Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Civil War Meets 9/11

Recently I attended a Civil War re-enactment/living history in Tunnel Hill, GA. Usually these events are marked with their own oddities, colorful characters, and 'education.' This tremendous event set itself apart from the regular run of the mill reenactment by taking place on the immortal anniversary of September 11. As one might expect, there was a memorial service on the 11th, that was complete with a full Union and Confederate honor guard. This had the makings of a moment that could have been truly remarkable, but notice the use of the words 'could have.'
 I had uneasy feelings about the memorial service on the day before when the Commanding Confederate General (basically the guy that is running the event and thinks he commands armies) revealed to the battalion that there was going to be a memorial service and a prayer. This seemed ordinary, very much the thing one would expect. But it was his next couple of sentences that bothered me. He told us we were going to have a prayer, and that "if we didn't like what they were saying, bear with us, if you still don't like it, leave us." Now usually at such events I don't attend the church services due to different reasons but on this occasion, given that it was going to be the 11th, and after what the "General" had told his troops I felt compelled.

          The next morning we ccrutred up (re-enactor slang for putting on gear) and marched out to parade ground. It was a magnificent column of fours with bayonets fixed and flashing in the morning sun. We formed up after the parade march and stood at attention while our commanding officer gave the ceremonial speech.  The gist of his speech was acceptable. Remembrance of the tragic day and for the families that lost loved ones. What bothered me was when our "General" issued his own commentary. Apparently, according to him, the United States has enemies of freedom. That there are those in the world that want to attack us because the United States is a 'Christian nation.' This is an assertion I have heard before and I usually just take a deep breath and let said person continue, but then "General" crossed the line. He went on to state, that despite what people think, we are a Christian nation and that there were "Revisionist historians" attempting to undermine that. That was the basic summation, 9/11 happened because America is a Christian nation, that Muslims hate because were are Christians and have freedom. He was right, I didn't like it, and I wanted to leave but maintained enough composure, as did the rest of the people in my company.
There are a couple of things I would like to address here. The Civil War re-enactments/Living Histories are an opportunity to educate a mass amount of people that are there for entertainment and in some ways to learn. Re-enactors would do well to remember their place as living historians and not champions of opinion. Our so called "General" decided to use his position of power (event coordinator) to stand on his pedestal and deliver his personalized ideology. It would appear that our pseudo-leader spends too much time reading David Barton material on He then of course makes the personal attacks of "Revisionist Historian," which I must say has become my recent favorite insult. It is usually bestowed upon actual historians by those that have no formal training in history. The reason for that new title is because historians usually disagree with an ideology or apologetic position that others might have. Thus the conclusion by these faction groups is that the historians are wrong. I guess those that disagree with me can label me as a liberal revisionist historian because I have yet to see any proof that this nation is founded on Christianity or any other religion. I am basing this on James Madison's documentation of the Constitutional Convention, Letters of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams, and of course the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Our "General" is also lacking in knowledge of foreign policy in the Middle East. Any study of our actions in that area indicate that our hostile imperialism in the area and continuous presence in foreign nations, foster harsh sentiments  towards America. After studying, continuously mind you, American foreign policy in the Middle East since 1900, I can state purely that the United States was not attacked because we are "Free" or a "Christian Nation," (which we are not), but because we are over there. Our policies overseas use systems of espionage that usually result in eventual blowback putting American citizens in harms way. For this analysis I recommend Chalmers Johnson, as his books use very accurate in detail and often cite CIA documentation.
Whatever the reasons for our "commanding officer" to use this time of remembrance as an opportunity to progress his own ideology and political agenda was unjustified. Not only did he insult an entire field of study, but he also insults the memory of those fallen by not telling the audience in attendance the reasons why. The crowd can go home, some in an ignorant bliss without the knowledge of why those that were attacked met their end. Meanwhile I guess the "Revisionist Liberal Historians" will have to sit on the side while "Generals" of the pseudo-confederacy dictate how history will be written.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Historic Struggle Receives A Review

My friend Daniel who is currently enrolled in Mercer's Theology graduate program has graced this blog with a review. Daniel is running a pretty interesting blog titled "The New Adult Life". If one word could explain this blog it would be diverse.  He addresses numerous issues and subjects which can be on the other side of the fence from political correctness. I do not wish to go on and on about Daniel's blog but I would rather you look for yourself; check it out at the above link. Also be sure to check out our review.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

            It has been a decade since four separate but connected plane crashes immortalized themselves in American memory as 9/11. Since that fateful day Americans saw the rise in security and government intervention in many aspects of their lives. The effects of the attacks would not be isolated in the United States but abroad. Not long after these events, the Bush administration would announce a “War on Terror,” with the initial objective being to capture Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the attacks, and to neutralize the al-Qaeda terrorist network.  As we approach the ten year anniversary of 9/11, a lot of attention will be paid to how we memorialize this event. It is no doubt “a day which will live in infamy,” much as the attack at Pearl Harbor which President Roosevelt correctly predicted would live on in American memory. But as we approach this historic event, let us not only realize that immortal day and its results, but how we got to that point in history as well. 

