The Politically Incorrect [or just the Incorrect] Guide to the Civil War

33163412The good people at Regnery Publishing offered to send me a complimentary copy of the latest in their series of politically incorrect guides, which I kindly accepted.  I figured I would at least get a few laughs out of it, but as I made my way through it I couldn’t help but think that this is nothing but a huge waste of paper. The book is essentially for people who are already convinced that there is a conspiracy against Confederate culture and that intellectuals in the academy are against all things Southern.  In that sense this book is a 350 page security blanket, kind of like a trusted friend that you can always count on to help bail you out of those tight situations when ideas are being discussed.  Consider the blurb on the back cover:

The politically correct history that dominates our schools and universities insists that Jefferson Davis was another Hitler, Robert E. Lee was the equivalent of Rommel, and the Confederate States of America was our own little version of the Third Reich–a blot on American history.

From the website:

The Politically Incorrect GuideTM to the Civil War
is a joyful, myth-busting, rebel yell that shatters today’s Leftist and
demeaning stereotypes about the South and the Civil War—showing why, in
G. K. Chesterton’s words, “America and the whole world is crying out
for the spirit of the Old South.” Civil War buffs, Southern partisans,
and everyone who is tired of liberal self-hatred that vilifies
America’s greatest heroes—must have this book on their bookshelf.

That’s called a strawman argument, which involves creating an enemy that doesn’t really exist and than tearing it down.  I think this logical fallacy is covered on the first day of Critical Thinking 101.  The book has a hilarious feature called “Books Yankees Don’t Want You to Read” which includes Jefferson Davis’s Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, MacKinlay Kantor’s If the South Had Won the War, and Clifford Dowdey’s The History of the Confederacy.

The book has a wonderfully cartoonish quality to it, which makes it the perfect gift for the person who will never pick up a serious work of history.

34 responses... add one

Politically incorrect are often held about views on Fascism in Italy and whole Europe.However I agree with you that these people would never seriously devote themselves to history.This happens in Italy and USA as well.Funny about the Vatican,the sole help Pius IX sent Jefferson Davis,was a blessed Rosary and a Thorn-Crown,too little to stop the yankee hail of bullets……..

Hello Kevin. The “enemy” (your term) is the liberal bias (which you’ve acknowledged in previous exchanges) that dominates our universities and colleges.

That is not a strawman.

Nice try Richard. I was responding directly to the blurb on the book which suggests that Civil War historians (as a group) are driven by a liberal bias and a desire to overturn all things southern. You have never once cited a historian in this group. If you know of any than please provide the reference, but if not, than there is nothing more to talk about.

I await with great anticipation. Please make sure to include specific references to actual teaching and/or published studies. I am primarily interested in what you have read rather than what you are able to pick up on a random search of news items.

And please don’t cite David Horowitz’s allegations surrounding profs at Penn State. He even admitted that those claims were baseless.

Oh, I see Richard, you mean the post where you pull together a few references followed by a sweeping and vague generalization. Well, if that’s the standard we are to keep than I guess we could prove just about anything regarding academia or any other large institution. Have fun with that.

Kevin:

Yes, that’s the one; where I point out 7 specific examples. How many would it take to convince you, 12, 20, 100?

Have you changed your mind? I thought you agreed with the premise that “the academic community was dominated by liberals.” As a matter of fact, those were your words. Your comments included this:

“I also agree with the studies that the academic community is dominated by liberals – some more than others of course.”

Not trying to be contentious here Kevin, so we will agree to disagree (I think).

Thanks for allowing me to express my view.

Best Regards,
RGW

Richard, — My agreement that academia is populated with people who define themselves as liberal has absolutely nothing to do with whether these same people (in the field of history) are out to destroy certain historical interpretation. You seem to think that all liberals are operating from nefarious motives and I simply reject that assumption. This post was in response to an idiotic book blurb which implies that history departments (and Civil War historians in particular since that is the focus of the book) are set on overturning certain strands of thought simply for its own sake. That is why this book is useless since it sets up a strawman argument.

I am still waiting for you to cite specific Civil War historians who fall into the parameters of the book’s accusation.

Kevin,

When I see rag books like these, I find it hard not to roll my eyes, laugh, and stay as far away as possible as it is clear what’s inside. It’s little different than encountering a Rebel-yeller in person and hearing the rhetoric flow like a waterfall. It’s certainly not serious history and is one example of why the modern Confederate agenda is getting ripped by serious historians. How can it be taken seriously? Just look at the presentation of the material here. As you point out, it is not unlike a comic book, but the worst part of it is that there are people who take it seriously.

