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More Required Civil War and Ron Paul Reading from Ta-Nehisi Coates

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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.

1. Lincoln

 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. 

2. Economics

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.

3. Violence

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. 

*Update:
4. Morality
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. 

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Written by Christopher ZF

January 26, 2012 at 12:28

SNAP helps people. Maybe a food-stamp president isn’t so bad.

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I’ve been struggling personally with the demonization of the food-stamp program (SNAP) in the US.  People I know and love have survived because of the SNAP program. That the US government has such a program is a good, not an evil. It’s frustrating. But even more so is the racism that has surrounded these condemnations.

That Newt Gingrich can call President Obama  a “food-stamp president” and pretend that it is not a racially charged statement highlights his capacity for self-delusion. There are 10,000 names that Newt Gingrich could have used to criticize Barack Obama’s presidency, and that he choose the phrase he did is not accidental. It is dangerous language. Ta-Nehisi Coates highlights its danger, in a reminder that real racists do real things.

When a professor of history calls Barack Obama a “Food Stamp President,” it isn’t a mistake to be remedied through clarification; it is a statement of aggresion. And when a crowd of his admirers cheer him on, they are neither deluded, nor in need of forgiveness, nor absolution, nor acting against their interest. Racism is their interest. They are not your misguided friends. They are your fully intelligent adversaries, sporting the broad range of virtue and vice we see in humankind. If you are a praying person, you should pray for their electoral destruction in November.

I would like to ask Newt Gingrich why this campaign ad is titled The Moment. What moment is he hoping to pinpoint in this clip? I would like to hear him complete this sentence: This is the moment I _____________.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 20, 2012 at 14:59

Required Reading: Coates on Zinn on the Civil War Counter-factuals

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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.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 13, 2012 at 15:31