White supremacists are creating alternate history

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As I watch news reports of Nazis and Confederate enthusiasts marching arm in arm I am bewildered. Not just as a human being of course, but as a history teacher. The monument itself is called “Lee at Appomattox”. The day he officially surrendered. This is not some monument to his “great war victories” (that never really happened). Lee himself is on record being against Civil War monuments of any type. So why would Confederate enthusiasts want to go against his wishes?

While the neo Nazis screamed about Jews, they remained clueless that the Confederate Secretary of State was Jewish, Judah Benjamin. It was the Union that barred Jews from being chaplains.

Perhaps they should be marching in front of Union General Grant’s statue made by the same sculptor. Grant, after all, was the one who actually ordered the expulsion of Jews from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. (Though some scholars believe he regretted this order later in life.)

Slaveholding Confederates and genocidal Nazis were separated by nearly 100 years of history and an entire ocean. The idea of them mashed up together in Charlottesville is almost as incomprehensible as Voldemort helping Darth Vader preserve the Death Star.

Does this mean the Confederacy had a moral high ground in some way? Absolutely not. Even when comparing the Confederacy to the morality of the era, keeping humans enslaved was inexcusable.

This is my historical problem with the planned HBO show Confederate. Even if they had won, the civilized world would not have stood for slavery there. Europe would eventually have boycotted the cotton, not to mention that agricultural technology (like tractors and pesticides) would have made the institution obsolete.

The last country in the Western world to end slavery was Brazil in 1888. Two years before the American Civil War ended slavery was abolished by The Netherlands in their colonies. Helping set the stage for the 1890 Brussels conference, it was the European crackdown on the slave trade that truly put an end to it in much of the world.

Such an improbable premise of slavery surviving in North America into the modern day means HBO is just trying to profit off of tensions like that in Charlottesville. If they want a metaphor for current events they should create a truly fictional world the way Star Trek always did.

After Lee’s death, many in the South created an illusion of a martyr and “lost cause”. Monuments were erected as a myth formed that the war was less about slavery and instead about some unexplainable “principle”. Lee was turned into a symbol, a symbol that is now called out by civil rights activists for what it really is. An attempt by white supremacists to rewrite history in their image.

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