The South’s 152-year Political Correct Crusade
How the American South was the first to use political correctness to avoid responsibility for the Civil War and a bad idea: slavery.
By Norman Kelley
What is the most basic defintion of political correctness? Let’s use this version from Google:
By this definition, often used by those on the right, conservatives, or anyone, political correctness is not calling “a spade a spade,” or having too much concern about offending certain classes of people: blacks, women, gays, Muslims, etc. As a matter of fact, President Obama was often accused of being “political correct” because he refused to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”
However, Obama, as a policy, didn’t use the phrase because his administration strategically didn’t want to give credence to the idea that jihadi terrorists (who are Muslims by self-described religious affiliation) were actually engaging in actions sanctioned by the Muslim faith or were representatives of all Muslims. However, a number of national security hawks were critical because he wasn’t using the term, accusing him of being denial of the problem despite the president sending US Navy SEALS to hunt down and kill Osama bin-Ladin, the leader of a terrorist group called Al-Qaeda.
Political correctness has been a term used in American political and popular culture since the 1980s, perhaps early as the 1970s. However, the practice, as argued by this essay, is 152 years old and originated in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Recent demonstrations regarding Confederate mouments being removed underscores that some Southerners and their apologists have been engaging in the most spectacular political correct crusade in the last century and a half. If one considers such concepts as “the lost cause,” “the Northern War of Aggression,” “states rights,” and “heritage,” each of these concepts are means to occlude the salient fact that the primary cause of the Civil War was slavery.
Once again, the definition that this essay embraces is “the avoidance, often considered taken to extremes, of forms of expressions or actions that are perceived to exclude, marginalize or insult groups who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”
First, we have to undertand what happemed in the aftermath of the American Civil War: nothing. Not one civilian or military leaders of the Confederate States of America were placed on trial for treason or sedition. Not Jefferson Davis, the President of C.S.A., and certainly not Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of the South.
Lincoln had overseen the prosecution of the war and wanted to reunite the country after the South’s surrender in 1865. No better sense of this is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in which he stated:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
In the 2012 film Lincoln (directed by Steven Spielberg), Lincoln discussed the aftermath of the war with Gen. Grant; he was about “librality all around, not punishment,” and was even open to Jefferson Davis and others leaving the country if his “back was turned.” After a hard and bitter war, Lincoln was about getting the country back together. Southern states could come back into the Union if 10 percent of population (“ten percent plan”) took an oath of allegiance to the United States and accepted emancipation. Lincoln’s magnanimous, however, was awarded with an assassin’s bullet.
Setting aside the politics and policies of Reconstruction, for the moment, which went from 1865 to 1877, the roots of the Southern political correctness resulted from Lincoln’s liberal policies, the lack of prosecution of the rebellion’s leaders, and the fact that other than Lincoln’s assassin conspirators being tried and hanged, not one Confederate leader who had brought on this terrible conflict were ever tried and convicted. Not one.
Ask yourself : In what other country are defeated rebels allowed to get away scot-free? Not tried? Not convicted? Only had to plead allegiance to the government that defeated them, and them allowed to erect statues of defeated traitors?
Amnesties are granted in similar circumstances but not statues erected. In some countries crimes are forgiven in reconciliation procedures provided that individuals account for their actions. But in the American South no such thing occured. Monuments have been erected to traitors. As a matter of fact, there are perhaps 700 Confederate statues in the South, and there are a number of such schools, with Confederate names, in which black students attend.
Because Reconstuction was such a contentious period, people often think that Jim Crow — sanctioned state disenfrachisement of blacks — happened in that period. Granted, there was resistance by “redemptive” white terrorist organizations like the early Klu Klux Klan (began by Nathan Forrest, a Confederate general), but the total disenfranchisement of Southern blacks didn’t begin until 1877. The contested election of 1876 allowed conservative Southern Democrats to let Northen Republicans have the White House if they removed Federal troops from the South, which ended Reconstruction. The removal of the Federal troops, and Party of Lincoln turning its back on blacks, was Northern appeasement of the South.
From the beginning of that period, Post-Reconstruction, white Southerners, as well as disenfranchising blacks, began erecting monuments to fallen CSA soldiers. However, they also carefully began con- structuring an achitecture of politically correct lies that would assuage its damaged “honor” as losers and shirk its responsibility for a war that cost 620,ooo Americans their lives.
The South, especially, after the Civil War was seen as an agricultural backwater and the site of many Northern jokes. Just having a Southern accent opened one up to ridicule. Hence, the Southern went to “extreme avoidance” not to accept any responsibilty for the war, calling it the “War of Northern Agression,” when, in fact, it was the South that fired first on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor on April 11, 1861.