On another note, other than as battlefield tacticians, I don’t see a strong comparison between Lee and Rommel, especially considering Rommel’s part in the attempt to take Hitler out.

Richard,

I wonder if the worst part of your argument is that you actually believe what you are saying. I regularly monitor your blog and considering the regular flow of anti-liberalism, I have a question. Am I reading it correctly, that you continue to tie counter-Lost Cause history to those who are products of the the liberal institution? Is it your opinion that counter-Lost Cause history is solely the result of liberal historians or historians who are apparently (according to the way I am reading what you say) brainwashed products of the liberal institution?

Robert, — You can go read his latest post, but it seems as though Richard is making just that claim. I have no idea how to respond to such a claim since it is not even clear to me what it would mean for it to be true or false. With all due respect to Richard, it is simply meaningless.

More importantly, however, is that this is the same guy who constantly speaks up when sweeping generalizations are made about the South. It seems that Richard has no problem whatsoever in engaging in the same kind of accusations about other communities.

Kevin:

“My agreement that academia is populated with people who define themselves as liberal has absolutely nothing to do with whether these same people (in the field of history) are out to destroy certain historical interpretation.”

So they teach in a vacuum?

As I stated, its a waste of time to argue the obvious and what is widely accepted as fact. Already been there.

Robert – you write:

“I wonder if the worst part of your argument is that you actually believe what you are saying.”

I most certainly do and stand by what I’ve said. I would have to ask the same of you.

Best,
RGW

Kevin,

Needless to say, that is concerning and annoying. Not only do I hate generalizations when it comes to history, but I hate to be made part of a generalization/stereotype because of my delivery of historical content. I’m not saying I’m a liberal or conservative, but whether I am one or the other (or something entirely different than the two) has nothing to do with my approach to the Civil War.

Richard,

I believe what I am saying in my delivery of historical content because I can back it up with more than rhetoric. So, no answer to the questions then?

Robert, — It seems to me that you are worse than a “liberal” since you are a native Virginian. Somehow those northern revisionists at JMU and elsewhere got to you and now your anti-Lost Cause bias is cloaked in the language of the academy. How sad, but perhaps given your roots there is a way out. Of course, this northern/revisionist/liberal can be of no help in these matters. (LOL)

Kevin – Yup! I suppose that some see me as a real modern “scaleeeewag.” But, I can’t give credit to the liberals at JMU for my approach to history. They’re just providing me with tools that I am finding useful in my master plan to brainwash the Southern youth through the use of the Web (hmm, can’t be Doctor Loveless, so I guess that would make me Doctor Lovesome?). My liberal bias in history must be attributed, therefore, to those liberal historians at ODU! Figures, Norfolk has been “occupied” and considered “behind enemy lines” for a long time!

Robert:

Don’t get so defensive. I never mentioned you or directed my post at you. As to your question . . .

“Am I reading it correctly, that you continue to tie counter-Lost Cause history to those who are products of the the liberal institution?”

I reject your premise of “counter Lost Cause history.” Rephrase the question and I might be able to clarify.

RGW

Mr. Williams writes at the end of his blog, “The South remains the last great bastion of Judeo-Christian conservatism in the United States. This is why her heroes and culture are under attack.” I understand the rhetorical appeal of simple cause-and-effect–A leads to B–but real life rarely works that way, and it does not in this case. I have been a practicing academic and Civil War historian for nineteen years, almost as long as I have been a practicing Christian by the way. Never once have I reached a historical conclusion about the war, or made an interpretive point about it causes, because I thought it would build up or tear down anything in modern society. Indeed, I assure you, the only academic historian I’ve ever known who did try to blatantly use the classroom to shape students’ politics was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. As if students’ politics weren’t already shaped by the time we get them anyway.

Moreover, the notion that somehow we Civil War academics are part of some spoken or unspoken conspiracy to accomplish some political agenda is as wrong-headed as the recent poster who decided that we use our academic meetings to hatch our nefarious plans against non-academics. Civil War historians are notoriously the most conservative in American history, both in regards to politics and methodology; I can count all the post-modern works on the war that I know about on two fingers. The simple truth is, most of us are (as Edward Ayers once said) “history geeks” who study the period for its own sake.

