A Short Comment About Your Comments

Some of you have no doubt read the colorful comment left by a reader who refers to herself as “JosephineSouthern.”  Here is a short excerpt:

Oh how trashy you are. You have no sense of decency or honor. If you did you would know in your heart of hearts that what Grant did to VICKSBURG was atrocious evil. Shame on them and Shame on the USA. War on women and children, Grant and Butler the Beast I would spit on today! It is obvious your people didn’t suffer and die through Lincoln’s War and afterwards. So what do you care. We tried getting along with you people, but you just won’t let us.

You may be surprised to learn that I receive these types of comments quite frequently.  Most of them never see the light of day and end up being deleted.  Still, regardless of the content it’s not easy to hit the delete button.  After all, this is a site where interested readers can explore the way in which the Civil War has been commemorated and remembered as well as its continued hold on our culture.  Many of the comments left on this site reflect this continued interest and influence.  Without getting to meta on you, I would like to think that this site itself has become a window into the rich legacy of Civil War memory.  Perhaps at some point in the future researchers will peruse this site’s archives to analyze how various subjects were analyzed by me as well as the response from a broad audience. 

At times it is necessary to delete comments and even ban readers entirely to maintain a certain level of discourse.  I’ve thought about creating a page where I could isolate comments such as the one above.  It is a comprise, however, as this would preserve the comment but remove it from the life of the blog post.  There is an argument for maintaining uncensored discourse on a site such as this.  Finally, I also make it a point to double-check the links which you provide in the comment form.  I maintain the right to delete links that I believe provide false or misleading information.  Again, the same concerns apply.

I would love to know what you think.  What are the alternatives when trying to achieve the right balance between informed/mature discourse and preserving the kind of site that will reflect our continued interest in the Civil War?

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

54 comments… add one

  • Robert Moore Jan 29, 2009

    Kevin,

    I think you are hitting on one of the points that is at the center of my research on blogging. When we say that a person does not contribute to the discussion, what exactly do we mean? Frankly, the example of the latest comment shows nothing more than an emotion-driven distraction from the point of the post. Evidence shows us that the opinion presented by the S.C.V. member in Mississippi is not only contrary to what some Confederate veterans felt about Grant, but is downright silly childlike ranting. The comment that “JosephineSouthern” made in response to your post is exactly the same and carries with it nothing of value to your post.

    On the other hand, what a great example of the very thing we call “Civil War memory” when it reveals no real memory of the sort. The emotion and bitterness behind the comments can reveal more evidence that the memory of some is more of a myth perpetuated (viola! Yes historical myths do exist). Sometimes these sort of comments actually bring home our point even more. Perhaps we should allow them for that reason, but a permitted “trickling” every now and then is probably better than opening the door wide. The nature of the blog is a “read-write” experience. However, I don’t think we want to see our blogs turn into a field for emotion-based shouting matches. When we open the door to one set of rants, we often get drawn into them on an emotional level as well. Your response shows that you didn’t sink to her level. Bravo!

    • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2009

      You nailed it Robert. I guess it is a case-by-case basis along with the hope that readers will be able to distinguish between an emotional rant and the majority of the rest of comments left on this site, which supplement the original post in so many ways.

  • Joe Williams Jan 29, 2009

    I’d love to see all the comments in their raw, unedited, uncensored form but agree that the rants can interfere with what is almost always a delightful conversation you have on this site.

    jw

  • Heather Michon Jan 29, 2009

    Kevin: I had a rather upsetting brush with toxic commenting myself, just last week. I wrote an editorial on the difficulties inherent in giving a truly memorable Inaugural address, and while it probably doesn’t rank among the best things I’ve ever written, the people who run the Opinions page of the Washington Post liked it well enough to print it on Inauguration Day. (It’s available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011902235.html )

    As you can imagine, this was a huge thrill for me. I felt like I had met my goal of using history to inform a discussion that was getting entirely too bogged down in “this is going to be a speech for the ages, on par with Lincoln & Co” level of punditry that had been filling the media for days leading up to the actual Inauguration.

    While I’m not exactly an Obama Girl, I certainly wasn’t critical of him personally; I was talking about the role of the Inaugural address in our nation’s history.

    From the online reaction, you’d think that I had called for the man to be lynched. I received 50 comments on the WaPo comment page attached to the online article before the web editors (mercifully) shut it down. There were comments about how they couldn’t believe that the WaPo would print something so foul; one person said it was hands-down the worst piece of writing she’d ever read (which made me think s/he doesn’t read much. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it wasn’t THAT bad). I was accused of being a Republican blogger, just itching for the return of a Republican president so I could go to work for him and, I don’t know, have his babies or something. Some guy found my online resume and put up a link to it — after pointing out that with job titles like office clerk, receptionist, library clerk, office assistant, directory manager, etc, I was clearly a piece of trash not worth listening to.