            It is important to look at an event such as 9/11 and realize what we as Americans can learn from it. There are events in history which warranted the same attention, but received little. This led to misunderstandings about events that plagued the general understanding of that event. Take for example the Civil War. Due to the hardships of Reconstruction, and the idea of Reconciliation, the United States went into the twentieth century blinded by fabrications as to why the war was actually fought. It was not until around 1950 – 1960, as the Civil War was approaching its centennial celebration that the focus began to center on slavery. One hundred years is far too long to maintain negligence. To this day, many people continue a pseudo-historical view of the causes of the Civil War. This is a trap that we must avoid now instead of September 11th, 2101.  

            What can be learned from 9/11? I can remember that day, watching the events unfurl before my eyes on television in my eighth grade classroom. I can even remember seeing the second collision. More specifically than the fragments of visual memory that I retain, are the emotions that I harbored, and the ones I witness. “Why did this happen to us?” was a general statement I remember being spoken. Soon after the events an enemy was recognized as Osama bin Laden. It was instantly connected that he was behind the plots and through that connection many found their answer “why.” Those reasons could vary for some from bin Laden’s hatred of America to a religious ‘jihad’ but some took solace in their identification and redirected sorrow into the retribution for those fallen in 9/11. No one ever took into consideration that bin Laden had a specific reason for his attack. Nor that his indication was well documented years before in his “Declaration of Jihad on the Americans Occupying the Country of the Two Sacred Places.” bin Laden would point to America’s foreign policy and occupation of certain Middle Eastern countries as reasons for hostility. Overlooking these reasons of attack, the United States engaged in an overseas war that would take America into Afghanistan and Iraq initially, and then into Yemen, Libya and Somalia. These overseas exhibitions led the U.S. to over 50,000 in total combat casualties.  Looking back on the events a decade past, perhaps ‘why’ was never answered thoroughly.  
            It is important to remember not just that fateful morning in September but the complexities that brought us to that point. Would Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor have happened if the U.S. had not placed oil restrictions on them? Would the Civil War been fought if Slavery had never seen America? These are questions we must ask ourselves in order to learn from our past. Let us think about these things on this decade remembrance of 9/11. For if we do not learn from our past, we will be doomed to repeat it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The People vs Leo Frank

Leo Frank
Leo Frank's Hanging
I am currently watching the new Georgia Public Broadcasting's PBS docu-drama "The People vs Leo Frank" I really do applaud the state's educational efforts to take such black marks in the history of the state of Georgia and create terrific narrations of that history. Every specific horrifying detail is intricately played out using historians, those that have personal family connections to the events, and others that have spent countless hours studying the case. They trace the events surrounding the death of Mary Phagan, the following "Knights of Mary Phagan" and how that small gathering eventually turned into the new Ku Klux Klan. I really cannot do justice on this post but to say check out the trailer here. Following the film, is a roundtable presented by the Georgia Historical Society. The GHS seem to be the driving force behind this documentary, and I have to specifically applaud their efforts.

Teachers I suggest you use this as supplemental material when covering the early 1900's and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Just imagine the interpretation and analyzations you can help foster.  PBS has issued teacher's aid guides and supplemental materials to along with the video which can be found here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rain Can Be Pesky Sometimes : Burnside's 'Mud March"

In this dreary rainy day that most of Georgia and South Tennessee seems to be going through, lets take the opportunity to look at the past and see how such rain ruined somebody else's day.

In January 1863, Union Major General Ambrose Burnside launched an offensive operation to attack Confederate General Robert E. Lee's flank while Cavalry attacked and destroyed the rear supply lines. This offensive came after Burnside's horrifying defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg and in hopes of restoring morale and the Maj. General's reputation.

Burnside's initial plan was to cross the Rappahannock River south of Fredericksburg, VA on January 1st. This would outflank General Lee placing the Army of the Potomac in perfect position to strike a decisive blow to  General Lee's Army of Northern Virgina. Due to political maneuvering, and orders of President Lincoln, Burnside altered the plan. This time, Burnside would cross upstream at Bank's Ford.

On January 20, 1863, the Army of the Potomac began its movements in mild weather but later in the evening a steady rain began. This rain persisted for two days turning unpaved roads into traps of mud that rose up to knee deep on soldiers. After many complaints from subordinates, Burnside finally ordered his Army back to Fredericksburg.

The 'Mud March" would be Maj. General Burnside's last attempt at commanding the Army of the Potomax as President Lincoln would soon replace him with General Hooker.

So on this horribly wet day, keep in mind that things, could always be worse.