Finally, as for all this talk of PC, the unspoken assumption is that the contest always involves something called The Truth vs. PC. But conservatives as well as liberals have their own version of PC, don’t they? In regard to the Civil War, some of it is listed on the cover of the book in question, complete with the inevitable portrait of–not Lee or Jackson, of course–but rather N. B. Forrest.

I’d go on, but like all of us true Virginians, I have to get back to football, in my case the Hokie-F$U game.

I wrote the previous entry; I’m not sure why my name didn’t come up. Nothing annoys me more than people who won’t attach their names to their thoughts.

Hey Ken, — The VT reference gave it away for me. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. Ultimately, it won’t have any effect since Richard’s conclusions are driven by more deeply-held assumptions regarding the culture wars and academia. Keep in mind that he has never once shared a personal experience that would confirm or deny any of his observations on these matters. Thanks again Ken and go HOKIES! Is that how you spell it?

Richard, Why not “counter-Lost Cause history?” But, I will rephrase. It’s obvious that you see academia as liberal. With that in mind, do you see it that this “liberal academia” is behind what is being perceived as attacks against Southern heritage as it relates to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy? If so, cite specific examples of historians and the works that reveal liberal bias. How can you distinguish liberal bias/motivation in specific works?

All, I have to say, I took time to examine the source of the book cited on Richard’s blog. The Foundation for American Education (publisher for North Against South) has an interesting history. It’s also worthwhile to note that this book seems to move in certain circles along with another of interest… one with which we are all familiar… by DiLorenzo.

Kevin, Robert, and Richard,
I always find the charge of “liberal bias,” or PCism, a curious one. To my mind, bias means more than merely having a “perspective,” it means that one has a distorted or wrong interpretation, either unconsciously or intentionally, because of strongly held ideological beliefs. It is probably true that our values help shape our perspectives, but this doesn’t make us biased, at least not in the sense that it disables our ability to analyze information and come to reasonable conclusions. Frankly, real ideological bias does interfere with the capacity for objective reasoning, and _The Politically Correct Guide to the Civil War_ demonstrates this. Just note one of the claims on the cover of the book, that the Emancipation Proclamation freed not a single slave. This is factually incorrect, but the author is apparently so locked into his beliefs that he is unable to recognize this, and ironically becomes what he claims to be slaying, a purveyor of myth. Another example is the claim that secession was legal, which is at best debatable. Such ideologically driven bias seems to also cultivate paranoia, a sense that there are ideological enemies out to destroy our world view, and I suspect this leads to the construction of straw men to combat. Finally, the notion that an acknowledgment of the possibility that the majority in academia are liberal-leaning translates into the existence of a conspiracy to destroy a certain world-view, or constitutes by definition an attack on “Southern culture” is at the very least fallacious reasoning. We either need evidence of such a cabal (where do they meet to plot their strategy?), or a demonstration that certain historians have badly distorted the historical record in service of an ideological agenda. The mere confluence of political perspective with an interpretation we dislike won’t do, since correlation and causation are not synonymous.

Marc, — I couldn’t have stated it any clearer. You write:

“inally, the notion that an acknowledgment of the possibility that the majority in academia are liberal-leaning translates into the existence of a conspiracy to destroy a certain world-view, or constitutes by definition an attack on “Southern culture” is at the very least fallacious reasoning. We either need evidence of such a cabal (where do they meet to plot their strategy?), or a demonstration that certain historians have badly distorted the historical record in service of an ideological agenda. The mere confluence of political perspective with an interpretation we dislike won’t do, since correlation and causation are not synonymous.”

Of course, Williams has never been able to cite evidence of such a movement within the halls of academia. This is exactly where I disagree with Richard. A self-identification of liberal can mean any number of things to the individual in questions. He seems to think that it necessarily makes you a card-carrying member of an organization bent on attacking certain strands of thought. This is not so much an argument as it is an emotional rant and a reflection of deep-seated fear. Most of these types of narratives are written by people who have very little, if no, experience with the subject under discussion.

You know, this is the second time in recent weeks that a “pro-confederate” (for lack of a better term) poster here has been asked to put up or shut up…and, not suprisingly, they can not.

Kevin, as I’ve said before, you provide a great service by trying to stake out a place on the interent for rational discussion of the ACW; one can only wish the the “South Was Right” types would go play on the fanboys’ sites with the rest of Faulkner’s eternal 13-year-olds…

I saw videos recently of two notable Lincoln scholars …the first, Harold Holzer, admitted he is a Democrat, and said that he believed that if Lincoln was alive today, he would be a Democrat too.