    I don’t care if someone attacks my ideas. I can defend my thinking, and if I’m wrong, I can admit it. But too often, online discourse degenerates into personal attacks. People use the anonymity of the Internet to say things that I doubt most would have the cojones to say to my face. It’s rude and unproductive, and as tempted as I was to spend most of the day attacking back, I finally decided to just not read any further.

    Having done quite a bit of purely political blogging on OpenSalon.com since this summer, I have noticed that blog commenting follows some interesting patterns. Quite often, we start out having a productive dialog. Then, someone comes in a makes a personal attack. Suddenly, the whole comment thread changes. People who just want to leave a short positive comment go away. People who were engaging one another stop. Personal attacks start to dominate. Because on that blogging platform I don’t have control over which comments get in and which are refused, so I when it gets too nasty, I just shut the whole stream down and stop engaging. It just chums the waters.

    Sorry for the long post, but I’ve been angry about this for over a week now. Nothing like a few bad apples sucking the joy from an occasion to make the blog-blood boil!

  • Corey Meyer Jan 29, 2009

    This Josephine Southern has been very busy hitting the web sites on Lincoln. See the article in the Smithsonian…she is the first one commenting on the article. And again, it is an emotional rant!

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Lincolns-Contested-Legacy.html?c=y&page=1

    Corey

  • Corey Meyer Jan 29, 2009

    Also, I notices someone called “Cajie” on the site you posted about the Tampa “big ass” flag. Here this person started in on the connection to communism and the left etc, etc.

    Corey

  • This is not a hate message, it is a sincere effort to show you and your ilk of how we feel. We are still just a colony of dumb rednecks to you. I write to you because you seem to have acquired some type of reputation for knowledge of Lincoln’s War. However, you down play the atrocious killings and destruction my family and people endured during and after Lincoln’s war of invasion and takeover. Americans of your ilk, refuse to confront their true history of brutality towards their own people, their neighboring states, which was forbidden in the Original Constitution. Yet, you cry foul when another country does the same thing (ie Hitler).

    ALL THE ROADS LEAD TO 1865.

    As to the living Confederate Veterans issue you quote, what else could they do……they followed Lee’s mandate to bury the hatchet, and their children were starving, they had no jobs, and above all we didnot want the yankee soldiers occupying our states again. (as you prob. know Gen. Hampton of SC made the deal for the election to get the yankee army out of SC and the South). They HAD to integrate back into the USA empire somehow.

    Furthermore, I believe Grant expressed some sorrow for the outcome of this brutal war he helped wage. After all he had two eyes to see it. And I believe I read somewhere that he did contribute some monies to needy Confederate Veterans and they showed their gratitude with dignity and honor for this help in their time of need. The rest of the country was getting rich form the industrial revolution, including Grant and his thieving cronies. Have you realized how many presidents after the war came from OHIO.

    All we ever wanted was to be left alone. The term civil war was put in use by the NE war mongers to further their cause, just as REBEL rhetoric was started by them, but it was NOT.

    As I said, we tried to get along with you, but you just won’t let us. Since the naacp mandate of 1990, there is everyday some issue and incident somewhere in the USA trashing and bashing our Flag, the SCV, hateful rhetoric against Confederate Southern Americans and rank and file Southernors. Look at the stats of hangings all over the USA, there were if memory serves 2900 from 1880 to 1950 black and white. This boogey man is formed by using PRESENTISM. Google it, millions of articles trashing and bashing us and sent all over the world. That is why I posted the piece about Manning Johnson to give you some clue as to why this is on-going.

    Then you come along Kevin with your snide remarks about the SCV, shame on you for being one the elite media who makes a living trashing the South. I expected your cohorts in crime to rush to your defense and bash me. I don’t care. All I care about is that the real truth be told WITHOUT PRESENTISM in a factual manner.

    Read, Instead of authors of the NE, who started and foster and spread to this day the systemic hatred of the South, For more insight: The South Under Siege 1830-2000 A History of the Relations Between the North and the South by Frank Conner.

    Red Republicans and Lincoln’s Marxists: Marxism in the Civil War (Paperback)
    by Walter D Kennedy (Author), Al Benson (Contributor)

    War Crime Against Southern Civilians by Walter Brian Cisco

    Complicity, How the North Promoted, Proglonged, and Profited from Slavery

    Blood Money, The Civil War and the Federal Reserve by John Remington Graham (Paperback – Aug 15, 2006)

    Anything by the Kennedy Brothers, anything by Clyde Wilson

    And last but not least Charles Adams “In The Course of Human Events”

    and many more for the Southern Point of View. All we have ever asked is a fair shake. Walk a mile in their shoes.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2009

      Josephine,

      This will be the last comment from you that I allow through. I gave you a warning about personal insults and apparently you are incapable of adjusting your tone.

