(Timely diary, on the anniversary of a day we must never forget. – promoted by fogiv)
It’s well-known that some southerners still refer to the US Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It’s an odd rhetorical trick, given that 150 years ago today some South Carolinians fired on Fort Sumpter, manned by Federal troops, and sparked the armed conflict that would claim over 600,000 lives. Some southerners have tried to read this conflict as more about “states’ rights” than slavery.
This effort is as old as the history of the conflict itself. In his inaugural address as President of the CSA, Jefferson Davis avoids even alluding to slavery, suggesting that his movement knew its primary rationale for secession was awfully difficult to defend, though others tried with passion.
The “Civil War” is a deeply politic title that avoids partisanship. It only defines the kind of conflict. “The War of Northern Aggression” points a finger at the Federal Government, which has become of late a perverse way to assert one’s patriotism. But let there be no obfuscation on this day. The Civil War was “The War to End Slavery,” and we should call it that. The Confederacy fought to preserve the systematic exploitation, humiliation, torture, rape, and murder of Africans and their descendants brought here against their will for the sake of profit. It is impossible to overstate the horrors of slavery.
When those in the South who seek to define The War to End Slavery as an effort to maintain their liberty, as a form of local patriotism, and then defend their display of the Stars and Bars on state flags, they are basically arguing that Germany would be justified in including a swastika on their flag, because WWII wasn’t all about the Jews and some NAZIs simply loved Germany. The last part may be true, but they are as guilty of standing by while Jews, cripples, Communists, Roma, and homosexuals were murdered as were patriotic Confederates who looked the other way on slavery, as their president sought to do in his inaugural speech. Stars and Bars = NAZI flag.
Until those in the South for whom the wounds of that conflict, which began 150 years ago today, still fester admit the central fact of “The War to End Slavery,” until they admit that their forebears were on the wrong side of history and basic human decency, and until they view that part of their past with a sense of sorrow and contrition, William Faulkner’s insight will remain current: The past is not dead; it’s not even past.
There is one particularly important lesson we should draw from the efforts to obfuscate the central issue of “The War to End Slavery.” We should always beware those who wrap themselves in the self-righteous trumpeting of liberty, who treat the Federal Government as a looming threat and tyrannical entity, and who invoke the founding fathers on behalf of their efforts to protect the privilege of the few at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.