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    The Moral Necessity of the Civil War

    So, Donald Trump said some stupid and ignorant things about the Civil War. Not much of that is worth discussing: the man says stupid and ignorant things because, well, he's stupid and ignorant, so there isn't much to analyze. The one part we should stop to think about is Trump's conviction that the Civil War should have been avoided. That's not an idea that he came up with on his own. He doesn't come up with ideas on his own. He picks them up from outside. This idea has been around a long time.

    Trump regrets the Civil War. He wishes that the Civil War had not been fought. He got those ideas from other people, and those people are very, very wrong.

    Let me say, up front, that if there had been a way to free every American slave without bloodshed, that would have been great. I am not for American lives being lost at Gettysburg, any more than I am for American lives being lost on Omaha Beach. But I do not regret that the United States defeated the Confederacy any more than I regret that United States defeated the Nazis. I will say this clearly: the Civil War was a good thing.

    Trump is voicing the regret that the Civil War was fought at all, the regret that white Americans had to come to blows with one another over something as trivial as the freedom of black Americans. "No reason" for it, in Trump's words, as if the freedom of millions upon millions of souls were not a reason.

    But history, our own history shows us that there was no peaceful bargain that could have freed the slaves, for the simple reason that slave-holders stubbornly refused to release their captives. There was no compromise on the table: the Confederacy rebelled rather than accept any further compromise.

    And freeing the slaves, all of the slaves, is not a negotiable demand. Slavery is a terrible crime. It is inexcusable

    Now, somehow all of this has become impolite to say. You are supposed to be considerate of white Southerners' feelings about slavery. It is considered rude to speak about their ancestors' horrific crimes against millions of people without considering the delicacy of their feelings. In fact, you're supposed to say something polite about how awful Reconstruction is, which is like talking about how terrible the GIs who liberated the concentration camps were. I'm through with it. The truth is the truth.

    Is this about regional pride? Okay then. As a Northerner, I take enormous regional pride in the defeat of the Confederacy and much deeper human pride in the abolition of slavery. Those are great and precious achievements. If you are an American but are not proud of these things, you cannot call yourself a patriot.

    Now, saying this in such a crude way is considered "incivility." That was exactly how it was framed before the Civil War, as certain white people in both the South and the North deplored the rudeness and incivility of the slavery debate. By this, they meant the intemperate rudeness of the anti-slavery side. The same complaint echoes through the 1840s and 1850s: wasn't terrible that people couldn't just put aside their trivial differences and get along in harmony?

    "People," in this formulation, means white people. What about the black people? They, and their human rights were the "trivial differences" meant to be put aside in the name of good manners.

    Ever since the Civil War there has been a cultural and political project of reconciliation, meaning reconciliation between white Northerners and Southerners. This project, like the antebellum campaign for compromise and civility, focuses on solidarity between white Americans at black Americans' expense. Black citizens' rights are not only ignored, but deliberately kept out of the conversation as a potential obstacle to white people singing Kumbaya with each other.

    This can't-we-get-along project fosters the ridiculous lie that the Civil War was somehow "not about slavery," the explicit declarations of the Confederates notwithstanding.We're told that the Civil War was "complex" and had many subtle causes, as if the issue of slavery alone did not dwarf every single one of those causes. And the noble cause of white people's harmony requires Northerners to be tactful and nearly apologetic about the war. Northerners are expected to seek Southerners' forgiveness for stopping their ancestors' monstrous crimes against humanity.

    To hell with that. The Civil War was about slavery, and it was the slavers' fault. No subtlety or nuance is important enough to change those basic facts. Those are the central truths, and the rest are details around the edges. The Civil War was never going to be fought over tariff policy.

    But these are still the unwritten rules of civility in America, especially around discussions of race. No one expressly announces these rules, and no one could, because they are morally depraved. But they are carefully followed: you can observe them in our politics and our media. The unspoken rule is that white people are meant to be polite and respectful to other white people at all costs, and disrespect to a fellow white is mannerless incivility. Defending the rights (and basic humanity) of non-white people is never treated as an excuse for being "uncivil" to a white person, least of all a white man. Rather, "incivility" is treated as yet more offensive when performed on behalf of people of color. To impugn a white person, and disrupt the serenity of American intra-honky harmony on behalf of someone considered lower down the racial hierarchy is treated as a particular insult and outrage.

