An Unusual Voice of the Lost Cause

I don’t know anything about this individual, but I think you will agree that he is unusual given the common ethnic/racial profile of the Lost Cause advocate. It really is amazing what you can find on YouTube.

[Uploaded to YouTube on January 13, 2014]

19 responses... add one

If ever the losers had their say,wrote their history, it was our American Civil War…

As Mr. Yoshida is preaching to the choir in his interview as he promotes his ebook, which is an imaginary history ‘projection book’ (a “what if”) enterprise, he understandably promotes the simplistic view that it is the victors who define and write the history of every war. However, I agree with Mr. Moon above, he is ludicrously off base in pronouncing his judgment with regard to the American Civil War which has been successfully defined and redefined with generations of white, Southern, historians, many of whom were literally the children of the Confederacy.

Let’s start our list with the only former president of the United States who wrote a comprehensive history of the nation consisting of two volumes that provided extensive revisionist portrayals of the Civil War, its origins and purpose: Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was the Dean of Princeton, advocated segregation when he subsequently was elected president of the United States in 1912, and in 1915 was the first president ever to have a screening of a motion picture in the White House, “The Birth of the Nation” by D.W. Griffith, based on the novel by Woodrow’s ex-college roommate, Thomas F. Dixon. Whether he officially sanctioned it or not, President Wilson allowed his undocumented quote, “It’s as if history was written in stone by lightening,” to be used in the film’s national advertising campaign. That same year saw the “Knights of Mary Phagan” the society that inaugurated its activities with the lynching of Leo Frank who was falsely accused for the rape of “little Mary Phagan.” Notwithstanding the deathbed confession of an eyewitness to the true murdere of “little Mary Phagan,” the self-appointed revisionist historians of Wikipedia, more southern revisionists, and descendents of “little Mary” who have difficulty accepting the fact that the eyewitness to the event saw the janitor Jim Conley with Mary Phagan’s corpse, admit to killing her, and then threaten a similar fate to the young African American who witnessed him with her lifeless body.

The proud and distinguished gentlemen who formed the Knights of Mary Phagan, led by a former governor of Georgia, in their lynching of the commuted prisoner Leo Frank on Stone Mountain, after they kidnapped him from the protection of his prison, transformed their society into the renewed KKK, the original having been outlawed during Reconstruction.

President Wilson after helping promote The Birth of the Nation into the most commercially successful motion picture in history prior to Gone With the Wind, went on to support segregation in our armed forces and in the postal service, prior to engaging our nation in the Great War. Apparently, the fact that Wilson advocated the for the revisionist Southern view of the Civil War, is lost on Mr. Yoshida in his somewhat simplistic and self-promoting perspective as delivered on U-Tube.

Oh my, where to begin. OK, Wilson was President, not Dean of Princeton. (1902-1910). His US history was a five volume edition, but he did write two different books that discussed the Civil War, his History of the US and “Division and Reunion.” Neither was designed to be a “Southern” view of the war. Actually he tried to find a middle road between northern and southern accounts of the war, arguing that the south was wrong about secession. “Division” got good reviews a the time, although the more hard-core southern papers denounced it as too “pro-Yankee.” I don’t think “Confederate Veteran” was fond of it either, though I’d have to double-check. He did portray Reconstruction as a mistake, although that was a pretty common position at the time and he was hardly the only person to portray it as such. FWIW, he also said that he loved the south, and that was why he was happy they lost the war, hardly a Lost Cause position.

Dixon was friends with Wilson, briefly, at Johns Hopkins. Dixon dropped out quickly to try to become an actor. “Birth” was not the first film shown at the White House, it was the second, although that’s a very common mistake. It was shown at the White House, not to honor the film, but because Wilson was in official mourning for his first wife, and could not properly visit the theater. According to one eyewitness account collected in the 1970s by Arthur Link, he sat silently through the film, then left without saying a word.

The supposed quote, which you massacred, is likely a fake. It doesn’t appear until 1937 and was not mentioned by Dixon in his memoirs. It certainly does not appear in the advertising of 1915, and I’ve gone through that advertising, and DW Griffith’s papers, pretty thoroughly. He MAY have remarked that the film was like “teaching history through lightening” but even that is doubtful, and even that remark appeared, as far as I could find, in just one ad well after the film was already a success.

“Birth” did quote Wilson, but did not quote his denunciation of the Klan and its violence, at one point Griffith takes parts of two quotes to combine them to make it sound as if Wilson approved of the Klan. Wilson issued a very, very lukewarm statement about how he did not endorse the film. The NAACP circulated the statement as proof that Wilson did not endorse it.

The most important showing was not the White House viewing, but the one the next night at the press club for members of the Supreme Court and Congress. That showing got the press coverage and Griffith milked it for all the endorsements he needed from both Democrats and Republicans. The film was a huge success, not because Wilson saw it, but because it was technically a very well made film and in terms of story-telling, well in advance of most films of its era. It’s almost unwatchable now because of the heavy-handed racism of course, but that was not the case, even in the north, in 1915.

Wilson did not segregate the military, it was already segregated. He did allow his Cabinet members to segregate their departments if they wanted. Most of his cabinet members were southerners and did so. The Post Office was one of those, but that included replacing Republican Post Masters with Democratic Post Masters, which often meant replacing African-Americans with whites, given the nature of the parties at the time. Wilson did not insist upon segregation, and a handful of federal offices did not do so, but only a handful. It’s certainly a mark against Wilson’s record, a huge one, but it was also not especially controversial. I noted none of his three Republican successors reversed it.