The “Lost Cause,” coined by writer Edward Pollard, is one of the greatest politically correct campaigns ever devised. Written in 1866, a year after the war ended, Pollard sought to defend the “lost cause” of the “Southern way of life,” masking the fact that that this way of life was about keeping blacks subordinate to whites. This Southern PC line was that the war was fought for “states rights” and slavery was a benevolent institution that Christianized African “savages” (while exploiting their labor). After all, the war was a just cause in the eyes of God.
The ideology of the “lost cause” also argued that the heroes and heroines of the “lost cause” ought to be cherished in the defense of constitutional principle of states rights, which, once again, was predicated on the notion of keeping another group of humans in bondage. From that day onward “states rights” was the default tactic in thwarting any federal or Northern interference with the “Southern way of life,” which was based the subordination of poor whites, women, and then-called Negroes.
While the South has lost numerous temporal battles — the Civil War, the destruction of Jim Crowism, the election of Barack Obama — it has basically won the major of ideological battle of not having to account for the Civil War, masking it in various sotto voce PC memes: Lost Cause, States Rights, The War of Northern Aggression, Heritage. It’s the Southern Rebel — Johnny Reb — with his Stars and Bars — the swatiska of the South, that’s image of American rebelliousness, not the Yank who actually saved the country’s soul from the worst tyranny ever: slavery. Take a look at Nick Adams, who as The Rebel, an itinerant gunslinger who fought in the war, roamed the West. Take note of his CSA belt buckle. According Wikipedia, “[Yuma] keeps a journal of his adventures and fights injustice where he finds it with a revolver and his dead father’s sawed-off double-barreled shotgun.” (Fights injustice, huh?)
Yet the greatest PC projects of the South has to be The Birth of A Nations, based on Thomas Dixon’s novel’s The Clansman, and Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Both of these books were turned into films that have colonized both Southern and Northern minds. Thomas Dixon reveled in the film’s triumph. “The real purpose of my film,” he confessed gleefully, “was to revolutionize Northern audiences that would transform every man into a Southern partisan for life.” While Birth may have been crude with the distate of the KKK, Gone With the Wind was designed to go down smooth.
The American South for 152 year, since the end of the Civil War to the present era, has been running an unnamed but spectcular politically correct campaign on the rest of the country. As a defeated region of the country, with its greatest commodity liberated — African Americans — it has sought to define itself as a victim by avoiding in responsibility for the most destructive war in American history. It has also tried to skirt the issue of being traitorous to American values — equality for all — by masking its odious relation with the “peculiar institution,” by invoking the specious constitutional principle of “states rights,” while ignoring that the right was predicated on keeping others as human chattel.
The South has done everything, as a marginalized section of the country, to avoid its responsibility for the Civil War, its defense of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. It has concocted a series of slick but vacuuous terms of avoidance. But now it’s facing the last chapter: the removal of Confederate statues and monuments.
The United States government after the Civil War went on a campaign of appeasment. As noted by Talking Points Memo’s Joshua Marshall:
What is little discussed today is that the North and the South made a tacit bargain in the years after the Civil War to valorize Southern generals as a way to salve the sting of Southern defeat and provide a cultural and political basis for uniting the country with more than military force. That meant the abandonment of free blacks in the South after the mid-1870s. It is important to see this not only as the abandonment of the ex-slaves of the South. It is difficult to pull away the subsequent history to realize that it was entirely possible in the aftermath of the Civil War that the US would be condemned to perpetual warfare, insurrection and foreign intervention. But if the opposite, the United States that went on to become a global superpower, is what was gained it was gained at a terrible price and a price paid more or less solely by black citizens.
Here, once again, is an act of post-bellum political correctness: the generals of the defeated South had to be “valorized,” touted as “heroic” despite engaging in armed rebellion against the United States. This was done to “salve the sting of Southern defeat and provide a cultural and political basis for uniting the country with more than military force.” Of course, this “uniting” was done at the expense of freed blacks, who for nearly one hundred had to suffer from Jim Crow segregation that was based on sadism, humiliation, and terrorism.
The “heritage” that some sons and daughters of the South often refer to is a post-bellum PC version that sought to justify treason and enslavement. It has often been cited that the soldiers of the South fought bravely and valiantly, but for what? They weren’t fighting to preserve and protect the Union. It certainly wasn’t about advancing liberty or human freedom.
In the HBO television show, “Band of Brothers,” a mini-series about the exploits of the 101st Airborne Division, a gallant German general addresses his men before they are dismissed. He tells them that he’s proud to have served and fought with them, but these conscripts of the Wehrmacht (the German Army) still fought in service of bad ideas and bad actions. of which was the destruction of European Jewry.
Confederate soldiers did likewise; they fought for protecting a bad idea, and the uproar over the displacement of Confederate Civil War monuments is the last ideological battle of the most successful campaign of the “lost cause”: spreading Southern propaganda via a post-bellum political correctness campaign. The roots of alt-right victimization claims can be traced directly to Southern whites doing it for the 152 years.