The Biggest Lie About the Civil War

Since 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of The Civil War, perhaps it would be improper to allow the year to expire without commenting on a popular misconception about the bloodiest conflict in American history. Did we say misconception? Nay, it’s an outright lie, spread by proponents of the Confederate cause.

The Big Lie: “It Wasn’t Really About Slavery.”

Advocating slavery would not be a very popular course at present; and it wasn’t even universally popular at the time. Consequently, it often has been camouflaged by other supposed motives. The right to secede. (For what purpose?) Government  policy. (Pertaining to what?) Economic factors. (An economy powered by what?) States’ rights. (To do what?) Every supposed impetus you could name, even if legitimate, could be directly linked to slavery.

“States’ rights” is an especially popular excuse these days; one reason is that it aligns the Neo-Confederates with the Neo-Conservatives, both of whom are concentrated below the Mason-Dixon line.  But both actually support states’ rights only when convenient. For an example of how quickly the Neocons can be prompted to do an about-face on states’ rights, see Bush vs. Gore. For an example of how easily the Confederates could be prompted to do so, see how pissed they became at Northern states who opted not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

From the Horse’s…er,  Mouth

Obstinate adherence to an ideology always requires a certain willingness to ignore facts. But the Dixienauts also seem quite willing, when it suits their purposes, to ignore the words of their own beloved iconic leaders: Confederate “President” Jefferson Davis and “Vice-President” Alexander Stephens.

In January 1861, then-Senator Davis delivered a farewell speech to the U.S. Senate in which he declared why his state of Mississippi was to become a Union dropout:

“She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this has made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions.”

Stephens was even more explicit. In what was to become known as the Cornerstone Speech, delivered in March of 1861, he declared:

“This (equality) was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

And he added:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

But my favorite part of his speech is this:

“This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science…Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics.”

Any questions?

A Dose of Sanity

For an example of what Stephens considered sane behavior, see page 282 of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, in which he describes a standard treatment, known as “Derby’s dose”, administered to runaway slaves by one certain slave owner:

“The runaway would be beaten, and salt pickle, lime juice, and bird pepper would be rubbed into his or her open wounds. Another slave would defecate into the mouth of the miscreant, who would then be gagged for four to five hours.”

Yes, surely this was the slave’s “natural and normal condition”.

They’ll Rise Again and Again

The Confederate mentality is still very much with us. It never left. You can’t really expect it to when history has so whitewashed what the Confederacy really stood for, and posterity has been so willing to honor the memory of those who died in battle regardless of the values they represented. You may recall that President Ronald Reagan caused a stir by paying tribute to Nazi soldiers, apparently not even considering the implications of his actions.

Walk through Gettysburg and you’ll see monuments to Confederate soldiers right there with monuments to Federal troops, as if their causes were equally noble. They weren’t. One side fought to preserve the Union, the other to rip it apart in order to preserve the institution of slavery. No amount of “politically incorrect” revisionism can change that.

Slavery, whether they knew it or not, was what those Confederate troops fought and died for. And whether they know it or  not, it’s what today’s Neo-Confederates are glorifying.

The Myth of Christmas Candy Canes

A certain laundromat that I’ve frequented recently seems to be a popular hangout for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every time I go there, they’ve left some of their pamphlets behind, featuring people on the cover who display what perfect skin and hair God will grant you if only you submit to His will, as relayed by them. I’ve learned to take this all in stride; maybe this literature actually is of benefit to some people. But on my last visit I discovered they’d really crossed the line by leaving behind those candy canes.

 

Yes, candy canes. About a dozen of them, each conveniently attached to a little tract explaining the TRUE meaning of Christmas. Like pedophiles, religious propagandists know that candy is an effective way to attract and manipulate children into something they’re not old enough to process. (Come to think of it, few adults are old enough to process religion. But that’s another story.) Accordingly, I threw them all into the trash where they belong. Sorry kiddies, you’ll have to get your sugar high elsewhere.

 

This was, alas, not the first time candy canes have been used as church bait. It’s been going on for centuries. Lately, there’s been a popular rumor circulating that these confections were created expressly for that purpose, and are infused with religious symbolism. Here’s how one website, often quoted in emails, states the case:

 

“A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane…He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God… The candymaker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus… Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.”