Looking at the Civil War 150 Years Later

The Virginia Historical Society is outdoing itself by leaps and bounds in research material and educational displays for the Civil War sesquicentennial. For anyone out there that is doing any sort of teaching or classwork on the Civil Wars. An example would be this great bookend to the Civil War and Reconstruction Units.

The Historical Society is also producing videos on the war's impact in Virginia which is great material on the war's effect on society and not just military tactics and history.

This is only part 1 of a several part video series. I am currently working on  fitting these in to lesson plans. For further reading on displays and research done by the Virginia Historical Society can be seen here at their website.

"Unfurl the Flag Boys"

Confederate Battle Flag on the side of the Interstate
The alleged infamous words of General Robert E. Lee, “Furl the Flag Boys,” have long been forgotten by some groups promoting southern heritage. There are two incidents recently that have brought the issue of the display of the “stars and bars,” to light once more. Lexington, Virginia recently saw a rise in public awareness on the controversial issue of displaying the flag, and now the state of Georgia is seeing flag advocates moving to put the battle flag up along the interstate system. With this new awareness, also comes another look at the memory of the Civil War, and its connected symbols.

Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory recently did a tremendous job of covering the events on the Lexington, VA issue. There is not anything to add to his commentary on the event but to take note of the irrational action and irrational reaction that seems to have taken place there. Read with objective eyes. 

Blog at Civil War Memory
The issue of the flag’s display in the “Peach State,” is a different matter. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote on September 3rd, about a new effort to unfurl the Confederate flag, in gigantic proportions along Georgia’s interstates. So far, only three of these flags have gone up on display. Anyone living in the Tifton area can see one of these mammoth symbols measuring 30 by 50 feet waving in the southern breeze. There also appears to be two more in North Georgia that do not have listed locations in the article. I can vouch that there is a massive flag along the side of I-75 around the Ringgold, Georgia exit. This flag is not the battle flag, but the old Georgia state flag. The recent influx of flag raisings comes as the result of certain advocate groups political ambitions. 

Jack Bridwell, who is the division commander of the state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans stated that, “We [the SCV] want to remind people of who they are and where they came from,” going on to say “being Southern is nothing to be ashamed of.” The SCV is the advocacy group paying for the flags in the recent unfurling. 

There is no doubt that these new flag raisings have revived the old debate in Georgia over the display of the flag. In this new debate is also the realization of what the flag is, and what it means. This of course is another insight to how Southerners remember the Civil War.  Jack Bridwell, who the AJC recognizes as a retired educator states that opposition to the flag is misguided. Bridwell believes that the Civil War, “or war of Northern aggression….was about economics and an unprovoked attack on Fort Sumter.” Bridwell seems to be forgetting the reason that secession took place as far as economics is concerned, has to do with the back bone or work force of that agriculturally based economy.  Gordon Jones, the senior military historian at the Atlanta History Center had this to say; “The battle flag was aligned with a Confederacy that argued for states’ rights and economic freedom necessary to protect slaves as property.” The SCV has remained consistent in its attempts to deflect that type of insight that Jones provides as “Yankee Propaganda,” or revisionist history. Bridwell’s version aligns with the “Lost Cause” ideology. This is a concept that is constantly being battled, but who is winning the fight?

According to the recent The Georgia Confederate, along with the completion of a new Confederate Soldier Monument in Jefferson, GA, is the “Commander’s Report” from Division Commander Jack Bridwell. In his statement Bridwell mentions the needs for membership drives and for those already members to recruit their relatives into the SCV. This might be an indication of small numbers, but that seems unlikely given that the SCV’s narrative throughout the article is from the position of a victim, warding off revisionist history affecting the nation. Bridell also makes mention of new camps being established and a Division Headquarters Camp. These are referencing new SCV membership units and also physical camps, much like religious camps. They will host summer camps to bring children to. What can be deduced is that the efforts of the SCV in GA are highly motivated. 

In light to this recent display of the Confederate Flag is the response of the DeKalb NAACP president John Evans who had this to say; “We don’t like it, but they have every right to put it up if they can find someone who wants that mess on their property……as long as it’s just a symbol and not an action, it’s just a distraction from how much the world has changed from when that flag represented a real threat.” Though it can be assumed, the threat Evans is talking about is the Confederate ideology of slavery or perhaps the Ku Klux Klan of the early and mid-1900’s.  It is apparent that Evans position is very rational. 

The flag in itself is a symbol. What that symbol is seems to be very complex and diverse. Bridwell and other SCV members view it as a symbol of pride to use to glorify an ancestry. That at least appears to be the argument on the surface. People such as John Evans view it as a symbol with different meanings to different people, but hope that leads to inaction. Ultimately it remains a symbol as many things are.  In keeping with their version of the truth, it is apparent that the Georgia SCV will continue its mission to buy or lease land along the interstate system in order to display their symbol of Southern heritage.

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