01 October 2008

For The Misinformed

“Even the venerable Robert E. Lee has taken some vicious hits, as dishonest or misinformed advocates among political interest groups and in academia attempt to twist yesterday’s America into a fantasy that might better serve the political issues of today. The greatest disservice on this count has been the attempt by these revisionist politicians and academics to defame the entire Confederate Army in a move that can only be termed the Nazification of the Confederacy. Often cloaked in the argument over the public display of the Confederate battle flag, the *syllogism goes something like this: Slavery is evil. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought for a system that wished to preserve it. Therefore they were evil as well, and any attempt to honor their service is a veiled effort to glorify the cause of slavery.” ~ From Born Fighting by Virginia Democrat Senator James Webb (Page 208).

*"Syllogisms are particularly interesting in persuasion as they include assumptions that many people accept which allow false statements or (often unspoken) conclusions to appear to be true. There is a difference between truth and validity in syllogisms. A syllogism can be true, but not valid (i.e. make logical sense). It can also be valid but not true." (From Changingminds.org)

15 comments:

Robert Moore said...

While I have no disrespect for his military service or his efforts for veterans, the manner in which he worded this is a "reckless" generalization which can easily be mistaken by some and used as a foundation for an attack on academia in general. Just as some make generalizations about the South and slavery, others, it appears, are making sweeping generalizations about academia. I think the statement hints a need for him to stick to what he knows or to choose his words more carefully.

It is true that both Lee and the Confederate soldier have taken some vicious hits. Then too, Lincoln and the Union soldier have also been subjected to the same. The men as individuals have been placed under the microscope (no big surprise here considering the trend in modern society to do the same with the living in the public sphere) and general stereotypes have been applied to the men in both ranks.

If Webb really wanted to go down this road, he should have made a clear distinction between those who seek to attack Lee for the sake of debunking character and those who apply historical analysis to Lee as a figure from history. There is a difference, no matter how some want to lump it all into one classification (e.g., liberal academia). So, my question to Senator Webb, would be to identify, by name or by association with titled works, the academic historians he considers as among those who "twist yesterday's America into a fantasy." Yet, since you use this quote, does Webb, at any point, address the problem in the manner in which some people approach history, living in a blind fantasy without the aid of academic historians? There is a double-edged sword there.

There is, however, something to the syllogism. I think (though I can't prove it unless I perform some impossibly huge survey) that the general public applies modern sensibilities on historic events and people, and that is a problem. Part of the effort in historical studies is to make us aware of our bias in order to present objective history. Though it can be done, it can also be a very painful process.

Funny to say, considering it all, it sounds to me that this all cries out for a higher degree of study in history in public education.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I think the statement hints a need for him to stick to what he knows or to choose his words more carefully."

I think Senator Webb has done just that. Have you read this book?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

I'd also refer you back to this post for some additional thoughts.

http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2007/04/robert-krick-and-historical-revisionism.html

I addressed some of your points in the "I Hope This Helps" post which Kevin also raised.

When academic insiders and the Washington Post even admit the very heavy leftward lean of academia (and all that entails), I'm not going to waste my time debating that with anyone. It's been true for decades. If you don't accept that fact by now, nothing I could say would ever convince you otherwise.

Best,
RGW

Gil Gibson said...

I did read Born Fighting and thought it very insightful. However, Webb turned his back on those about whom he wrote in order to get elected in occupied Northern Virginia. He also forgot what it felt like when we were fighting in Vietnam and politicians at home stabbed us in the back. He joined the part doing the stabbing this time around.

Robert Moore said...

You are right, I won't accept that... about academia at-large. So, as a recent history graduate of the "academy," because the Washington Post says it's so, I don't know what I'm talking about. Glad to know that the media is always right. Goodness knows that they always publish the truth. Not only that, but I find it interesting that you agree with "academics from the inside" when they say this, when you disagree with them in other circumstances when they argue a point. I think all of my professors would find it interesting (and some would find it annoying) that they are all cut from the same cloth and are all of the same political belief and that this belief is motivating an invisible drive to bash the story of the Confederacy.

I'm aware of Bob's position on "psychobabble history." I've also interacted with Bob, here and there, since I started with the Va. Regt. Hist Series in 1987. Writing for the series pretty much guaranteed Bob would interact with you as an author. There are some who contributed to the series and worked even closer with Bob, and are now teaching in academia and producing what some like to label as revisionist work. Just because findings in historical research don't walk in harmony with one line of thinking doesn't make them "revisionist" works.

Robert Moore said...

Oh, and about Webb's book. I enjoyed his Vietnam books. I read Fields of Fire when I was a teenager. However, despite the Scots-Irish in my own blood (and though my surname might infer a stronger connection, my Moore line didn't make it to Ireland, but made a detour through Barbados with an indenture), the German-Swiss in me finds the pronouncement made in the title overly boastful. I still haven't figure out why, but I relate more to the German-Swiss side.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I never said "all" Robert. We shall agree to disagree. Thanks again for your input.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I still haven't figure out why, but I relate more to the German-Swiss side."

Yes, I can understand. And, thanks to you, I discovered more details about the Williams side of my family and my connection to New England stock (gasp)!

;)

As for me, my Scots-Irish blood always seems to come out on top!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Gil:

Thanks for reading and thanks for taking the time to comment. Senator Webb is an interesting character, though I did not vote for him. I would not be surprised if he ultimately turns independent. His primary reason for abandoning the Republican Party was Bush's Iraq policy. I really don't believe he's comfortable in the Democratic Party as it continues its hard left track.

It will be interesting to see, regardless of who is the next President, how Webb will "evolve" politically.

Gil Gibson said...

Richard-

It's hard for me not to like Webb. He is the highest Federal official in my memory to resign on principle. I hope, as you suggest, that he is not comfortable as a Democrat. His best fiction for me was A Country Such as This. Re: Born Fighting, a reviewer said that his chapter on the WBTS should be required reading in every high school in the country. I agree.

Robert Moore said...

Have you done the DNA test to help confirm the tie to Roger Williams?

... and, come on now, New England is a great place!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I haven't Robert. I really intend to though. Based on what you discovered, I'm sure of the connection. I know I asked you before, but is there a particular company you would recommend? I need to get it done just to be 100% sure.

I was in Maine for a week in August to visit my daughter. She married a yankee! A fine young man, though. Hard not to like a fellow who has given me two find grandsons!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Gil:

Yes, I agree as well. I think Born Fighting is absolutely fabulous. It is one of my all-time favorites, for sure. Webb is a true warrior-poet, which makes his current political stance/associations all the more curious (not on the war, but some of the more radical left positions of the Dems).

Robert Moore said...

Richard,

I used the National Geographic Genographic program...

https://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/

Once you get the results, you should be able to tie into a database of Rev. Williams' descendants to see if the DNA is a match.

Why are you worried about "Yankees" anyway? Don't you remember what else I found in my search? A membership application is waiting for you. :-)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Great, thanks. Oh, yes, I remember. I'm going to use that as a bargaining chip to let me sign my grandson up as a Cadet in the SCV.

;)