 

Lovely story. There’s just one problem with it: it’s utter horseshit. Inspired, perhaps, by the pretzel, which has a much older, and possibly religious, origin – with the folded shape representing either hands in prayer or a disguised cross.  The use of bread also probably stems from Christianity’s roots in harvest celebrations, and even possible connections to ancient cannibalistic cults . (“Eat this bread, it’s my body.”)

 

Candy canes themselves have existed, and have been used for Christmas decoration, for centuries. And they were plain white until about a hundred years ago, when somebody decided that they looked more festive with red stripes, and the innovation caught on. Originally, the canes were straight, but the crook was added later for reasons unknown, but there is no reason to believe it was intended to represent the letter “J”. Another legend (also unproven, but somewhat more plausible) relates that this alteration did indeed have a sort of religious significance: it supposedly was concocted by an official at Cologne Cathedral in the Seventeenth Century as a novelty to pique the interest of restless children in attendance. According to this legend, the shape represents a shepherd’s staff – not a letter of the alphabet.

 

But that’s quite likely a fabrication as well. It reeks of the same kind of symbolic retrofitting that Christianity has always been guilty of. Now, as always, Christians are trying to take credit for something they didn’t originate – including the United States of America. And, lest we forget, this holiday now commonly known as Christmas.

 

 

The Smear Campaign Against Occupy Wall Street

It’s hardly surprising that members of the corporate plutocracy and their accomplices in government and media should smear Occupy Wall street at all costs. What’s especially impressive, however, is that they’ve convinced so many far less wealthy citizens to be water carriers in their propaganda assault. Many people (including, no doubt, people you know and hear from frequently) seem to have made a full-time career out of attacking OWS, and within that profession there is a dominant specialty of comparing it unfavorably to the Tea Party.

Grass or Astroturf?

One common theme you’ll hear is the claim that while the TP is a genuine grassroots movement, OWS is an astroturfed frankenstein formulated by a large subversive organization and passed off to the rabble to do its bidding. Perhaps the appropriate response to this is: sort of; maybe;yes; no; not really.

It’s true that the Tea Party had rather humble beginnings, with a few sparse gatherings of citizens protesting high taxes and “big government”, whatever the hell that means. But it likely would have remained tiny and insignificant had it not been quickly co-opted by the Republican Party, the corporate media and megabusiness interests- the very people, in other words, largely responsible for the very grievances that inspired both OWS and TP.

OWS, on the other hand, started out as a grassroots movement and has remained that way. This, of course, contradicts the common belief that it is the creation of the iconoclastic magazine Adbusters. But Adbusters merely supplied the inspiration, not the blueprint, and took no real steps toward making the suggestion a reality. That task, from the beginning, has been the handiwork of a leaderless mass of ordinary citizens. It’s about as close to a genuine grassroots phenomenon as it’s possible to find these days.

Some people, incidentally, make an issue out of the fact that Adbusters is published a few miles north of the Washington state border. That is indeed rather significant, but for exactly the opposite reason that the detractors suggest: it reflects that Occupy is a phenomenon of international rather than egocentric scope. Accordingly, it’s caught on in many countries besides the United States. The Tea Party, on the other hand, would face a tough sell abroad. Not only are people in other countries far less likely to be concerned about the tax rates on American billionaires, they are far more likely to revere the American presidents whom ideological extremists loathe. (The reverse is also true, as we saw under George W. Bush.)

Funding Follies

Among the major string-pullers of the Tea Party are the Koch brothers, billionaire corporatists who are obsessed with destroying Barack Obama, whom they consider “the most radical president in the nation’s history.” (Presumably, they say this with a straight face.) Consequently, they’ve poured millions of dollars into promoting the Tea Party and also were instrumental in organizing it. This fact is often overlooked, yet many people claim that another billionaire activist, George Soros, has done the same for Occupy. Hardly surprising, since he’s accused of having a finger in every pie that comes out of the oven if it tilts even one iota to the left. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched this video, in which the excruciatingly embarrassing Victoria Jackson, who led a Tea Party assembly in chanting  “there’s a communist living in The White House”, even maintains that Soros owns Snopes, which apparently has debunked some of the other batty ramblings she’s made.) But there’s no indication that Soros has ever donated even one penny to Occupy Wall Street.

