Mike Kueber's Blog

April 20, 2010

Johnny Reb and Confederate History Month

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:33 pm
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Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) recently got in trouble for issuing a proclamation that recognized April 2010 as Confederate History Month.  The proclamation upset some people because it failed to acknowledge that the Confederacy was forever stained by its precipitating raison d’être – i.e., slavery in the South.  McDonnell apologized for the oversight and revised the proclamation to include a paragraph acknowledging the stain of slavery on the Conferacy, but before the controversy could go away, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) exacerbated the situation by asserting that the original proclamation was not a mistake and that every mention of the Confederacy does not require an anti-slavery caveat – “I don’t know what you would say about slavery, but anyone who thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing – I think it goes without saying.”  Not coincidentally, Barbour routinely issues similar proclamations in Mississippi without an anti-slavery caveat.

I have attached below a copy of the amended proclamation, and I believe the amendment was appropriate.  I understand Barbour’s assertion that every mention of the Confederacy doesn’t require an anti-slavery caveat, but the inclusion of a caveat in the context of this proclamation seems appropriate. 

Disputes like this are certain to erupt again and again until we either discuss our way to a consensus or, more likely, we agree to disagree.  Can we have a consensus on the following:    

  • Should white Southerners be proud of Confederate war heroes?  Clearly, yes.  Although many Americans failed to show proper respect to our servicemen who returned from Vietnam, our nation has clearly evolved so that now servicemen who return from Iraq are honored even by those who vehemently oppose the Iraq war.  Johnny Reb unquestionably was a gallant and brave soldier serving his state, and he deserves honor for his conduct. 
  • Should white Southerners be proud of the Confederacy?  I think, no.  Although some white Southerners argue that the Civil War was about States’s Rights, I believe the general consensus is that the Civil War was fought because the South felt the North was threatening the long-term viability of slavery, and Governor McDonnell’s amendment acknowledges this – “the institution of slavery led to this war.”  Thus, secession over slavery is nothing for white Southerners to be proud of. 
  • Should white Southerners be proud of the ante-bellum South?  I think, yes.  Although slavery was, as Governor McDonnell recently stated, “an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights,” the stain of slavery should not blot out everything else that was good about the old South.  Let’s not forget that Washington and Jefferson were Southern slave owners who made immense contributions toward making America what it is today – a beacon of liberty for the entire world.  We can continue to honor them without routinely including an obligatory anti-slavery caveat.

Emotionally, I stand squarely on the side of honoring Confederate heroes even though my home state of North Dakota didn’t exist at the time of the Civil War and it is stocked with people who emigrated from northern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Thus, the Civil War and slavery are not directly a part of my heritage.  Yet I have always been attracted to the thought of Johnny Reb, the underdog who rebelled against the heavy hand of the federal government (even before I learned about States’ Rights).  This attraction came to full bloom during college when I was exposed to Gone With The Wind.  I became so enamored of Rhett Butler and the South’s rebel cause that I briefly considered changing my name to Rhett Ezekiel Bayou, or REB for short.  However, because slavery was not directly a part of my heritage, and because I have no close African-American friends, I am probably not sufficiently sensitive to the stain that slavery has left on people or institutions, and I need to occasionally remind myself of that, just like Governor Bob McDonnell did.   


Confederate History Month

WHEREAS,  April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and

WHEREAS,  Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every  region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and

WHEREAS,  it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s  shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present; and

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history; and

WHEREAS, Confederate historical sites such as the White House of the Confederacy are open for people to visit in Richmond today; and

WHEREAS, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”; and

WHEREAS,   this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.

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