  • JF Jan 29, 2009

    To me it would depend whether the person has some valid points/information to support his ranting with. Of course, the language used plays a role as well. If you see your ancestors as chivalric, why not try and emulate them.

  • Crystal Marshall Jan 29, 2009

    Mr. Levin, I think that you are already doing a great job as is with how you are running your blog and moderating comments. In some situations, a commenter’s emotional rants and rages can be used to illustrate a point within the context of the wider discussion. As you said, others’ comments provide us with a window into their perception and memory of the Civil War. However, too many angry outbursts can become detrimental when they steer the conversation away from honest intellectual debate and into empty ad hominem attacks. As I mentioned in another comment a few weeks ago, computer-mediated communication often gives us less accountability in regards to what we say and how we say it, but regardless of the medium in which we communicate, we need to be careful and respectful with our words.

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 29, 2009

    Kevin,

    If anything I said in response to the above remarks by the reader referenced helped fuel these flames, my sincere apologies. That was not my intent. I consider you a true friend after a year of conversation, and I truly did not appreciate the attack on your character. I will refrain from reacting in the future, however–for the sake of discourse.

    Sherree

  • Ken Noe Jan 29, 2009

    I like the way Will Stewart of TSL.com puts it. Inviting people to post on his site is akin to asking people over to his house to watch the Hokie game. Behave on the site the same way you would at his house. Be a good guest. Get drunk, loud, rant, start attacking people, or otherwise get obnoxious, and expect to be asked to leave. In other words, feel free to disagree, but use some old-fashioned southern hospitality. Seems like a good rule for any blog or website.

  • Robert Moore Jan 29, 2009

    “As to the living Confederate Veterans issue you quote, what else could they do……they followed Lee’s mandate to bury the hatchet, and their children were starving, they had no jobs, and above all we didnot want the yankee soldiers occupying our states again.”

    More mythology… especially considering the actual situation of the Confederate Veterans who were present at the Grant commemorative activities. Despite the destruction seen in the fall of 1864, and a relatively rough winter, the Confederate Veterans of Page County were doing just fine in 1885 and were doing just fine as early as the spring of 1865. By 1881, the economy was booming because of the introduction of the railroad (with the help of some fine railroad folks from the North), children were not starving, and jobs were not an issue. As for the simple farmer turned Confederate soldier returned to his life on the farm, agricultural enterprises were quick to bounce back in the spring of 1865.

  • Bob Pollock Jan 29, 2009

    Well, Kevin, you have certainly stirred the pot today! These posts and the comments have raised a number of questions for me. I wonder how many people today share Josephine’s views? Also, where exactly does she (he?) live? Economic status, education; in other words, who and what has shaped her world view? I think it is interesting that she seems to have assumed the very identity(or what she believes to be the identity) of those who actually lived in the 1800’s. “We tried to get along with you.” Is she 150 years old? When someone becomes so personally invested in a particular view, what are the odds that ANY evidence that contradicts that view will ever change their opinion?

    I also think the communist conspiracy angle is interesting. It reminded me of something Christopher Waldrep wrote in “Vicksburg’s Long Shadow.” ( A book Josephine should read.)

    Mrs. Eva Whitaker Davis, the driving force behind the creation of the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg as a shrine to Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, “admired Joe McCarthy and feared that ‘America is being insidiously sold down the communist drain.'”

    What does the communist conspiracy have to do with the Civil War?

    And, I have to say:

    No one who studies the war can fail to ackowledge that it was brutal. But, when is war not brutal?

    What makes her think only the South suffered. Thousands of Northern families suffered grievously. My great-great-grandfather had a younger brother who died at Andersonville.

    Grant would be surprised to learn he had profited from the war. He was destitute at the end of his life, and only restored his family’s fortune by writing his Memoirs while dying of throat cancer.

    Waldrep wrote in the beginning of his book: “On January 26, 1861, when artillery boomed over Vicksburg, most people reacted with studied indifference. It was the minority white population who cheered and celebrated their state’s secession as they did again the next day with fireworks, talking excitedly about the hated Abraham Lincoln, secession, and war.”
    At the end he wrote: “From its beginnings, African-Americans, sometimes by the thousands, migrated to Vicksburg’s military park on Memorial Day. These segregated people listened to orators read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. They looked at the rows of white tombstones; standing over black and white Union soldiers, they gazed at the majesterial Illinois monument and other state monuments. And like Warren County’s majority on January 26, 1861, they knew why the artillery boomed.”

  • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2009

    Sherree, — I wouldn’t worry about that.

    Crystal, — You make a good point re: the accountability issue. The more rants I allow through the more likely new readers will fill that this kind of thing is sanctioned or business as usual.