So what we have here is a sort of double standard compounded by falsification, right? Actually, make that a triple standard. Because good old Michael Moore, one of the favorite bugbears of the reactionary set, also gets dragged into the picture quite frequently. Not just because he’s a prominent presence at Occupy events, nor because he’s funded OWS himself, but because he hasn’t. Yes, you read that right: the same folks who ignore, downplay or deny the financial contributions of the Koch Brothers to the Tea Party and demonize George Soros for funding OWS when he really hasn’t also demonize Michael Moore for NOT doing likewise. Is your head spinning yet?

Not only do they seem to believe that Moore should assume fiscal responsibility for the movement itself, but for everyone participating in it. Hey, if they’re hurting financially and he’s so successful, why doesn’t he just turn over his cash to them? It’s a subtle way of suggesting that the protesters are all just lazy bums looking for a handout, an assertion that many people make with far less subtlety – often adding the glib recommendation that they “get a job”, and then they’ll have no reason to complain.

Disciples of Destruction

But probably the most common meme about OWS demonstrators is that they’re disruptive and violent – two words which the detractors apparently believe to be synonyms. And this behavior is in stark contrast to Teabaggers, who all conduct themselves like perfect angels. Well, except maybe for the occasional spitting on a black congressman. Or manhandling a woman peacefully displaying an opposition sign, throwing her to the ground and stomping on her head. You know, paltry things like that.

But those Occupants – holy Hannah. Mass arrests. Camping out in public. Littering. Even a couple of sexual assaults. Maybe even an occasional singing of “Kumbaya”. They must really be the scum of the earth, right?

This CBS affiliate video, which went radioactive on the Internet, even purports to depict them terrorizing a group of school children. What it actually reveals is a blistering self-indictment on the part of the CBS station, and an iconic illustration of the general tone of media coverage of OWS. Watch the video carefully. Do you see ANY sign that ANY protester is yelling at ANY kid? Sure, there’s a lot of commotion; it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the kids were frightened; it wouldn’t even be surprising if some parents inferred that some of the yelling was directed at their offspring. But there is just no evidence, certainly not in this video, that the protesters were harassing ANYONE.

Seeing is believing, they say. But nowadays, it’s much more common for hearing to be believing in spite of what one has seen to the contrary, particularly if something is heard often enough. Viewers of this video have been entirely willing to discard the evidence their own eyes have seen, or not seen, and accept what the interpreters tell them they’ve seen instead.

Notice the loaded words used to describe the scenario: gauntlet, nervous, fears, overwhelmed, etc. All under the banner of the leading question “How far is too far?” At one point a putative journalist talks to a four-year-old about the incident, and he comments that it was like a parade. Wow, he really must have been terrified; we all know how traumatized kids are by parades. But then the interviewer prompts him to categorize it as scary, and of course he complies.

At another point, she (the “journalist”) tells us that we’re witnessing a protester following a parent and child halfway down the block, obviously with sinister intent. But in the video, you’ll see that the man in question evidently is trying to catch up to them and walk BESIDE them, clearly wanting to just talk to them about something. He is armed only with a camera, not a Teabag rifle, and makes no menacing gestures whatsoever. In fact, when somebody yells at him to back off, he promptly does so and holds up his hand to suggest that he meant no harm.  The media, however, tell us what to believe we’ve seen. And most people comply.

Having said all of this, we must acknowledge that indeed Occupy events have been more unruly than Tea events. It would be pretty hard to deny that. Trouble is, virtually nobody is asking why. Because everyone appears to know the answer already: folks who sleep in city parks are just lower on the evolutionary scale than folks who carry signs about “Niggers” and “white slavery”. Seeking any other explanation, though it wouldn’t require much exertion at all, might border on the scary variety of investigation and analysis that used to fall under the heading of journalism.

(COMING UP: some reasons for OWS unruliness. In other words, we’ll do the media’s job for them. Somebody has to do it.)