[Hat-Tip to David Woodbury]
This is one of those jaw-dropping stories that makes you wonder about the collective mental stability of our little Civil War community. Apparently, the John Bell Hood Society is troubled by historian Wiley Sword’s characterization of Hood’s personal, intellectual, and battlefield skills. To share this disgust the organization decided to take out an ad in Civil War News, which includes a link to a site where you can read their detailed critique harangue against Sword. They accuse Sword of “engaging in an unholy Jihad against Gen. Hood, filtering from historical records any and all documented evidence that does not support his biased, agenda-based premise.”
I will leave it to you to read through their objections to Sword, but what I find disturbing is their overall tone. Their choice of language reflects a misunderstanding of what is involved in historical analysis and ultimately reflects poorly on the members of the organization and renders their position as highly suspect. They have every right to challenge a historical interpretation and anyone who is a serious student of history ought to welcome it. Ultimately, any objection stands or falls based on whether it exposes an obvious oversight or mistake made during the research and writing process or offers a reasonable alternative interpretation of the same evidence. Again, you will have to read through their response to Sword and judge for yourself.
Perhaps I am overly sensitive to this kind of language, but as someone who is constantly attacked and even threatened on occasion, I call on the publisher of Civil War News to pull this ad from their next issue if it is slated to appear. There should be no toleration for this kind of incendiary language.
This attack against Sword is reminiscent of a similar response to Alan Nolan’s Lee Considered, which was first published in 1991. A quick swing through the website of the John Bell Society reveals a group of worshippers rather than serious students of history and no doubt helps to explain the religious overtone of their response against Sword. I guess this is what happens to people who are exposed to the study of history at an early age along the lines outlined by John J. Dwyer. They no longer see history as a discipline that is continually in flux and open to revision as opposed to a holy text that must be defended against all sinners and non-believers.
Update: As a way of making my point here, I encourage all of you to read Victoria Bynum’s review of a new book on the State of Jones. It is an excellent example of what a critical review looks like without resorting to hyperbole and insult.