  • Anonymous Jan 29, 2009

    The Communist thing bears some teasing out, actually. A book I read awhile ago about the memory of Nazi Germany in the United States, “The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture,” included a chapter comparing the Lost Cause of our Civil War to the “myth of the Eastern Front” and found them comparable (http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Eastern-Front-Nazi-Soviet-American/dp/0521712319). To wit – battles against long odds, the general moral conduct of the common folks (bad apple slaveholders and the SS weren’t truly representative), racially pure armies (Anglo-Saxon Southerners/Aryans fighting the good fight against Northern immigrant hireling army/Slav-Asiatic-Bolshevik horde), and a distortion of war goals (South fought for States’ Rights alone, Germans fought against Communism not for domination). So, if we take a particularly perverse view of things, we can map the two pretty much onto each other, especially if we think about this from a deep Cold War perspective. The South fought for the American way, states rights (key here as well to think of how Civil Rights leaders during the Cold War were assailed as being Communist agents and sympathizers), and apple pie during the Civil War. The North was the aggressor, trying to take away and redistribute property, as well as bestow equal rights on African Americans. Nazi Germany, too, wasn’t all the bad. We can regret the excesses of Hitler and the SS, but in the main, the Germans weren’t all that bad because they were really just trying to protect Europe from Soviet domination (see Pat Buchanan’s latest book for a version of this gem). To put things another way, North = Lincoln = Emancipation = Civil Rights = Communism. In sum, I don’t think that Communism has anything at all to do with the Civil War, but that popular memory of the Civil War during the Cold War was/is shaped by popular perceptions of what Communism meant for America, and who supported it or fought it. The rehabilitation of Germany into a NATO ally, in particular, has enough similarities to the Lost Cause mythology, that while comparisons are certainly tenuous, they might point towards new ways of looking at things. This becomes even more apparent if we look at the Southern reappropriation of the Lost Cause/Confederate memory in order to resist Civil Rights, along with a larger strategy of branding Civil Rights sympathizers Communists. Once again, I am not endorsing these views, but pointing out an affinity of processes in remembering that seem to involve Cold War dynamics in some way, and that a bundle of assorted issues regarding race, war, and memory tangle together in startling ways. To dismiss as simply absurd that some Southerners see Lincoln as a communist tool ends up closing down avenues of thought and interpretation that might add finer detail to evolving Civil War memory.

  • Marc Ferguson Jan 29, 2009

    A recent book, _Defying Dixie_ (I forget the author’s name), emphasizes that the CP was one of the few groups to step up and work with blacks against Jim Crow segregation. I suppose that if viewed through a Cold War lens, this would be seen as evidence that Civil Rights agitation was a wedge to overthrow the U.S. government, but this overlooks the very real inequities of segregation, the sincerity of most of those who worked against it, and that the existence of segregation gave an opening to those opposed to other aspects of the American economic and social system as well. I have only read the introduction to _Defying Dixie_, but it is in the stack by my desk.

    Marc

    • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2009

      You are thinking of Glenda Gilmore. It’s an excellent study of black activists beginning in the early twentieth century and the influence of communism.

  • Michaela Jan 29, 2009

    It seems like you want a discussion of memory on your blog, so you want to include scholarly AND non-scholarly views because the latter are especially living proof of the way the war is remembered, meaning they don’t meta criticize it, they are the actual “memory”. However, you are risking to get emotional rants that snowball into rant exchanges. I am concerned that the rants destroy a constructive discussion. Thus, I agree with Ken’s (Hi Ken: ) comment about basic behavioral rules. But even those that contribute with illogical or irrational comments the nice way are hard to bear. Mostly, when the comment section exceeds 12-15 per post it gets to the emotional rants=boring. Maybe you can stall them by asking for numbers or examples such as the Vicksburg/burning houses issue and only let them back on when they come up with a reliable source for their argument (some comments above recommended that. too).

    On the other hand it is interesting to let some of the rants through to show the educated reader why they have to elaborate or refocus the discussion at times. As a scientist I always keep my questions “light” when people outside science start quoting bogus data and eventually I either withdraw with a “I have not seen any data on this” or “what was the control group?”, a typical way in science to express STRONG disbelief in data. Two weeks ago when I gave a talk I was professionally confronted for the very first time with a crowd outside academia that shared some strong beliefs about science. I tried not to get too scientific because I didn’t want to trump some of their arguments with talking “terminology”, but instead offered counter questions or quoted every day life examples that disputed those beliefs. However, I left with the frustrating feeling that I couldn’t fully engage because the audience did not have the tools to fight my arguments. But it definitely helped that everybody stayed very polite. I think you have a good balance on your blog, but I could live without some of the prolonged exchanges.

    Have you ever thought about a three sentence discussion? Put up a very controversial post and then invite everybody to comment with a three-sentence comment no longer than 80 words. It’s like a 5 minute presentation on a conference and might curtail rants and bring out the essence of what people want to say. You always play around with themes, maybe you have fun engaging in certain restrictions like a debate club. Some of your audience might actually benefit and come out with amazing things to say. You will lose some of the rants, but maybe convert a ranter into a descent discussion partner?

