As some of you know I’ve been playing around with an external comment system to help improve discussion and community. Before WordPress added the threaded comments option this was the main reason why these plugins were used. I played around with it, but in the end decided that it was too much hassle since it only takes a small number of people to fail to use the system properly. The other issue was not wanting to hand over my comments to a third party. Luckily, most of these comment tools have taken care of this issue. In recent weeks I tried again, but had some difficulty syncing the comments. After the technical problems of last week subsided I decided to give it another shot. This time things are much more promising. The only issue is getting the comments from the last five days properly synced. The customer support system at Disqus is first rate so I am hoping to hear from them soon. For those of you who have commented on the last few posts please rest assured that your comments are safe.
While you will be able to take advantage of threaded comments, the real benefit is in the way that Disqus fosters community among readers. I urge you to take a few seconds to set up an account with Disqus. Of course, you can still comment the old-fashioned way, but an account will allow you to subscribe to the comments of others and your own comments will be archived from around the Web. I think that is pretty darn cool. Finally, it would be great if those of you who comment frequently would upload some kind of image to your comments.
I hope you find this worthwhile and you can start by leaving a comment to this post.
It’s a pretty miserable day here in central Virginia. On top of the rain I am strung out on the couch watching college football and dealing with a cold and sore throat. Since it looks like I will not get anything serious done today I thought I might offer you the second installment of my examination of Crocker’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War. The following is titled “We’re All Confederates Now” and asks the reader to imagine the following:
Put yourself in Robert E. Lee’s shoes. If the South seceded today, how many of us would think the proper response would be for the federal government to send tanks over the bridges spanning the Potomac into Virginia, to blockade Southern ports and carpet bomb Southern cities? If we don’t, it’s because we see the United States as the Confederacy saw it, as a voluntary union. The idea that we have to keep California, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Maine together by force would probably strike us as ridiculous. And if it came to that, it would probably strike us as horrendous and wrong. (p. 33)
First, why do we need to put ourselves in the shoes of Lee? Does he have some kind of privileged position that would steer us to the correct answer as to what would be considered a proper response by the federal government in case of a modern day secession? To show how absurd this little thought experiment is, why not put ourselves in the shoes of Winfield Scott, George Thomas or any other Southern graduate of West Point who took part in the invasion of their own homes. Scott himself outlined the invasion of much of the South in his Anaconda Plan. More importantly, we now know that the generation of Southern West Point cadets that graduated in the 1830s did not resign their commissions in 1861. In the end, it is irrelevant what we would countenance as a legitimate response. What we do know is that plenty of white Southerners in 1861 believed that “invasion” was the only response to the actions of most of the Southern states.
There is plenty more where this comes from.
After reading Chris Wehner’s erratic response to my thoughts about American Exceptionalism as well as Richard Williams’s predictable response I thought I might follow up with a few words to clarify my position. As usual, rather than try to explore what I’ve said about this subject Williams pulls out the same tired references to the “liberal elite” who supposedly hate America and all that is good. [blah, blah, blah...Howard Zinn, blah, blah, Eric Foner, blah, blah] What is truly astounding about Williams’s response is that this is the same guy who constantly rails against teachers/academics for imposing their view of the world on their students. I stated very clearly that one of my overarching goals in the classroom is not to impose my views on my students one way or the other. Here is what I stated:
I’ve said before that I do not consider it my responsibility to influence students in how they judge the collective moral status of the United States through its history and current policies. In addition to the concept of exceptionalism I also steer clear of any notion of America as “God’s Chosen People” or the notion of an inherent “Evil Imperial Empire” that is espoused by some on the extreme Left.
In other words, as difficult as it is I am trying my best to maintain a neutral stance when it comes to teaching history. You would think that Williams would acknowledge this in his post. Either way there is no winning with this guy. I guess we see what we want to see.
I thought I might start a little series of posts from The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H.W. Crocker III. I would say that such passages are worth a good laugh, but then I step back and realize that these books sell incredibly well both here in the states and overseas. The Lost Cause lives.
Reconstruction: the bad
There had been no segregation in the antebellum South. Plantation slaves lived in cabins within feet of their owner’s house. City slaves lived in brick houses behind their owner’s house. While whites in the North often lived far away from black people, Southern whites lived and worked (and their children played) side by side and thought nothing of it. That changed after the war when the Radical Republicans sent armed regiments of black soldiers into the South as occupation troops and installed black politicians into local and state governments slots, while barring all former Confederates from holding office. (206-07)
Given my current work on public history at Arlington House I thought I might share this upcoming event in connection with the Civil War Sesquicentennial. On October 10 the National Park Service will present a program on John Brown’s Raid that features Fergus Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, as the guest speaker. It seems fitting to hold an event that highlights Robert E. Lee’s connection with the Brown raid given his role in seizing control of the town and the federal armory and preventing a slave insurrection. All too often we think of Lee’s involvement in this event as extending no further beyond the strict military role he played. Of course, Arlington was a large plantation and while Lee was away much of the time he was responsible for carrying out the terms of George Washington Parke Custis’s will (1857) which included the terms for emancipating his slaves. [I highly recommend Elizabeth Brown Pryor's treatment of Lee's views on slavery as well as the controversy surrounding the emancipation of Custis's slaves.]
I think it interesting to think of the ways in which such an event changes the ways in which the visitor understands the relationship between Lee, Arlington House, and the surrounding landscape. Lee becomes much more than a colonel in the United States Army. We see Lee as a white Southerner who worried about the direct threat against the slaves under his control and the broader social and racial hierarchy that slavery supported. The threat against his property connects directly with the home itself, which is so often depicted as a peaceful place or as the ideal antebellum domestic space. [see here and here] Finally, such an event allows for the visitor to imagine a landscape that was once occupied and worked by slaves who constituted the largest population on the plantation. The Lee’s may never have returned to Arlington after the war, but it is important to keep in mind that many of its occupants did and this we can understand as constituting one of the long-term consequences of John Brown’s raid. The focus on abolitionism at Arlington House also opens up space in which to discuss the establishment of a Freedman’s Village for newly-freed slaves. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the challenges involved in interpreting Arlington House as a former plantation given the fact that the surrounding landscape has been turned into what many Americans deem to be sacred ground. It seems difficult given that both Lee and Arlington House have been so successfully disconnected from slavery. Events that stress this side of history are important if we hope to have a more complete understanding of the multiple and competing meanings that are inherent in this site.