Jon Stewart Introduces Union Victory Appreciation Month

Jon Stewart has a way of cutting to the chase with these little skits. Implicit in Governor McDonnell’s proclamation is the assumption that we can talk about the war without talking about slavery is absurd. It’s not about politics, it’s simply bad history.  Anyone familiar with recent Civil War scholarship knows that soldiers on both sides discussed issues related to slavery and race throughout the war. The presence of the armies themselves altered the very landscape of Virginia’s large slave population. From early in the war slaves made their way to Union camps and forced military commanders to make decisions that eventually forced politicians in Washington to take an interest in how slaves might help to bring about Union victory. Confederate forces also utilized slave labor both within the armies and on the home front. The presence of slaves directly influenced every aspect of how the war was fought as well as its outcome. The governor’s argument makes very little sense once you actually open up and read a decent book about the Civil War.

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14 comments… add one
  • Valerie Jan 16, 2013 @ 22:55

    This never gets old – I watch it every time some idiot with a confederate flag starts claiming the flag stands for “heritage, not hate” – nothing related to slavery or Jim Crow, Oh no.

    Bottom line: The Confederate soldiers fought for many things, including the nullification of a Lincoln’s democratic victory and because they feared of the end of slavery – read the transcripts of the secession conventions – they had no illusions about the root of the “nobel cause.”

    Frederick Douglass said it best on Decoration Day in 1871:

    “We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

    I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.”

  • James Apr 11, 2010 @ 19:22

    I usually love Jon Stewart, but I thought this was in bad taste and

    Governor McDonnell wasn’t even discussing the Civil War, he was just making an announcement.

    I like how he glossed over the current predicament of former slaves. How many of them are victims of violence, how many are in our prisons under the glorious patronage of the North.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 12, 2010 @ 0:56


      Thanks for the comment, but you are going to have to clarify the following: “Governor McDonnell wasn’t even discussing the Civil War, he was just making an announcement.”

      I thought he was discussing the Civil War. As I understood it the point of the skit was to point out that you can’t talk about war without discussing what the war was about.

    • Valerie Jan 16, 2013 @ 22:54

      Yes, but Stewart acknowledged several times that his fake holiday glossed over Northern hypocrisy (its satire – he was doing that because Gov. McDonald did.)

      Just like the governor was focused on “the war aspect,” John focused on the North’s victory and the fact that the war did actually result in the end of slavery, in spite of ongoing racism and discrimination that has yet to be overcome today.

      To suggest the ramifications of union victory were minor is absurd. For the first time, blacks could vote, hold office, and control the most basic aspects of their lives (marriage, movement, education, etc.). Was it all good? No. Was it better? Yes. And the people built on it.

      Over the next century the battle centered on getting the Federal government to actually enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments – something they finally began to do in the mid-20th century. Union victory and southern defeat was a critical turning point in the fight for justice, despite the Union’s many shortcomings.

  • JB Apr 9, 2010 @ 11:25

    “Union Victory Appreciation Month”? Don’t we get that 12 months out of the year? And the fact that the War did end so long ago and people are still as adamant as ever that it wasn’t about slavery says that the staying power of this debate is still, and always shall be, states’ rights. I mean, who thinks that flying the Confederate in your yard means you’re saying blacks should still be slaves? No one I know. In fact, the flag has so transcended the issue of slavery that you can still see some of these(1) or something like this(2) or this(3) fluttering around Dixie a year and a half later. The people who have to ‘get over’ Southern history–here to stay, y’all–are the Stewart types. They remind me of the line from the movie Gladiator : “A people should know when they’re defeated.” Except states’ rights’ issues live on, without the hindrance of slavery.




    • Kevin Levin Apr 9, 2010 @ 11:37

      Sorry you didn’t appreciate the video. Beyond that I have no interest in responding to something that tells me much more about you than about Civil War memory.

      • JB Apr 9, 2010 @ 22:04

        I know, I know…I’m always giving myself away as an ol’ unreconstructed, dagnabit!

  • Sherree Apr 9, 2010 @ 7:26

    Thanks for the comic relief, Kevin. The only person who takes both the North and the South to task that well (whose work I have gotten the opportunity to read) is Blight. Stewart pretty much summed the situation up–the Civil War is still a white man’s story for too many in all areas of the nation.

    Chris, I appreciate what you have said, too. It is just good to lighten up sometimes

    • Kevin Levin Apr 9, 2010 @ 11:59

      I pretty much agree, Sherree.

  • Chris Evans Apr 9, 2010 @ 6:51

    I enjoy Jon Stewart’s show every night and watched this segment last night. I guess in addition to ripping the Confederacy he was also ripping the North about various things like factory labor, etc. It was sort of hard to tell. He talks about the South getting their butt kicked and they should get over it but the audience wildly cheers when he talks about the Union victory, like it happened yesterday.

    I know Jon Stewart is just satire but this is not something lightly to talk about. 620,000 Americans died and the effects of this struggle went on into the ’50s, 60s, to the present day. I just don’t think 150 years after the conflict that all of the Confederates should be painted as villains. I like studying both sides. One of my favorite Civil War characters is Ulysses Grant. Southerners are always ripped into but Southerners ,black and white, have died for America in wars since the Civil War.

    I agree that the governor made a idiotic mistake in not putting about slavery in the proclamation. Alabama issued something similar and there was no great uproar.

    ‘Confederates in the Attic’ by Horwitz dealt with these issues more intelligently than the mainstream media or Jon Stewart did and that book came out in 1998. Olbermann was quoting Shelby Foote from ‘Confederates’ and did not attribute it to that excellent book. Also, a song that I think fits into all of this is ‘Rednecks’ by Randy Newman as I think he captures excellently the problem with race in this country.

    Ironically, while all of this silliness was going down I was reading the fascinating book by William C. Davis, ‘A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy’.


  • toby Apr 9, 2010 @ 6:43

    In case I forget, here is an impeccably-argued case against secession from the impeccably conservative Claremont Institute.

  • John Maass Apr 9, 2010 @ 6:04

    Great video!

    • Kevin Levin Apr 9, 2010 @ 6:12

      I can’t tell you how many interview/debates I’ve seen on mainstream news over the past few days on this issue. Most of them do nothing but rehash the same points and most of the guests have very little understanding of the relevant issues. It’s disturbing to think that the most intelligent commentary can be found at the Comedy Channel.

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