  • Bill Bergen Jan 29, 2009

    Kevin,

    Interesting discussion, and I agree with a lot said here about the trouble you invite if you do not moderate comments. I went back-and-forth on another board sometime back, and will never do it again. As the old saying goes, the trouble with debating a lunatic is that passersby cannot tell who is who.

    Bill

  • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2009

    Bill,

    You hit on the main reason that I stay away from message boards.

    Michaela,

    As usual you have a way of hitting the nail on the head by reinforcing the importance of maintaining a certain level of discourse and minimizing the emotional rants. But as you know all too well, these rants are important to me on a certain level. I like the idea of limiting the length of comments for the reasons you mentioned, but I would never put it into practice. After all, 99% of the comments on this blog are written by very thoughtful people whose views I respect and learn a great deal from.

    Anonymous,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Robert Cook has quite a bit to say about the role of Cold War language during the Civil War Centennial in the early 1960s. As you well know many conservatives reduced the call for civil rights as well as a broader focus for the centennial to liberal-communist propaganda.

  • Chris Jan 29, 2009

    Kevin, I just find it hard to believe that she is serious. What am I saying, forgive…. LOL
    C

  • Woodrowfan Jan 29, 2009

    Actually, one thing I like about your blog is the lack of flame wars. Some disagreements and the occasional snotty remark, but you do a good job keeping the trolls at bay. I quit participating on a metal-detectors board a few years ago because discussions (on most any subject) almost aways turned into neo-Confederate rants. That’s where I first heard of H.K. Edgerton. Please, continue what you’re doing. You’re far more polite to the occasional troll than I ever would manage.

  • Maurice Isserman Jan 29, 2009

    Hi Kevin: I’m sure I’m not the only reader to notice that “you and your people” is clearly intended as an anti-semitic slur. “Josephine Southern” has clearly forfeited her rights as a commentator.

  • Eric Wittenberg Jan 29, 2009

    Maurice,

    I noticed it, too. It stood out like a sore thumb.

    The neo-Confederate movement and the neo-Nazi movements are twin sons of different mothers. This sort of thing should come as no surprise.

    Eric

  • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2009

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on this particular post. Your thoughts are very helpful and encouraging. You will notice that this particular theme does not utilize threaded comments. Of course, with this many comments the ability to follow specific responses is rendered more difficult, but please keep in mind that you can link to a specific comment by clicking the small number on the right of the comment next to the favicon. This creates a permalink to your comment that you could include just to make sure readers know who you are responding to.

    Don’t think for a minute that I am shutting this post down. Your thoughts are welcome.

  • Jimmy Price Jan 29, 2009

    First of all, kudos to everyone on an excellent discussion!

    All that I can really add is the following: I worked at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar from the day that it opened until this past December when I moved on to the Dabbs House.

    While working at the ACWC, I was ASTOUNDED at some of the comments that people would make. For the sake of brevity, two quick examples should suffice.

    The first occured a few weeks after we opened. A slightly overweight man in his mid to late thirties visited the museum with his mother. He was wearing a Richmond Depot shell jacket and gray sweatpants and did not last five minutes in the exhibit until he stormed back to the front desk and demanded a refund because he was so outraged at the mere mention of slavery. He then picked up one of the Lincoln busts that the store sold and said he was going to buy it because it would “make good target practice.” He was so upset that his poor mother had to console him as he headed back to the parking lot.

    The second example occured more recently when I was giving a Common Soldier Program to a school group. I just so happened to be dressed as a Confederate on this particular day and one of the chaperones approached me when I was done and proceeded to lecture me about how there were more African Americans who served in the Confederate army than the Union army AND — get this — Abraham Lincoln killed 10 million Indians by giving them blankets infected with smallpox. TEN MILLION.

    So I guess my question is this: is there a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being able to reach these people? I understand that alot of this is stuff is handed down from generation to generation, but is there anything educators can do other than just pray to God that these people don’t have children? Do we just ignore them or is there something else that can be done?

  • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2009

    Hi Jimmy,

    Nice to hear from you. There is always going to be a group who remain locked in a particular view regardless of any reasonable challenge. I don’t think that is anything to be concerned about. I would rather focus on the fact that most people I’ve come into contact with are reasonable enough even if we disagree on fundamental issues. Working as a teacher is always comforting when confronted with the ultra-ignorant since I get to encourage rational thought and careful reading in my students.

    To be honest, I am much more concerned about the first gentleman’s apparent lack of emotional development than I am about his views on slavery. Thanks.

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 30, 2009

    There is a subtext that runs beneath many discussions that is truly polarizing to the point that the culture wars may lead to cultural suicide if not corrected.