    This is why in some conservative quarters calling someone a racist is considered the most horrendous and unpardonable offense. Not because the accused person is not a racist, but because they are, because (although this can not be stated) they consider it morally outrageous to violate a fellow white person's privilege or to embarrass them on behalf of anyone from another race. The "anti-racists are the real racist" response is built on the deep emotional conviction that blacks, Latinos, etc., are indeed inferior and that it is a mortal insult to be upbraided for the sake of a person that one does not accept as an equal.

    Do you think I'm wrong? Watch cable news for a week. Listen to your loud uncle at Thanksgiving. Watch the tape of Mitch McConnell silencing Elizabeth Warren for incivility. The incivility is calling another white person to account for their racist words and deeds. Jeff Sessions's racist words and racist actions are matters of public record  It is treated as the greatest of sins. Shooting unarmed black children is deemed, by some, and honest mistake, but calling other people racist is treated as entirely beyond the pale.

    That is the logic that imagines the Civil War an unnecessary tragedy: a world view that imagines white folk as fully alive and human, meant to live in untroubled harmony together, and views the problems -- even the most basic rights and needs -- of other races as insignificant issues that must not be allowed to disrupt white folks' mutual amity.

    But the Civil War, although tragic in its means, resulted in triumph. The liberation of millions of human souls from bondage is one of the greatest victories of all time. Would it have been better if those millions of Americans had been freed voluntarily? Yes. But that was not going to happen. And they had to be freed. I thank God for that victory. And I bless the Republican Party that did it, a Republican party that we my never see again.



    Thanks Doc.  I agree with you 100% on the moral necessity of fighting and defeating the South.  The Civil War, along with WWII, proves the wisdom of the Ecclesiastes verses "To everything there is a season . . . a time for war and time for peace."  I've always sensed that those who argue that the war wasn't necessary because the "peculiar institution" would ultimately have collapsed peacefully are unwilling to acknowledge the unadulterated evil of slavery and our collective willingness to tolerate cruelty to others if we perceive a benefit to ourselves.

    Excellent observation There is major resistance to removing symbols that celebrate slavery. Removing the Confederate flag from the captor grounds in South Carolina only came after worldwide pressure. Workers removing Confederate statues in New Orleans have to work under the cover of night and wear bulletproof vests and helmets. Racial hatred and celebration of the Confederacy runs deep.

    I agree completely.

    All one has to do is read the speeches made by Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South just prior to the war! And thenn there are the proclamations issued by states like Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi and....

    Slavery and the value of the Southern Slaves to the plantation owners were the reasons for Secession.

    This crap about State's Rights and such is a fiction created around 1890 when all these bullshit monuments went up in all over the South.


    It sounds like Trump has been hanging out with some of the Lost Cause crowd.

    Beyond the problem they have of directly contradicting the leaders of the Secession regarding slavery, they ignore the fact that the South brought matters to a head by insisting that they be allowed to expand slavery into newly created states and territories. If they had backed down from that demand, the Unionists would have not interfered with slavery in the established states. The war started in Kansas and Missouri.

    Moat... Oh yes...

    The war started in Kansas and Missouri.

    One needs only to tour the History Museum in the small town of Humboldt in Southeast Kansas and/or visit Camp Hunter (the Unions Camp) there to fully understand that the true beginning of the war began in Kansas and Missouri. The main docent of the museum, now retired at 85 years old Eileen Wulf-Robertson is a life long family friend of ours. A retired teacher (she began teaching in South Central Los Angeles (Watts) at Horace Mann middle school before moving to the town of her birth). She IS a true historian of facts. Take a good and very informative online tour of Humboldt's Civil War History. Camp Hunter that is mentioned is kept as an official site as a City Park through the partial support of Eileen Wulf-Robertson's family that own and operate the Monarch Cement Company (history). The largest cement manufactures in the Heartland.


