This Is Not a Southern View of the Civil War

The Washington Post’s popular A House Divided blog has welcomed Brag Bowling as its newest member.  It will be interesting to see whether Bowling can move beyond advocacy and actually formulate an argument.

As I was perusing the site I noticed an announcement for the upcoming annual meeting of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, which happens to be the “educational arm” of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  What concerns me is that Linda Wheeler chose to characterize it as offering a “southern view of the Civil War.”  Well, it’s doesn’t.  Wheeler goes on to include what I must assume is the organization’s own rhetoric of “presenting the true history of the South.”  Again, it doesn’t.  It is a fundamental mistake to assume that the Institute speaks for anyone other than their members.  To casually suggest that they speak for “the South” is inexcusable and irresponsible.  If we’ve seen anything over the past few months is that there are a number of competing narratives of the Civil War in the South.

They surely don’t speak for fellow southern bloggers, Robert Moore and Andy Hall. They don’t speak for the many professional historians who were born and raised in the South and who now work hard researching and teaching the history of this beautiful region of the country.  We can safely assume that they do not speak for the vast majority of African Americans in the South.  It’s not even clear that the Institute speaks for the majority or even a substantial minority of the region.  In fact, it’s insulting to suggest that just because you live in the South that you necessarily hold firm to a certain narrative of the past.  It would be nice if we could move beyond this naive view of Civil War memory.

Finally, I find it just a little troubling that Wheeler chose to announce this event at all.  Of all the forthcoming events in the next few weeks why would anyone publicize a conference that has almost nothing to do with history and everything to do with advocacy?

14 responses... add one

Minus the Lee bobble head doll, great post. I dont always agree with the opinions in the Wash Post’s CW section, but I applaud them for having one. If you want a proper icon for the SCV and/or South Was Right apologists…how about the Jeff Davis doll. I think that would be more appropriate (as Davis never let go of southern independence and Lee tried and encouraged others to let go) – plus they do have a Davis doll…got one next to my Lincoln in my library ;-)

Thanks for the suggestion, Bob, but I’ve always been a bigger fan of Lee. I couldn’t disagree with you more re: Lee’s fervent nationalism. He was committed to southern independence to the very end of the war. Yes, after the war he publicly appealed to southerners to move on, but in private it is clear that he continued to struggle with defeat and the changes to society that Confederate independence would have prevented.

First: your comments highlight what is one of the most problematic things we see in Civil War discourse: the false construction of what it means to be Southern, or what it means to have a “Southern” view of the Civil War.

This is a MUCH bigger issue that the Black Confederate controversy – indeed, it can be argued that the Black Confederate narrative flows from the so-called “Southern” view of the role of blacks during the war.

This so-called “Southern” view is really a Confederate-partisan / white-only / anti-Union (and anti-Lincoln) view. That point can’t be stressed more.
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Having said that, I can understand why Wheeler printed this up. As I take it, the Post is not just looking at the history of the war, but also, the historiography of the war. The fact of the SCV holding this conference fits in with the Post’s goal. Failure to provide some coverage of this would cause some people to say the Post is biased in some way. I think you know what I’m saying.

What I hope will happen in the future, hopefully the near future, is that the Post will do some reporting of how the term “Southern” is being – I hope this is not too strong a term – co-opted by Confederate partisans, or presentists, or whomever.

The addition of Brag Bowling may be nothing more than a response to complaints from the Southron Heritage folks that their “side” wasn’t being represented. If so, it’s unfortunate, but understandable. Sometimes it’s just easier to give in to whining, than to deal with the headache of putting up with it.

That said, it will be interesting to see what Bowling contributes, and how often. There’s close to zero chance that he’ll offer something more than standard tropes that have been circulating for generations, but (I suspect) a high probability he’ll toss out some deeply stupid stuff that will please his followers and make himself look foolish to most everyone else. And far better Brag Bowling, than someone like Walter Williams or Thomas DiLorenzo, who are just as bad but bring with them the sheen of the academy and the gravitas that comes with that.

That one-way view regarding the “Southern view of the war” will be something that will go even beyond this generation. It’s the generalizations that keep us busy. :-)

As for Brag Bowling, I’m in total agreement with Andy.

I pretty much agree with you guys. I have to say that I don’t find the Post’s Civil War site to be as vibrant as the NYTs. The questions posed are predictable and the word count that seems to be imposed is too constricting. I would rather see this group, including Bowling, reflect on various aspects of the war that they believe to be important. In short, I don’t know how much longer than can continue to do this.

I have to say that I think you’re playing semantics. Wheeler said it’s “a Southern view”, not “the Southern view”, and most people who read that know what it means, whether they agree or not. Yes, some interested and less educated readers may assume that she speaks for all of the South, but really, Americans who are interested enough to read the WaPo blog understand what the phrase “Southern view” refers to when presented in this context, right or wrong. To write a post about this, and to perpetuate the “stop generalizing me” political correctness movement in this country, is less than interesting; in my own opinion, your entire blog is a vivid and well-done testament that modern Southern views are diverse, and you don’t need to go the nit-pick route when the rest of your writing does a fine job of educating the point.

Fair enough, but I think it’s pretty clear what Wheeler is suggesting. It’s the organization’s own rhetoric. It’s not even true that it’s necessarily “a” Southern view. Thanks for the comment.

I wouldn’t expect a Southern view from you Kevin your a born and breed Yankee. At least your a honest one.

That is a contradiction in words…….Yankee and Honest? Never use those two words in the same sentence. Kevin Levin’s blog is a slag in the face to every Southerner !!

May I say, and simply put, YES, the Southern point of view concerning the War Between the States, is so very much true and correct. The poor old Yankee rhetoric about the ‘North good, South Bad’, is total bunk! It is crying, moaning and wailing because the South WAS right. The north covered up so much and then turned it around and said far too many untrue statements to make it look like the South was nothing more than a barbarous section of the country who only wanted slaves, while the pious north only wanted themselves to look as though they were the virtuous ones. The north blamed the War on the South, while they themselves were the invaders. The north wants and has, in some instances, changed history, to make themselves look good in the eyes of the newer generations, to hold the South accountable for the mistakes of northern politicians!

There is plenty of mythology to go around. Your claim that “the South WAS right” is not so much part of this mythology, but an overly simplified observation that doesn’t tell us much of anything beyond your own emotional state.

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