The Klan did take advantage of “Birth” but didn’t really catch on until better marketers took over in about 1920 or so. Wilson in fact told a friend in a letter in 1923 that he had heard the man had joined the Klan (he had) and that he hoped this wasn’t true, as the Klan was one of the worst organizations around at the time. Note also that the Klan of the 10s and 20s was very anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. Wilson was neither. He appointed the first Catholic and Jewish faculty to Princeton. He appointed Louis Brandeis, a good friend and adviser, to the Supreme Court. His secretary (today he’d be Chief of Staff) was Catholic, and there were persistent rumors that Wilson was a “secret Catholic” and member of the Knights of Columbus.

Was Wilson a bigot? Of course he was, but he was, unfortunately, well-inside the mainstream of the US of the time. Let’s not try to blame the racism of the US government in the early 20th century on one man when he acted in the mainstream.

And finally, someone is already thinking of reminding me that Teddy Roosevelt had Booker Washington to the White House. True. And Wilson had Washington as a guest at his inauguration as President of Princeton in 1902. He sat with other honored guests, which appalled some of Wilson’s southern relatives. Anybody that doesn’t think Teddy was as big a believer as Wilson in the superiority of the “Anglo-Saxon” white does not know much about Teddy.

Oh my, where to begin.

I wasn’t sure either so I didn’t bother to try. Thanks for the comment. I learned a few things.

I am familiar with both books. Patler’s is better. Yellin has a political axe to grind. John Milton Cooper’s book is useful to read with Patler. Basically, any Democrat would have done the same in 1913 and the Republicans did nothing to reverse it. The 1913 segregation was part of a larger, nation-wide effort to expand Jim Crow that crossed party and political lines.

I should note that my intention is not to deny Wilson was racist. That’d be silly and ahistorical at best. I simply want to note that, contrary to what some claim, his racism was not unusual for the time. He was no more, and no less, racist than Taft or Roosevelt, or Bryan. White supremacy was the majority view of the time, as unappealing as that is to accept now. But that makes those who did reject it, such as Oswald Garrison Villard, all the more exceptional.

I’ve never thought much of the argument that the winner writes the history. That leads to all sorts of sloppy analysis, as evidenced by the string of cliches that then proceeds from Dr. Yoshida’s mouth.

Another canard is, “It was all about economics.” Dr. Walter Williams, the conservative economist, is worth mentioning here as an unexpected defender of the Lost Cause. While a sound thinker in most topics in my opinion, he falls off the cliff regarding this issue–or did as of about 15 years ago, which is the last time I heard him discuss the topic. His ideas run/ran pretty much along what he wrote for the Jewish Review in 1998 (found here: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams120298.asp). DOH!

One can only hope that the quality of his scholarship in the field of Economics is more impressive than his attempts at writing history.

As a non-U.S. scholar of the Civil War, things like this concern me. Dr. Yoshida and others serve as a funnels or interpreters of the huge literature on this subject for their countries. As a result, they can influence, often negatively, foreign views of this conflict over there. I came across a book called Blood and Daring last year about Canada and the Civil War. I think it is terrible, feebly researched (the author cited a historical novel at one point) and written in a way to feed old conspiracy theories and extant prejudices about a U.S. invasion of the colonies after the war. He has been sought out for his views in the media. In contrast, my Italian-language history of the war by Raimondo Luraghi is a scholarly work whose only weakness is being dated. A British book by Robin Cook is more up to date. For Christmas, I received a Swedish language book called Den Bittra Fejden: Nordamerikansa Inbordskrieget 1861-1865 by Goran Rystad. I can’t read it, but the author is a history professor at Lund so it may be sound. I can only speculate on what influence other foreign Civil War scholars have on their audiences.

It’s rather galling that the twerp interviewing him seems to have a British accent. I’ve noticed that the economistic explanation for the ACW is equally popular here with more-or-less racist right-wingers and with immature formulaic “Marxists”.
Where is this filmed – a drop-centre for lonely old widowers where they get a bowl of hot noodles and a break from talking to themselves?

Whatever Dr. Yoshida is doing, a problem I have is the despicable manner in which the freed slaves and “contraban” were treated not only during the Civil War, but after it. After the Civil War, there was not only hard feelings toward the blacks, but widespread alienation of the freed slaves in the North as well as in the South. They were not welcomed in many places other than as cheap labor. In Arkansas, I witnessed the squalor of their living conditions into the 1970′s they were economically held to because they could not rise above their station in life. Very limited concern was given to blacks other that that they were not owned. After slavery ended, many became enslaved to the “company store” as their need to work for sustenance and survival dictated.

The Union did well to emancipate the slaves no matter the reasoning behind it, but did poorly in what they did to the former slaves – many of which were not conditioned to care for themselves.

It is important and interesting to understand what non-U.S. scholars are thinking about the American Civil War and a rapport needs to be maintained.

Sam Vanderburg
Texas

Emancipation was a complex and often dangerous transition for former slaves both in the short and long terms. Jim Downs’s Sick From Freedom is well worth reading on this point. The problem, as I see it, is that Yoshida is just spouting off the same old talking points that pass for knowledge among Neo-Confederate and other Lost Cause crowds.

Mr. Vanderburg, I agree with you that we should not turn up our noses at foreign scholars who take an interest in our history. Outside points of view should always be welcome, and can be very enlightening. We have a right to expect that anyone who claims the title of Scholar actually demonstrate extensive knowledge and wisdom in applying that knowledge in his professed area of expertise–and Dr. Yoshida is not one of these!

What kind of scholar is Yoshida? Am I to believe that he is a professional historian given his cut and paste understanding of the South and the Civil War?

I’ve never heard of “Dr.” Yoshida, and I don’t know whether he claims to be a scholar. I just meant to respond to Mr. Vanderburg’s last point, which is a good one, with some caveats about the quality of the scholarship. It is safe to say that Dr. Yoshida’s opinions are the product of poor scholarship, whether he claims to be one or not! :)

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