    There were two truly brilliant people I have known in my life: one has a Phd from Stanford and the other had a tenth grade education from a public school.

    You cannot get rid of the concept of the “other” by creating another “other”.

    Even though I believe in the theory of evolution and remember debates concerning it from many years ago, I saw a double rainbow appear in the sky after a healing ceremony was held by a sacred spring. Coincidence? Maybe.

    I haven’t done a word count yet, but I truly hope that I haven’t exceeded eighty words, since encouraging a distillation of our thoughts sounds like good advice to me.
    Thanks.

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 30, 2009

    Footnote: After reading the article Corey sent the link to, and just a few of the comments that follow the article, I cannot state what emotions the comments evoke without violating the rules of blog etiquette. The article, juxtaposed with the comments, highlights the problem in a stark manner. There is a disconnect of major proportions. The problem cannot be solved by simply condemning, dismissing , or waiting until demographics change, however. A lot of people will suffer greatly, if those are the only solutions. I can’t fully explain what I mean without opening up another round of cannonfire, so out of respect for you, Kevin, I will just leave it there. Thanks for all that you do.

  • Craig Jan 30, 2009

    Back in my days as an “AOL Community Leader” helping to manage the old “Mason-Dixon Line” message boards, we had much the same issue. At first the tone of discussion was somewhat managed within the greater community by ostrasism, sort of what is seen in any normal human society. We rarely used our moderation powers to hide or delete posts on the message boards.

    But then AOL started mailing out disks to anyone with a street address. Moderation powers were restricted, and required much justification to use. So there were instances where respected scholars just testing out the “information super highway” were now engaged in street graffiti level discussions. A top notch Lincoln scholar might post a well thought out message concerning Lincoln’s writing style, only to have the response “Lincoln sux!” posted 100 times by user “Bill9999.” Or have the user “CSALivesOn” respond with a diatribe about states rights. But by the service’s policy, none could be removed unless it was deemed offensive or threatening to another member.

    In the end, that first foray into the world wide web for many Civil War “buffs” was met with frustration. The power of the medium was lost in those early days, and didn’t return, in my opinion, until the blogging format became widespread.

    Kevin, I would contend that you actually preserve the balance (and quality) by screening posts that are clearly designed to incite belligerent responses. The concept of “cyber firebombing” of blogs has matured to an art form on many political blogs. The tactics and techniques of those who, because of their own limited communication skills, prefer to tear down the work of others is well refined. Those practices work equally well to smother the intellectual exchange of ideas, be they discussion of tax policy or the style of Lincoln’s prose.

  • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2009

    Craig, — I remember those early AOL days. I was always amazed at the depth of knowledge when it came time for the Monday evening quiz competitions. While I agree that the political blogs are ripe with “cyber firebombers” it seems to me that most of what passes as such in the Civil War blogosphere are comments that reflect very little education and/or no sense of what a formal response involves.

  • Craig Jan 30, 2009

    You know I still have some of those quizes about in my files some where. And some of the chat logs, no doubt.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2009

      All I remember from those quiz nights was the unsettling sensation that comes when you realize how little you know.

  • Lee White Jan 30, 2009

    Craig, Nice to see another former AOL mod here. In regards to this thread, what really gets under my skin is how some think they own “being southern”. I have a straight southern pedigree going back to Jamestown, but I had both Confederate Georgians and Unionist Tennesseans in my family, they were all southern. Also, what about African Americans? Being southern is not just a WASP thing. In regards to attrocities, she should look at what was done to Unionist families in North Georgia by a Confederate Guerilla named John Gatewood, it is the stuff you would see being done by Partizans on the East Front in WWII.

  • Robert Moore Jan 30, 2009

    Lee,

    It’s great to see others who are of a like heritage and a like mindset. The “Southern Heritage does not = Confederate Heritage alone” mindset or even “white mindset alone” is something I argue against often. Also, the Southern Unionist thing is something I have been quite intrigued with ever since I learned that it was a larger reality than I could have ever imagined (at least larger than I could have imagined some 5-6 years ago)… thus my Southern Unionists Chronicles project.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2009

      Now that’s a point I’ve been trying to make on this blog from the beginning.

  • Robert Moore Jan 30, 2009

    Ha! Well, as you know, it’s safe to say that your points not lost here, Kevin. :-)

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 30, 2009

    Eric,

    Yes, the anti-Semitic nature of the remarks stuck out like a sore thumb. That (among numerous other insults) was what was so disconcerting when I went to Kevin’s site to simply make a comment. Looks like you deal with this type of thing much more than you let your readers know, Kevin.

    I used to like the Fogelberg album. It had some good songs on it.

