bobsheridan at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 13 23:55:03 PST 2005
That was my line, not Webb's.
Webb points out that from a southern soldier's point of view, his
northern enemy had no monopoly on virtue. The Union he fought for
included unemancipated slave states, which tended to even the moral
scales. Only a small percentage of Confederates could themselves have
afforded a slave. Fighting and dying for a wealthy plantation owner's
slave-holdings was not what the war was about in the eyes of the
Webb makes the point that the Scots-Irish have a long history of
opposing values imposed on them from outside, in this case the North.
Confederate Scots-Irish had a view of the Constitution which held that
it recognized slavery and that there had been no change in the
Constitution. Thus they felt within their rights to insist on a
continued right not to be told by the North that their institution,
peculiar as it may be, was morally wrong. Against the moralism of the
North, they set up the legalism of the South. Result: Civil War.
Further result, North wins, changes the Constitution, and writes the
history. Further further result: South was colonized and has been
demonized by those who identify with the North (like me, being born and
raised a New Yorker).
What I was trying to point out, not quite effectively, I see, is that
Webb is making a serious effort, deserving of serious consideration
(which is why I posted the note here) to un-demonize the South by
describing how and why there was this difference in fundamental views,
and how this plays out today. He does this through the lens of the long
history of Scots-Irish culture. He points out certain deep-rooted
values that contribute to certain feelings. Sometimes these feelings
are on the side of the angels, such as when the culture supports
Washington during the Revolution, and sometimes they're not, such as
when they support Lee instead of the Scots-Irish Grant. Meanwhile the
U.S. continues to rely on these same cultural virtues in all subsequent
military efforts. This gives me pause to think that Webb has a point.
But now we're down the road even further and there are a few things that
remain out of kilter, such as Appalachia, which continues to be a
backwater. We have a culture of evangelicals, and people who like to
hunt and are worried about having their right to own guns whittled away,
and a host of other issues that come up in political life and in Con-Law.
Since no review can possibly do Webb justice, especially one written
with a posting constraint in mind, and any failure to do justice to
Webb's thesis and evidence is my fault, not his, I was hoping to
encourage anyone who might be interested in such issues to take a look
for themselves and decide whether he makes his case.
I also have in mind George P. Fletcher's observation, in his "Our Secret
Constitution," (OUP, 2001) that an important way of understanding what
was going on leading up to the Civil War is that the South insisted on a
legalistic interpretation of the Constitution, states rights, meaning
the right to decide locally, while the North, realizing that the
Constitution permitted slavery, looked to a higher law or morality and
sought to impose that. Fletcher goes on to say that for discussion
purposes, at least, one may conceive of us as having had two
constitutions, the 1787 version, and the post-Civil War version, to
which Lincoln's Gettysburg address was the preamble. It is exemplified
by the Reconstruction amendments and stresses equality of persons and an
indissoluble ("organic") union. This new constitution, according to
Fletcher, is soon driven underground after the Hayes deal of 1876 when
federal troops are withdrawn and Jim Crow under the Black Codes roars
back It becomes "our secret Constitution." It then takes many decades
before the new Equal Rights Constitution begins to emerge once again.
Webb makes a distinction that I failed to point out. He believes, I
believe, that there is a legitimate distinction to be made between the
leadership of the Confederacy and the common soldier. Part of the
Scots-Irish culture, based on kinship patterns and what it means to be a
man, is that one becomes a man by performing well in battle, and this
means following ones military leaders, not by bucking them through a
process of independent thinking. We don't expect our soldiers to
second-guess Bush, Chaney, and Rumsfeld. We expect them to follow
orders by saluting and marching up the hill, as Lt. Col. Ollie North
famously pointed out in a congressional hearing. We should not,
therefore, disrespect the soldiers we send out to fight and die if, on
further thought, some of us happen not to like the war we sent them out
to fight and die.
Mr. Webb, I believe, is familiar with the lack of appreciation, felt as
a lack of respect, experienced by some of his fellow soldiers on
returning from Vietnam. I believe he is sensitive to the plight of the
southern soldier who followed his leaders, honorably, he thought, in
fighting for goals that the victor now says were immoral. The
immorality of the plantation system of slavery, while clear to us, since
we have no economic stake in it, and can look back at no cost, and while
clear to some in the North after selective emancipation, was not so
clear to others. Why didn't Lincoln take the morally pure high ground
and emancipate slaves in the loyal border states? Because he couldn't
afford to lose them. Moral purity had to take the hind seat to
practical war-fighting. So, one could say, Lincoln's hands had some mud
on them. Having established that, what do we say about the confederat
soldier? Too much mud? How much is too much?
I have a friend whose father was a soldier in the Luftwaffe, and who
moved to the U.S. after the war. I wondered out loud how he felt about
fighting for Hitler's Nazis. "The way he looked at it was that he was
serving his country," she coolly informed me. "He was nineteen."
Webb is not writing academically. He's describing what makes a culture
tick as an interested insider with experience. To me that's worth a lot.
I hope I haven't deterred you, Paul, or anyone, from reading this most
interesting book and seeing what Webb is pointing out. I found it
neither amusing nor ironic.
Then come out with the one-liners.
Paul Finkelman wrote:
> I have not read this book (nor even heard of the publisher) but I find
> some of the assumptions amusing and ironic:
> Why did the Scots-Irish fight for the Confederacy when few if any
> owned a slave? Pioneers and dirt farmers owned no slaves. -- that sure
> would have surprised thousand and thousands of slaveowners, starting,
> perhaps, with John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson.
> >From Prof. Sheridan's description it sounds like Mr. Webb is still
> writing novels.
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