17 October 2009

Wild About Harry

The discussion got rather heated recently over Kevin Levin's post regarding Harry Crocker's The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War. Kevin, along with others including Civil War historian, Brooks Simpson, became rather exercised over Crocker's assertion that "all former Confederates" were barred from holding office during Reconstruction (all being the operative word here). Mr. Simpson, in particular, became rather volcanic in his eruptions against me (including calling me a fraud - not the most prudent thing to do in a public forum), though I had never commented on the particular claim made by Crocker (though I did endorse the book and still do). Professor Simpson's angry, condescending, petty, and rather confused accusations hurled at me border on the bizarre; as if he was releasing something that had been pent up for a very, very long time. Perhaps he was. Just as strange was the fact that Mr. Simpson got me confused with "another" Richard who did comment on Reconstruction and Crocker's assertion regarding all Confederates during Reconstruction. Professor Simpson then bases his "fraud" charge on something I didn't even say and makes the utterly ridiculous and baseless assumption that I've not read the Constitution (based on the comments of the other Richard). Good Lord.

After both Levin and I pointed out there were two Richards commenting, Simpson became defensive, suggesting the apparent "confusion" on his part was purposeful and part of a scheme to "draw me out." However, I believe most folks (including Levin, myself, and two other persons commenting) reading the string of comments could clearly see that Simpson did not know who he was addressing. Then, after offering his defense and saying he really did know who he was addressing, he again attributes what the other gentleman said [the Reconstruction comment] to me and uses this incoherent defense to proclaim me a fraud. Amazing.

You can read the post and comments at the end of this post and judge for yourself. It is one of the most bizarre exchanges in which I've ever been involved.

In any event, Crocker's use of "all" regarding former Confederates being prevented from holding office during Reconstruction was incorrect. Is it reasonable to point out the error? Of course. I never denied that and wrote from the very beginning that I would respond to Crocker's statement and critics here on my blog; which is what I'm doing. Was it ignorance on Mr. Crocker's part, a moment of forgetfulness, carelessness, poor editing, sloppy research, etc? Who knows, but did that error warrant such eye-bulging, red-faced, over-the-top criticism? The assertion/error is not that uncommon. See here, here, and here for just a few examples. (These examples don't say "all" but the assumption could easily be made based on the wording of the text.)

And we have the following example from www.America.gov (the "State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests.") :

"Republicans in Congress decided to implement their own version of Reconstruction. They enacted punitive measures against former rebels and prevented former Confederate leaders from holding office."

Again, no distinction is made as to whether this is "all", some, or a certain class of leaders. Crocker's indiscretion is, while incorrect, not an uncommon one.

And from Digital History, (an academic site developed by the University of Houston, the Chicago Historical Society, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the National Park Service) we have this entry on the 14th amendment:

"It requires the ex-Confederate states to ratify the 14th Amendment, adopt new state constitutions disqualifying former Confederate officials from holding public office. . ."

Once again, since no distinction is made as to which "former Confederate officials", one could easily assume this meant "all". And, one would also assume that an academic site with such notable resources at their disposal would get it right, don't you think? Perhaps they used Mr. Crocker's book as their source for this entry or maybe those associated with these prestigious academic institutions and this website never read the Constitution and the 14th amendment.

So, again, I pose the question: Did Crocker's mistake warrant such attention or, were there other motivations behind the comments and criticisms on this particular issue? I think the answer is clear, which is the REAL point of Crocker's book in the first place. ;o)

Also, does this error by Crocker suggest that the rest of the book gets it all wrong or that it's not worth reading? If so, then logic would dictate that Simpson and Levin would never read anything written by the noted historians who wrote in The South's Terrible Swift Sword, published by the editors of Military History. In that "collector's edition" issue about Stonewall Jackson, I pointed out 6 mistakes/oversights made by the authors.