  • Michaela Jan 30, 2009

    Re: Anonymous and the discussion of communism in CW and WWII Germany. While both have genocide and atrocities against a group (groups) within its society in common how much did imperialism play a role in the South? While Hitler invaded European countries to enlarge the German empire and simultaneously practice genocide in the newly gained territory as much as inside Germany’s “original” borders I wonder if the South had expansion in mind and eventually re-establishment of slavery throughout America. Also, while both countries did not “favor” C., how much was targeted against it versus the goal of maintaining a certain social/racial hierarchy and expanding territory? Imperialism and genocide/antisemitism were on the top of the list of the 3rd Reich and far above wherever C. ranked. Re: Northerners and C, they certainly did not favor C. either, but “redistribution” of property is even in 19th century America a wrongly used term considering that a slave (=property) was not redistributed, but freed.

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 31, 2009

    “Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Robert Cook has quite a bit to say about the role of Cold War language during the Civil War Centennial in the early 1960s. As you well know many conservatives reduced the call for civil rights as well as a broader focus for the centennial to liberal-communist propaganda.”

    Kevin, This seems to be the reason the original comment was made–ie, to use the code language found in the extreme propaganda of ultra conservatives to make racial and religious slurs. Communist = white liberal, African American, and Jewish men and women. Communism itself, the Cold War legacy, and actual history have nothing to do with it, as your readers have noted. That is the nature of propaganda.

    World War II analogies and Cold War analogies continue to abound in discussions of the Civil War. I am not sure how far the Cold War analogy holds up, if at all, as Michaela points out, and as anonymous seems to say as well, if I am reading the comment of anonymous correctly. The World War II analogy does apply in many ways, however, and since this analogy seems to underlie the thinking of many, it does warrant a close look from every angle. The critical difference would seem to be the obvious: the American Civil War was a war fought by a “nation divided against itself”, and when that nation reunited, the underlying racism of the entire nation reigned supreme. The South was the belly of the beast, but the beast was, and is, large, and has many faces. If World War II had been a war fought by a nation, Germany, whose population was basically anti-Semitic in its views, yet that had segments of its society that were not anti Semitic, and the nation divided over the question of whether the rights of Jewish men and women should be retained or taken (not to mention their property, their freedom, and their lives) then the West Germans fought the East Germans, let’s say, (I see Cold War thinking coming into the analogy, after all) and the West Germans won the war, then saved the Jewish population, only to leave the Jewish population at the mercy of their original oppressors (I know the analogy falls apart fast, which is actually my point, I think) then the analogy would be valid. I am not saying this to attempt to neutralize arguments that the South fought to preserve slavery, or to deny that the South developed an ironclad system of institutional racism after the war that crushed the hopes and lives of African Americans for generations. If an iron curtain fell anywhere, it was over the South. It truly is unconscionable for anyone to attempt to say this was not so. Plus, it is simply fiction. My point is that I think we need to dislodge ourselves from our positions so that we can see the entire picture, as I know most scholars do. The North and the South are both guilty of abandoning our fellow Americans who are of African descent. Perhaps if Lincoln had not been assassinated, this would not be so. Lincoln was assassinated, however, and with his assassination went the dreams of an entire people–temporarily, that is. You can’t kill a dream, though. Dreams just don’t die–as we have just witnessed–and that is the beauty of it all, if beauty can be found anywhere in the nightmare that was slavery.

    As to your reasons for separating this discussion from the original discussion that prompted it: the rants do serve a purpose and maybe should be used for discussion in a separate forum, as you have done here, if you decide to include them at all. If they are included in the comments with your posts, however, they do have the potential to totally derail the conversation. When I read that rant, it was like receiving a physical blow. It actually took my breath. The rant does reveal the power of propaganda, however, and to that end, may help in bringing about the conversation on race that President Obama said we need to have. Thanks, Kevin.

  • Lee White Jan 31, 2009

    To address two more issues here, First, I have seen over and over how the Union armies were barbaric, practicing total war against the southern people like it was something new for the US, but if you look at the Colonies and then the US war against the various Native American tribes from the 1600s on, you see the most brutal type of warfare being practiced, and before anyone can say anything about the South, during the Cherokee Removal, ordered by a Southern President for a Southern Governor about a States Rights issue, it was the US army that played the role of peacekeeper, almost all of the attrocities that occured, beatings, burnings, etc, was done by the Georgia and Tennessee Militias. But then again, I guess with this mindset Cherokees dont count either.
    Now in regards to the anti-semetic remarks, I guess all of the Jews living in Charleston, New Orleans, and Mobile that fought for the Confederacy didnt count, nor does Judah Benjamin. Ugh.

    Lee

  • Kevin Levin Jan 31, 2009

    Lee,

    Excellent point. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Mark Grimsley’s Hard Hand of War, which places the notion of “hard war” in the context of the evolution of Union military strategy as well as the history of warfare going back to the middle ages. According to Grimsley, the war in 1864 – along with other examples – did not reflect a sudden shift in the rules of war. It’s funny how often the Union army is used as the paradigm example of marauding hordes in contrast with a Confederate army that supposedly restrained itself or protected traditional rules of warfare. Tell that to African Americans in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863 or the people of Chambersburg. Wars often lead to examples of violence that challenge certain sensibilities. Why would the Civil War be any different?

