Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category
My last post focused on Sarah Palin’s completely preposterous claim that US President and African American man Barack Obama wants to return the US to an era of discrimination reminiscent of that which existed pre-Civil War.
Since then, I have been unable to shake that comment. If you too are struggling to conceive of just how AMAZING that idea is, I recommend Palin: The First Black President Wants to Revert to Pre-Civil War Society, by David A. Graham over at the Atlantic.
Graham does a quick but thorough job of explaining why Derreck Bell, and college Obama, are not actually scary black racists:
Bell wasn’t a violent revolutionary but an academic theorist and campaigner for equality; there’s no evidence that Obama was a zealous apostle of Bell’s critical legal theory; and Obama’s term in office, whatever other criticisms one may make of it, hasn’t been characterized by radical black nationalism…She suggests that by taking part in a protest of the near-total lack of senior faculty of color at Harvard Law School in the 1990s, both Obama and Bell wanted to restore apartheid in the United States. Keep in mind, they weren’t black nationalists calling for blacks to separate themselves, which might give some credence to her charge: they were advocating greater assimilation.
and looks at the problem of discussing racial inequality:
What Palin is expounding is a belief that has become common among conservatives. Almost all conservatives (like almost all liberals) agree that racial equality is the ideal toward which the United States ought to move. But many on the right have adopted the view that the only way to address racism is to pretend it does not exist. Thus, anyone who talks about race or acknowledges race or makes mention of the fraught American relationship with racism must by definition be a racist. Clearly, that makes Barack Obama and Derrick Bell racists. It also makes Juan Williams, a center-right commentator, a racist when he points out that Newt Gingrich is using “food stamps” as code for “black.”
Of course, if not talking about race were the solution, Harvard might have had a racially diverse faculty by 1991, rather than lacking a single tenured female professor of color. (And remember that Bell was the first tenured black professor, so he knew whereof he spoke.) And though Harvard Law has made gains in that area, there’s still a discrepancy — so the more quiet discussion of the topic in the last two decades doesn’t seem to have closed the gap.
Palin is right that the promise of America is that we “have equal opportunity to work hard and to succeed and to embrace the opportunities, the God-given opportunities, to develop resources and work extremely hard and as I say, to succeed.” But it is a masterpiece of doublespeak to say that standing up and asking society to deliver on that promise undermines it.
I don’t quote this at length to imply that Graham is right in everything he says–but I think his case is pretty strong that Palin is very, very wrong.
Let me get this straight.
Sarah Palin thinks that Barack Obama is trying to bring the United States back to an era similar to that which existed pre-Civil War? Um. Why would he want to do that? Ms. Palin, does that accusation not seem a bit, well, stupid?
“He is bringing us back…to days before the Civil War, when unfortunately too many Americans mistakenly belived that not all men were created equal,” she said. “What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin.”
For the record, Ms. Palin. I don’t know anything about this radical professor that Obama embraced as a Harvard Law Student. I’m personally not particularly concerned about the first black president of the Harvard Law Review giving a cordial endorsement and hug to the first black professor of law at Harvard. You however seem pretty confident about the proper behavior of a young black law student in 1991, so I’ll let you judge. It sounds like Dr. Bell was fairly controversial, so maybe I’m not giving this its proper concern. Or maybe a 20 year old hug is a 20 year old hug.
But when you say, pejoratively, that Obama agreed with “the radical agenda of a racist like Derrick Bell who believed that white men oppress blacks and minorities,” I’m curious what you mean. Do you think that the white men did not oppress blacks and minorities? Because, you know that the United States has a long history of white men in fact oppressing blacks and minorities…right? And that history is in no way erased from our nation.
Anyway. I feel confident that I can safely say that the first black President of the United States does not want to return America to an era of pre-Civil War racial discrimination.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has a three part series at his Atlantic blog on the Civil War and comments Ron Paul made about whether the Civil War was necessary. If it seems I am coming back to this often, it is because I think this is important work, and it is worth your time to read it. I’ve been particularly interested in Lincoln in the past 12 months or so since reading Team of Rivals, and Coates has much to offer those interested in the history. But beyond the importance of understanding history, Ron Paul is a candidate for the Presidency, and represents a growing movement in American Conservatism. To have such a figure claim that the Civil War was unnecessary and should not have been fought should not go unquestioned. Having an honest and sober response to such interpretations is invaluable.
