relief of The War's heroes that is animated as part of a nightly laser show so that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis can come back to fight for the South, and where our high school band had these gray uniforms so that when they took the field, it looked like the Confederate army was poised to shoot down the opponent.

So here is our theory of why the South insists it will rise again, based on our sociologic studies of the Southerner in his native habitat:

When all those rebels came back defeated, they couldn’t get it up.

So all the rebel women started feeding them this pablum about how they weren’t REALLY defeated, because they still had their honor. They had gone to fight for something important (notice how no one ever defines that “something”—they half-heartedly deny that it was racism while praying that you don’t ask any follow up questions. Sometimes they say something about states’ rights, but that is pure bullshit, since the only states exercising any rights are Oregon with their physician assisted suicide, Mass. with gay marriage, and maybe California with car emissions that the reds want to shut down). They had stood up with manly determination against the unreasonable aggressor (sure, we know who fired the first shots at Ft. Sumter, but give the mythmakers a little poetic license).

“You’re right, honey,” said Johnny Reb, rising to the bait. “We fought with heart. They only beat us because they had more money. An’ I suspect the damned French helped them out. Or sumthin’, ‘cause we fought harder and better than those hypocritical little boys with their Harvard educations, and even if they did win the war, we were on the side of what’s right, so we still have our honor.”

“That’s right,” said Scarlet O’Hara, “now come to bed.”

"And let me tell you sumthin' else," Johnny Reb continued. "The South shall rise agin'..."

This myth of how the Northern aggressor had won only through guile and trickery while the Southerners had lost only in a technical sense and maintained the moral high ground became an obsession and a mass delusion. Every child heard the story of how Daddy had to go to war because Lincoln threatened to take away his right to be a man; the Daughters of the Confederacy diligently set about erecting memorials to the Confederate soldier in every town south of the Mason-Dixon line. So much energy is spent repeating the myth and clinging to its every symbol because the minute you step back and look at the whole thing, you see all the holes in the poorly made fabrication. So you have to stay immersed in it to continue believing it.


  1. I grew up not far from you - in Loudon. 'Mosby's Confederacy' - I even named my cat Mosby. I grew up saluting the Confederate flag and singing Dixie (its easier to sing than the Star Spangled Banner - in whichever language). One of my brothers is now a General in the Confederate Army.

    I grew up however, and rejected the Lost Cause. It was lost before it started. A modern nation state cannot win a war when nearly 1/3 of its population has to be treated as dangerous aliens. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it was good people (my ancestors on both sides) fighting in an evil cause (slavery and oligarchy). Somewhere on my blog I have some postings on all that, if you care to read them.

    I'll try to keep reading your blog.

  2. From what I understand of Southerners, affection for the Confederacy is a combination of chivalrous nostalgia coupled with this undying resentment of Sherman's burning down the South.

  3. Well, sure there is the romance for the good ol' days of mint juleps on the porch and all that, before the Lincoln's Grand Old Party burned down the South, but 1) the barbecue & ball scene in Gone with the Wind was only every day reality for 1/2 of 1% of the population; even those were on the brink of economic collapse and the rest were subsistence farmers and 2) no one supports Lincoln's Grand Old Party more than the Confederate Old Guard. I think you have to look deeper to figure out why anyone would cling so tightly to something that was so bad for so many.

  4. For years I lived in north Florida, which was culturally south Georgia. Took many trips through Georgia, and dealt with many Georgians who came through Florida.

    Despite my Virginian chauvinism (or perhaps because of it) I was always annoyed that Sherman hadn't done a better job.

    It was the Georgians and South Carolinians who started the damn war, and then left it to Virginians and North Carolinians to do most of the fighting.

    As I said, I've said good-bye to the Lost Cause. But perhaps I will try a post on why some, like my brother the Gen'l, cling to it.

  5. And to talk to Georgians and South Carolinians (or read the headlines, for that matter), they are still fighting, as if they never got word of the peace signed in Virginia.

    Do people call your brother "General" in casual society?

  6. No. We call him other things.