On the other hand, Alan Guelzo (author of such works of liberal bias as “Lincoln: Redeemer President”, and “The Emancipation Proclamation”) is an unabashed Republican. He dedicated “Lincoln: Redeemer President” to Jack Kemp, former Republican Congressman from New York, and Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996. Guelzo quoted Kemp approvingly as saying that the Republican Party should return to being “The Party of Lincoln” as it once proudly boasted, before the GOP decided it needed the neo-Confederate vote.

A liberally-biased, Lincoln-loving Republican? Can such a thing exist? Guelzo, I am sure, would use this “Guide” as a doorstop, or find a more scatological use.

The book has a hilarious feature called “Books Yankees Don’t Want You to Read” which includes Jefferson Davis’s Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, MacKinlay Kantor’s If the South Had Won the War, and Clifford Dowdey’s The History of the Confederacy.

Not to mention Thurber’s “If Grant had been Drinking at Appomatox”.

“I am still waiting for you to cite specific Civil War historians who fall into the parameters of the book’s accusation.”

I think it will be a long wait, Kevin…

TF, — Unfortunately, all Williams can do is collect a bunch of random stories and present them as if they tell us all we need to know about the academy as a whole. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but it clearly does make him feel more comfortable.

He has yet to respond to the challenge of citing a Civil War historian who is actively engaged in the kinds of antics he constantly refers to. Williams holds tight to a certain view of the world and if you look at his blog it is clear that he will go to any length to find the kinds of stories that support it. As I’ve said before that we could justify just about any conclusion in this manner.

If, according to Richard, liberal academic professors are the problem with the way history is taught and understood in our universities, I’m not sure what my problem is. Having taken several history courses at the undergraduate level, I can only think of one historian that actually challenged my perceived beliefs about Southern history in any regard, liberal or otherwise, and it was in a Modern American History class taught by Scott Bill, PhD, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The year was 1996. We examined, in great detail, the civil rights movement in the 1950′s and 1960′s. It was the first place I ever heard the term “massive resistance.”

Most of my professors of history were totally silent as to any particular view of the Civil War. Since beginning to extensively study this topic on my own, I have found that my ideas were not challenged in the university. Most of the challenges to me as a Confederate apologist have been raised not in the halls of academia, but through a personal study of the source documents, research and scholarship on the subject. True, most of the books I read are written for academics or serious amateurs like myself. The fact remains that a charge that liberal revisionism (as it relates to historical interpretation) is coming from the university lecture hall, at least in my experience, is false because it has been nonexistent. Maybe, my professors did me a greater service by encouraging inquiry and letting me make up my own mind.

The problem is that it doesn’t matter what we may have experienced. Williams is convinced that there is a deep-seated and bias among many scholars who have nefarious intent and nothing is going to shake him from that position or even force him to acknowledge that the issue is much more complex. I now realize that his site is not really a history blog at all, but a blog about his view of the culture wars. History just happens to be one of the themes. Basically, he just hops from one conservative webstie to another to find accounts that reinforce his preferred beliefs.

Greg, I have to say, in my most recent return to the halls of the academy, while completing work on my M.A. (and with a taste of the PhD classroom) in history (2006-2007), I found that all of my professors (at Old Dominion Univ. and William & Mary) allowed the students to engage each others and come to their own conclusions. I’ve also encountered professors who, in order to stimulate discussion, could advocate for both sides of the argument (and they did it very well). The point was to allow us to see both sides of the argument (I frequently use the metaphor of looking at a cube and discovering the different sides and angles). Opinions were welcome and creative thinking was neither stymied or rediculed. Not once were personal political leanings thrusts upon us by the professors. Nor were there times, “under the surface,” where I could detect any personal political agenda.

Unlike those who sit outside the classrooms and tell everyone how wrong it is about what is going on inside, WE have been there. For those of us who have been there, especially in recent years, I think we are quite capable of identifying “slants” on teaching in the classroom and even in the choice of texts for a class. It’s a turn-off and I know I would end up dropping a class because of it.

Williams has clearly pushed away from the Civil War memory discussion table and, maybe it is because he can’t deal with non-traditionalist history and the manner in which recent studies can and have, at times, taken traditional history to task. He has started to dig-in and with each brick that he lays, I hope he is comfortable in his fortress. I don’t assume to speak for everyone, but I think, with this most recent round, a lot of us are of the mind that there is more serious discussion worth engaging in when it comes to Civil War memory.

Join the Conversation