I get the distinct impression from both Simpson and Levin that they are really offended by a non-academic like me who is rather vocal about academic elitists and biased history which claims to be objective and apolitical. The constant sneering "lack of credibility" and "lack of knowledge", etc. charges you so often see on Levin's blog aimed at those he views as "beneath" his academic level (or his historical interpretations) betrays the elitist attitude of which I'm so often critical.


The following comments were posted in response to Levin's original post about Crocker's book. Those comments are no longer available, but permission was granted to post them here. Except where relevant, I have used only the initials or first name of the person commenting. I put emphasis on the more relevant comments. All emphasis is mine. I've also added some additional editorial comment which is bracketed in red.

************************************************************************

I thought I might start a little series of posts from The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H.W. Crocker III. I would say that such passages are worth a good laugh, but then I step back and realize that these books sell incredibly well both here in the states and overseas. The Lost Cause lives.

Reconstruction: the bad

There had been no segregation in the antebellum South. Plantation slaves lived in cabins within feet of their owner’s house. City slaves lived in brick houses behind their owner’s house. While whites in the North often lived far away from black people, Southern whites lived and worked (and their children played) side by side and thought nothing of it. That changed after the war when the Radical Republicans sent armed regiments of black soldiers into the South as occupation troops and installed black politicians into local and state governments slots, while barring all former Confederates from holding office. (206-07)


1 Harry [not Crocker] September 23, 2009 at 4:17 am

I reviewed this in brief for America’s Civil War. Surprise surprise, Sgt. Carter, someone took offense with my review!!! So I expanded on it a little on my blog, and you can read that here:

http://bullrunnings.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/the-politically-incorrect-guide-to-the-civil-war/

I keep the book on my shelf, but have no idea why. Kind of like a train wreck – can’t help but look.

2 Kevin Levin September 23, 2009 at 4:25 am

Why am I not surprised by that. :) I am using the book this year for my Civil War Memory course. Thanks for the link.

3 DW September 23, 2009 at 4:51 am

I looked through this in a bookstore once but didn’t buy it. I really don’t want to support the guy’s work. I have bought books by James McPherson, Brooks Simpson and Steven Woodworth and feel pretty good about doing my small part to help them continue their work. Thanks for the post. Harry’s right – you can’t help but look. But at least I can keep my money.

4 JE September 23, 2009 at 5:03 am

The book should have been titled “The historically incorrect guide to the Civil War.”

5 CM September 23, 2009 at 5:32 am

Kevin,

Great post…this book is sort of like the Kennedy brother’s ” The south was right” Lite! I am also interested in knowing how you are using it in the classroom?

Harry,

Why am I not suprised that Richard Williams disagreed with your review?

6 Kevin Levin September 23, 2009 at 5:36 am

CM,

Yes, it is the same school of thought that encompasses the Kennedy brothers and the nonsense published by Pelican Press and other specialty presses. What is disappointing is that these books are published by Regnery, which does promote some pretty good work by conservatives of various stripes.

Dan,

I agree that we should try to support competent historians who are trying to broaden and deepen our understanding of this crucial moment in American history rather than reduce it to a cartoon.

7 ST September 23, 2009 at 5:57 am

The casting of the historical narrative of the Civil War as a fight by the Confederacy against northern aggression may, ironically, appeal to citizens in countries outside of the United States who see the US as an imperialist nation. This may, in part, account for the appeal of books such as the one referenced to readers outside of the US. The irony is that the political philosophies of Lost Cause adherents and many of those who see the US as an imperialist nation are often diametrically opposed.

8 Toby September 23, 2009 at 10:10 am

I note that your common reactions mirror almost exactly the reaction of biologists to “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Evolution”.

9 SM September 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm

So emancipation brought segregation and I assume is the reason racism as we know it exists today. By this line of reasoning, one wonders why hordes of freedmen did not beg for a return to the salad days of slavery.

I look forward to your continued posts on this theme. This kind of drivel won’t stand the light of day, and posting it is just the right response.