For context, here is the relevant quote from Ron Paul, during a 2007 interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press:
Thus spawned three posts from Coates looking at the history and making his case against Paul’s asserstion that the Civil War was unnecessary loss of American lives rather than a necessary war to end the evils of slavery.
I have come to a fairly recent regard for Lincoln. He rose from utter frontier poverty, through self-education and hard work, to the presidency and the upper reaches of American letters. His path was harsh. His wife was mentally ill. His son died in office. He was derided in newspapers as ugly, stupid, a gorilla and white trash. For his patience, endurance, temperance and industry in the face of so many troubles, Lincoln was awarded a shot to the head.
When slaves were worth only a cool $300 million, property in man was an “unhappy influence.” When that number skyrocketed in excess of $3 billion, suddenly it was a “positive good.” Perhaps this is to (sic)deterministic. I leave it to my fellow commenters to color in the portrait. At any rate the notion that such an interest–by far the greatest collective asset in the country at the time–could be merely incidental to the war is creationist quackery.
If you are faced with a system which was–at its core–rooted in horrific torture. (sic) murder, and human trafficking, and then told that it was all made to go away via faerie dust, you should be skeptical. If someone then generalizes and says that this system was ended everywhere by such means, you should be double so. Ron Paul’s rendition of history depends on a lack of that skepticism among his audience, and a faithful belief that they know nothing of Nanny, Toussaint, or Zumbi and have no sincere interest in finding out. Ron Paul is banking on your incuriosity.
It is often said that Americans aren’t interested in history, but I think it’s more accurate to say that people–in general–aren’t interested in history that makes them feel bad. We surely are interested in those points of history from which we are able to extract an easy national glory–our achievement of independence from the British, the battle of Gettysburg, our fight against Hitler, and even the campaign of nonviolence waged by Martin Luther King. For different reasons, each of these episodes can be fitted for digestibility. More importantly that can be easily deployed in service our various national uses.
I read the blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates for many reasons. One of the primary ones is his writing on the Civil War. That’s where we’re going today.
Yesterday, Coates posted about Civil War counter-factuals that have arisen in the past 150 years, questioning the necessity of such a bloody conflict to end slavery. He is responding in this post to Howard Zinn asking: “Is it possible if slavery could have been ended without 600,000 dead? We don’t know for sure. And when I mention these possibilities, you know, it’s very hard to imagine how it might have ended, except that we do know that slavery was ended in every other country in the western hemisphere. Slavery was ended in all these others places in the western hemisphere without a bloody civil war.” Previously Coates wrote about Ron Paul’s similar sentiment.
His response is required reading.
Too often I find that this argument is based in high-minded generalizations, and not in the tiny, hard facts of history. The history of emancipation attempts in Delaware and the South never come up. No one looks at how Sojourner Truth’s son was sold into slavery in Alabama, after New York went with gradual emancipation. Instead we just get “war is bad.” But some of us were already at war.
What most saddens me about this argument is the sense that Abraham Lincoln, who repeatedly advocated for peaceful means to end slavery, many of which were opposed by African-Americans (and rightfully so,) is somehow cast as a kind of war-monger. To put this in perspective, consider that Abraham Lincoln had to come to Washington on a secret train for fear that he would be killed. When he got there, he said this upon his inauguration:
He was answered, a month later, when Confederates fired on federal property. The next five year took a toll on Lincoln which I can scarcely imagine. His wife was bipolar. His son died from typhoid fever. And Lincoln, himself, was murdered by an unrepentant white supremacist.
There’s something distasteful, and cynical, about asking why Lincoln couldn’t prevent a war, that was thrust upon him a month after he became President. Of course we could flip the question and ask why slaveholders elected to expand their war against black people to the entire country. But we already know the answer. The truth is so very terrible.