Why Did a Video about the Civil War and Slavery Go Viral?

Yesterday I posted a video of a West Point history professor briefly discussing the central role that slavery played in the coming of the Civil War. While I suggested that there is nothing surprising in this video, Professor Ty Seidule does address a number of widely misunderstood topics related to the central issue such as why non-slaveholding whites supported the Confederacy.

The video appeared following a column by Steven Metz, director of research at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, in which he calls for the U.S. military to ‘Disavow the glorification of Confederate symbolism.’ Professor Seidule is interviewed in this article, which likely explains the statement I highlighted in yesterday’s post about the U.S. army’s role in defeating the Confederacy.

While it may be an exaggeration to say that the video has gone viral since it was posted yesterday, it has appeared on a consistent basis on all of my social media channels by individuals with varying political backgrounds. What might explain this? Here are a few thoughts.

First, the video packs a good deal of information in just under six minutes and it does so with a creative use of graphics and highlighted narrative. Most importantly, the video undercuts in a number of ways the tendency to reduce history to politics. For many the argument that slavery was the central cause of the war is nothing more than revisionist history articulated by liberal professors at elite institutions.

That the historian in question is a West Point instructor and in uniform and not the stereotypical professor forces the viewer to consider the argument rather than simply dismissing the individual in question. The general public tends not to think of the military as a liberal institution. Finally, the video was produced by and posted to Prager University’s YouTube page. Prager is known for their 5-minute videos that offer a conservative perspective on a wide range of subjects. News of the video has been picked up by Salon, Daily Kos, and the Acton Institute.

The video can’t do everything in six minutes, but it does encapsulate the best historical research of the past few decades even as it challenges popular interpretations in certain conservative circles that highlight everything but slavery.

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21 comments… add one
  • passerendip Nov 13, 2016 @ 23:13

    This comment/question is not about the content of the post (which seems to be on point, concise, and well presented and defended). Rather, it’s about the appropriateness of Col. Seidule to appear in this video and this forum in uniform.

    Doing so gives the clear impression he is acting as a spokesman for the U. S. Army. I don’t challenge his credentials or the content, I just question the appropriateness of him presenting in this venue while in uniform.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 14, 2016 @ 2:27

      Doing so gives the clear impression he is acting as a spokesman for the U. S. Army.

      How so? Explain. Do you take issue with the interpretation that he presents?

  • Phil LeDuc Aug 16, 2015 @ 15:21

    Here’s another thoughtful look at this topic by another historian –


  • MarlaHughes Aug 15, 2015 @ 3:02

    One of my favorite Southern political bloggers, Kay Day, disagrees with the importance and accuracy of the Colonel’s video. She’s a thoughtful and normally well researched writer but I didn’t have a response to her long and detailed post other than to link the origins of the political poster she used to demonstrate her point about tariffs. Which apparently wasn’t approved as a comment. I would love some assistance if anyone has time or inclination.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2015 @ 3:16

      I think it’s pretty easy to criticize the video for what it doesn’t do given that it is just over five minutes in length. A better approach would be to suggest ways that the narrative could have been constructed. Than again haven’t we just opened the floodgates for criticisms of what the video doesn’t do? Where does it end.

      The author misses the overall purpose of the video. Sure, for me there was nothing new in this video, but the point was to challenge a pervasive belief among many throughout the country that slavery was incidental to the war. Actually, the video manages to make some very subtle points about the extent to which white southerners (slaveholders and non-slaveholdiers alike) supported the institution of slavery and why.

      Overall, I would say, mission accomplished.

      • MarlaHughes Aug 15, 2015 @ 3:27

        Thank you for a VERY rapid reply. I refreshed the page and there you were. 🙂
        You make some excellent points. I am appalled at how many of my political allies are completely uninformed on this issue and seek out sources that agree with the conclusions they want to reach. For example, Kay Day uses a Mises Institute book (Di Lorenzo) for a source on the tariffs. I didn’t bother going past that, although I’m going to have to address that aspect farther in my discussions with fellow Southerners since it seems to be the latest excuse the authors they trust hang their hats on.