10 Kevin Levin September 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Steven,

Unfortunately, posting it and exposing it for the nonsense that it is is the only thing you can do.

11 JE September 23, 2009 at 3:16 pm

“Unfortunately, posting it and exposing it for the nonsense that it is is the only thing you can do.” — Well, we could have a good collective guffaw, or sit down and cry. I’m not sure which is more warranted :-( [I suppose we could also jail the author, as some academics have suggested. - RW]


12 Richard September 23, 2009 at 4:52 pm

“barring all former Confederates from holding office”

Its my understanding that former Confederates were barred from office right after the war. Reminds me of our plan barring former Bathists from serving in the Iragi government which in turn created an insurgency. AKA Klan during the Civil War.

13 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 12:50 am

Some were barred, but that is quite a different thing from suggesting that “all” were prevented from holding office.

14 BP September 24, 2009 at 8:23 am

Don’t forget that Presidential Reconstruction (Johnson) preceded Congressional Reconstruction (Radical Republican). Johnson encouraged the enactment of “black codes” that effectively stripped African-Americans of whatever benefits emancipation might have given them. It was essentially slavery without calling it slavery. The Radicals (and then Grant when he became President) were reacting to southerners who, after they had lost the war and devastated the country, wanted to go back to the way things had been before the war, as if the war had never occurred. Grant said to satisfy former Confederates, he didn’t know what the North could have done that it didn’t do, without surrendering the results of the war.

15 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 8:27 am

Bob,

I think such a distinction is already to go too far beyond Crocker’s intellectual and interpretive skills. :)

16 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 24, 2009 at 9:22 am

“Johnson encouraged the enactment of “black codes” that effectively stripped African-Americans of whatever benefits emancipation might have given them. It was essentially slavery without calling it slavery.”

Bob – so, in your opinion, the North’s victory really didn’t “free the slaves?”

17 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 10:02 am

Richard,

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed the slaves. Johnson’s actions applied serious limitations on that freedom as well as any meaningful notion of civil rights. Distinctions matter here.

18 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 24, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Right Kevin.

Bob . . . ?

19 BP September 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Richard G.,

I know you are smarter than that, I read your blog.

For anyone else who might not get this:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Codes_(United_States)

(I know wiki’s not the best source, but it’s a place to start.)

20 Brooks Simpson September 24, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Richard … I assume that you know something about Reconstruction, so you would know that former Confederates did in fact hold office after the American Civil War. If you didn’t know that, then that says something about your knowledge of Reconstruction. I’d think you would be against bad history, regardess of the source. But if you don’t know history, it’s hard to see how you can distinguish between good history and bad history, and that would render moot your criticism of other historians.

21 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Bob,

Thanks for the link. It’s unfortunate that this even needs to be pointed out to Richard Williams.

Richard,

Instead of worrying all day long about the evil liberal bias rearing its ugly head why not worry about your public statement about this particular book. This is what you said on March 21, 2009 in response to a review of the book by Harry Smeltzer: http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2009/03/harry-on-harry-and-me-on-harry-and.html

“Certainly, Crocker’s collection of factoids and essays are not meant to be a scholarly, in-depth study of the WBTS. The book is, however, meant to challenge some popular myths surrounding the war and do it in a popular, somewhat witty, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, entertaining style; which it does very well. Crocker is a gifted writer.”

I guess for you “challenging myths” involves getting the basic historical facts wrong. You have no credibility on this issue whatsoever.

22 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Brooks,

You mean the facts according to an liberal/academic/elite like yourself? Like I said he has no credibility on this topic, but I am sure he will say that we’ve interpreted his words incorrectly. Even worse, all Williams has to know is a little postwar history of his own beloved Virginia to know how absurd that statement is.

23 Brooks Simpson September 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Richard–Upon rereading your post I did not realize how bizarre your “understanding” of American history might be. Here’s what you said:

“Its my understanding that former Confederates were barred from office right after the war. Reminds me of our plan barring former Bathists from serving in the Iragi government which in turn created an insurgency. AKA Klan during the Civil War.”