    And to Dr Cleveland... OUTSTANDING!

    And although...

    I REFUSE to remain silent...

    Thank you...


    Thanks. I have  4 words to add:Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney.

    This is also why I won't accept it when some conservative, especially one of the NYT's op-ed writers who tries so hard to sound "reasonable and civil," will make some nonsense argument about how it's not fair for liberals to tar anti-same sex marriage conservatives as homophobes and bigots.  The fact is, they just want to hold their point of view while also being immune to criticism.  They want to believe something ethically awful without ever having anybody say so.

    You mention Jeff Sessions and we just found out two days ago that a woman was convicted of some sort of disorderly conduct and illegal protesting for laughing during his Senate confirmation hearings, at the laughable notion that he has been good and fair to all people of all kinds throughout his life.  She went to a public event and laughed at her government and now faces up to a year in prison over it.  But anyone can plainly see that even if she is fined a penny and sent on her way that the penny she pays for her laughter is a penny too much because the real travesty here is that the result for Jeff Sessions is that he is our attorney general, racist deeds and all.

    I think part of what you're getting at here is that while we can agree to disagree on some things, that there are some points of view out there so harmful to humanity (slavery, racism, homophobia, and the belief that Shakespeare didn't write his plays) cannot be met with, "you let your freak flag fly."  These are not victimless ideas and so they can't be treated that way.

    Why did the Civil War happen?  For so many people, the question is, "why did it not happen sooner?" Same thing with same sex marriage, by the way.  Way too many "nice," people on the right and concern trolls from the center left said, "See? Change doesn't happen overnight. Take the long view!"  Which is all well and good in hindsight, as long as you don't think of all the people who didn't get to enjoy that right, and wanted to, for so many years, and how many of them are dead now and they benefited nothing from a societal evolution that came even a day too late.

    People preach patience and tolerance and civility and restraint on these issues as if death isn't real.  That's the problem.


    That's the truth. They act as if death were not real.

    Mortality: the ultimate pre-existing condition.

    I disagree to this extent.

    If  the person who disapproves of same sex marriage does so (oh, lord , more bullet points!)

    o in compliance with a religious belief,

    o only  expresses that disapproval civilly and

    o. neither attempts personally  to impose that belief on others nor

    o supports those who do 

    then I think it´s correct to treat him civilly and specifically not to accuse her of being a homophobe  provided  you actively make clear your  own beliefs.   Even- and in fact particularly- when acting as I describe  is itself  considered  uncivil. 

    Understand that sounds like  a cop out. And more to the point a ¨counsel of perfection¨ The kind of thing that

    you say  you do but , ,well, maybe not always. .


    If a person opposes you in a completely useless and feeble and non-threatening way, you can treat him or her civilly; otherwise it's war.

    Yeah, that ´s the topic.

    I have to quarrel with your seventh paragraph. I don't think America considers it rude to talk about slavery. I hear about it all the time, and I hear much bashing of the Confederacy. Even a lot of Southerners are now ashamed of the Confederacy, witness the removal of the statues.

    I think the Civil War was probably right, but I shudder at the staggering death toll. There were two other things that confused the moral issues: the Union's dreadful treatment of POWs, and the deaths of tens of thousands of freed slaves in the "contraband "camps. The latter is dealt with memorably by Jim Downs in his book Sick From Freedom, although(shameless self-promotion) I challenge some of his conclusions in my review on Amazon.

     In fairness to Trump, Howard Zinn also had a fantasy that slavery could have been abolished non-violently. If he meant in the same time frame(in 1863-65), he was pretty out of it. If he meant he would have been willing to wait another sixty years or so for slavery to be abolished, I'd say he was rather callous.

    I'm going to risk making people angry by saying that the bashing of the Confederates may be somewhat excessive. I think defending your native soil merits some sympathy even when it also means defending slavery. I pity the Southerners for their suffering, although that has nothing to do with defending the Confederacy.

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