        • Jimmy Dick Aug 15, 2015 @ 5:42

          I am always amused by those who bring up the tariff. They almost always are thinking of the Morrill Tariff which only passed in the Senate after the Deep South states seceded. It would not have made it out of committee any other way. Most of them are influenced by the modern free trade ideas and fail to look at the tariff as the people of 1860 did.

          I left a post for that site as well. It seems to involve modern politics which most of the people that talk about the tariff seem to bring up pretty quickly.

  • TFSmith Aug 13, 2015 @ 18:37

    Tanker, Airborne, Cavalry … And a Phd. Yes, I’d suggest the colonel is eminently qualified.

    • Mark Snell Aug 14, 2015 @ 11:45

      His resumé is typical of all of the uniformed faculty at West Point. Most are captains or majors who have had successful stints as company commanders. Not all have their Ph.D, but those who do not normally are working on their dissertation–on their off-duty time.

  • Jimmy Dick Aug 12, 2015 @ 16:56

    I find it very interesting that none of the heritage bloggers that usually reject facts have uttered a word about Colonel Seidule’s video. It is almost as it the video does not exist for them. Of course they are also being pretty silent on Lilly Baumann’s kidnapping.

    I really like the way Colonel Seidule delivers his commentary. By the time it ends, I think Colonel Seidule would have no problem leading any element of the US Army into action against secessionists or any other enemy of the United States of America. Here is his bio from West Point: http://www.usma.edu/history/_layouts/wpFacultyBios/DisplayBio.aspx?ID=433c7a9d-de5d-4ae7-bdd0-04eabe14bf09&List=39ae5a4f-305e-4a47-a6b4-273bab42a63d

    He has led men in battle and holds a Ph.D in history. No wonder I like this guy. Somehow I don’t think the heritage nuts want to play with him. He will not tolerate their lies. Nor should he tolerate the lies in the first place.

  • Jerry McKenzie Aug 12, 2015 @ 6:44

    I posted your blog to my Facebook page last night as it is such a good 6-minute lesson and presentation. Thanks for the first post and this follow-up!

  • Msb Aug 11, 2015 @ 21:24

    I think you’ve listed most of the reasons, Kevin. I’d add that the timing is especially good, as the topic is on people’s minds owing to, for example, the Charleston murders, disputes about the CBF and monuments, etc. like you, I don’t think the conservative “source” hurts it at all.

  • cagraham Aug 11, 2015 @ 18:06

    Colonel Seidule edited the recently updated The West Point History of the Civil War. Here is an extended interview with himin which he makes a compelling case for military history not only for U.S. Army officers, but to American citizens in general.

  • MarlaHughes Aug 11, 2015 @ 15:44

    I’m one who shared it. Because Dennis Prager is such a well respected conservative thought leader, it gained added weight from that sector. That’s especially important because of the controversy over what to do with Southern conservatives who have been steeped in revisionist history. The same goes with Hot Air, although it lost a lot of cache when Michelle Malkin sold it to Salem Media group, perceived as being ‘establishment’, not conservative. The commenters often completely disagree and vilify the writers.
    The political slant is that Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley made a concerted and successful effort to eject anyone from leadership who were associated with racist organizations or groups. They’re attempting a come back now both Buckley and Reagan are dead.
    And that’s where conservatives are right now and why it’s such a big deal during this campaign season. That explains why the video you shared caused more of a stir than you expected. So you won’t be surprised further, expect more hits and subscribers from those who love the New South and want to keep those who still support the Old South from seizing power back.

  • John Betts Aug 11, 2015 @ 14:40

    The conservative site Hot Air also approvingly posted the video. It did generate quite a lively discussion, although nothing surprising from dead-enders for the Lost Cause…


  • Noma Aug 11, 2015 @ 14:04

    Over two million hits on Salon. That sounds pretty viral to me!

    • Kevin Levin Aug 11, 2015 @ 14:12

      I only came across the Salon link as I was finishing up the post. Didn’t even look at the share count.

  • Noma Aug 11, 2015 @ 13:54

    It was an amazing, concise and welcome video — especially coming from such an authentic source. i can only hope it goes more viral. Kudos to Colonel Ty Seidule!

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