Now, Richard, let’s explore the record, shall we?

1. The KKK’s roots are to be found after the American Civil War, in December 1865, in Pulaski, Tennessee: it grew over the next several years. I had assumed you knew that the Confederacy had collapsed before the end of 1865. (Note: there is an interesting loophole here that Richard might try to exploit. Let’s see if he can do so.)

2. I assume you knew that former Confederates served in office after the Civil War, including in Virginia. Have you ever heard of James L. Kemper, for example? (I’m not forgetting William Mahone, Kevin). How about Benjamin Humphreys, governor of Mississippi from 1865 to 1868? And how dare you forget that Fitz Lee served as governor of Virginia! I guess you forgot John W. Daniel, too.

3. The notion of barring certain (not all) Confederates from serving in certain offices was advanced in the Fourteenth Amendment, which was not proposed until 1866 and not ratified until 1868, by which time the KKK was a going concern. So the KKK’s not a reaction to the Fourteenth Amendment. Far from it. The Fourteenth Amendment is one of several responses to white supremacist southern terrorism. Moreover, if you had actually read the amendment, you would know that Congress could decide to remove those restrictions.

Here’s the clause, Richard, just so we know that from now on you can’t profess ignorance:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Now, if you had actually read the Constitution, one of those sacred documents of American exceptionalism, you would know that. The above clause does not prohibit every Confederate from holding any office. However, we are forced to conclude that you celebrate a document which you have not even read, let alone understand.

Richard, we now know why you protest the lack of knowledge of American history. You’ve been suffering from that very problem for some time. That you offer a criticism of current American foreign policy based on a bizarre misreading of the past simply adds to concern about the impact of such ignorance on our current civil discourse.

24 BP September 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Is the Richard who made the comment about Confederates not holding office the same Richard G. Williams who asked me the question about slavery? [No, though Simpson is apparently confused and thinks so. - RW] Same person or do we have two different Richards here?

25 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Brooks,

I think you have the wrong Richard in mind. That passage is not attributed to Richard Williams. That said, I think that last paragraph applies to much of his silly political commentary. Thanks for such a thorough response. [And for a response that is based on confusion. - RW]

26 Kevin Levin September 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Bob,

There are two Richards. Richard Williams asked you the question about slavery.

27 Richard version 2.0 [Not Richard Williams - RW] September 24, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I am ignorant. Got no problem saying it. My thoughts were along the lines of the 40 years right after the war. The rise of the Klan and in my area it was the Red Shirts. They used power and intimidation for political gain. But I guess from the comments made the former good ole boys never left power. My bad. Better stop drinking them buds and watching nascar and read a little.

28 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 25, 2009 at 11:41 am

Bob – thanks for the compliment. It was a rhetorical question meant to illustrate “over-simplifying” is an easy charge to make, i.e. there are many who say the WBTS “freed the slaves.” As KL notes, well, not exactly. Your accurate statement suggests that worthy goal may best have been accomplished some other way than the loss of 600,000 + lives. Of course, we can play “what if” all day.

Kevin – are all posters required to expound on the minutia on their knowledge of WBTS history in every post to have credibility, or is that just required of me? You really didn’t see the leading in my question?! As Bob would say, you’re smarter than that.

As far as “getting facts wrong” I’ve pointed out a number of your doing that very thing on various occasions on my blog. And since Brooks couldn’t even figure who to address, or who was writing what, I suppose we all sometimes have problems with “getting facts wrong.”

Brooks, should I expect an apology for the lack of knowledge which led to your rant against something I didn’t post?