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 31, 2009

    Wado (thank you) for standing up for the Cherokee, Lee.

  • Anonymous Jan 31, 2009

    Sorry that my earlier post was all over the place. Here is a clearer statement of what I meant to say. Conservative white southern responses to desegregation cast desegregation as a Second Reconstruction, and painted it in terms of a second invasion of the North. In many cases, this also included the accusations that Civil Rights leaders were nothing but Communist puppets. In some instances, this rhetoric was grafted onto the existing Lost Cause mythology (the return of Confederate flags over statehouses). Thus, northern (and southern) liberals could appear both as a second Yankee invasion, as well as Communists. Dragging in Nazi Germany was not meant to compare Nazi Germany to the Confederacy, but to point out a similar instance of how anti-Communist fears led to a particular kind of memory. Former Nazi generals and political leaders could point to their staunch anti-Communism as a way to distract from their crimes. Anti-segregationists could add legitimacy to their cause by painting it as a resistance to Communism instead of packaging it as a purely racist stance. Trotting out the bugaboo of Communism could be used to deflect justice and a more faithful rendering of the historical record. In essence, while a book about Lincoln being a Communist seems ridiculous, it makes perfect sense as to why some people would believe this stance. Think too about arguments that somehow the South remains “true” America; it maintains the religious principles upon which the country was supposedly founded; it maintains what America was before the New Deal made it go socialist. In other words, memory of the Civil War since the 1930s was shaped by a continuing debate about the nature of liberalism and conservatism in the United States, as well as shaped by the Cold War. This point has been acknowledged in scholarship about German memory, but appears far less in studies of the memory of the Civil War, which rarely pushes past the “founding generation” of memory.

  • Sherree Tannen Jan 31, 2009

    Anonymous, You are right on target except for one thing: parts of the South were a part of true America before our history was hi-jacked. I see this very clearly now, and will continue to pursue these avenues of thought as long and as far as the hospitality and patience of our host allows.

  • kevin a kearns Feb 1, 2009

    who cares what she thinks.”you people”could mean northern people,in any case i know people who say sherman should be brought up on war crimes,they call it the war of yankee agression yet who fired 1st-the star of the west in january 61 and then fort sumpter[built by tax payers money]as porter wrote-“deluded people must cave in”or something like that.

  • Daniel Sauerwein Feb 3, 2009

    Kevin,

    With regard to comments, I would say that unless they clearly look like spam, as some do slip by filters, or are over the top with coarse language and racial slurs, that you should post them. While some may say that you would be legitimizing their points of view, you also do not want to get the reputation of someone who only allows comments fitting their views. By allowing all comments, excluding the examples I noted, you offer the opportunity for vigorous debate. If someone posts a rant like that again, let your readers show the higher road of their opinions by countering such rants with reasoned rebuttals, as it will make them look weak and strengthen your blog by showing people that you are willing to let them be heard, but that they may face criticism. That’s just my thoughts on it.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 3, 2009

      Thanks for chiming in on this issue. I pretty much agree with you, but what concerns me is the extent to which the rants can end up stifling and alienating those who are looking for an intelligent discussion. It seems to me that it is possible to disagree w/o resorting to overly emotional language and insults. I like to think that my blog is open to the comments from a wide range of readers.

  • Victoria Bynum Feb 5, 2009

    Kevin,

    I heard you speak at the SHA Civil War luncheon last November, and meant to visit your site long ago; it’s great!

    As someone who writes about southern Unionists, I find the us/you, North/South rants by folks such as JacquelineSouthern ludicrous. While I agree that you want to include as many points of view as possible, I think you’re right to moderate judiciously. Ad hominen attacks and irrational anger expressed in immature tantrums have no place in any discussion forum.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 6, 2009

      Professor Bynum,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for the kind words re: the blog. Your next book project looks to be quite interesting. I placed a link to your blog on my sidebar. Good luck with it and feel free to ask me anything about the challenges of blogging.

  • Victoria Bynum Feb 5, 2009

    Oops, I mean JosephineSouthern!

  • victoria bynum Feb 6, 2009

    Kevin,

    Please call me Vikki. Thanks so much for adding my new blog to your site! I am going to add yours to mine, as well. And I’m sure I’ll be in touch about the challenges of blogging.

    Best,
    Vikki

  • Kevin Levin Feb 6, 2009

    Will do. Thanks for joining the community. Glad to see that you found Robert Moore’s (Cenantua) blog. In my mind he is one of the more interesting Civil War bloggers and his focus on southern unionists is right up your alley.

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