29 Kevin Levin September 25, 2009 at 11:52 am

Richard Williams,

I knew you would find a way to dodge the issue. No, readers are not expected to display mastery of the subject, but some basic understanding is assumed. On this one you fall short. You chimed in because of your post on this subject in which you complained that Harry Smelter didn’t give the book a fair shake. Apparently, you didn’t either. Sorry to see that you are standing by your comments re: Crocker. That’s pretty sad. I thought you were supposed to be the champion of legitimate history as opposed to the biased books that you believe to be dominating the market? The book can’t even get the basic facts right and you apparently don’t see that.

30 BP September 25, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Richard G.,

“Your accurate statement suggests that worthy goal may best have been accomplished some other way than the loss of 600,000 + lives.”

I agree completely, but what are you intimating? What does “what if” have to do with it?

31 Brooks Simpson September 25, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Richard, you posted what you posted. It was incorrect. But you’re right, I was hard on you. My apologies. As for Richard Williams, I’m not terribly concerned about what you expect. But it is funny to see you complaining about anyone ranting.

32 Brooks Simpson September 25, 2009 at 7:48 pm

If emancipation’s a worthy goal, and doing it peacefully would have spared 640,000 lives, then guess who has it within their power to spare those lives by freeing their slaves? [Talk about over-simplification(!) - RW]

I never thought Richard Williams would point to slaveholders as responsible for such slaughter, but he has. Amazing. How PC of him. :) [Yes, both slaveholders and slave-traders were responsible, as I've noted numerous times before. - RW]

33 Brooks Simpson September 25, 2009 at 8:08 pm

I gather Richard Williams does admit saying this:

“Certainly, Crocker’s collection of factoids and essays are not meant to be a scholarly, in-depth study of the WBTS. The book is, however, meant to challenge some popular myths surrounding the war and do it in a popular, somewhat witty, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, entertaining style; which it does very well. Crocker is a gifted writer.”

And yet, when I demonstrate that Mr. Crocker is a crock when it comes to Reconstruction, [By pointing to one word. - RW] Richard Williams, that defender of all that is true and right in American history, remains silent about his endorsement of the book.

Oh, by the way, I don’t expect an admission of wrongdoing from Mr. Williams. I just wanted to remind people of the sort of history he endorses … factually inaccurate history. He’s had a chance to admit Crocker’s wrong about Reconstruction, and yet he remains silent. [Rather impatient, isn't he? - RW]

Just what I would expect.

34 Kevin Levin September 26, 2009 at 1:02 am

Brooks,

I pointed to the very same passage in a previous comment. Not surprisingly, Williams never addressed it and I don’t expect him to. [Surprise, surprise! - RW] His typical response is to distract the reader with something else entirely or complain that you misrepresented his view. And you are absolutely right. As long as you agree with RW there is no bias to worry about. So much for credibility.

35 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 26, 2009 at 2:56 am

Bob:

“What if” cooler heads would have prevailed and a peaceful resolution, including the freeing of slaves, could have been negotiated. That’s what I meant. I would think that avoiding 600,000 deaths would be something worth pursuing, wouldn’t you?

KL – I’ll come back to the my comments on Mr. Crocker’s book, along with your criticisms, on my blog soon. Of course slaveholders were partly responsible for the slaughter. Your constant wrong assumptions about what I believe makes you look extremely foolish.

Brooks:

I’m not really surprised you wouldn’t admit your confusion over being able to figure out who wrote what or offer an apology for wrongly attributing the other Richard’s comments to me.

36 Kevin Levin September 26, 2009 at 3:05 am

Richard Williams,

Just as I predicted. I knew I was misrepresenting you by citing your own words. Your comments are clear and represent an endorsement of a book that is fundamentally flawed. Deal with it. To be honest, I don’t really care what you think of this book because I do not consider you to be any kind of authority on the history it supposedly covers.

37 BP September 26, 2009 at 4:52 am

Richard,

” ‘What if’ cooler heads would have prevailed and a peaceful resolution, including the freeing of slaves, could have been negotiated. That’s what I meant. I would think that avoiding 600,000 deaths would be something worth pursuing, wouldn’t you?”

I thought you meant something like this, but I didn’t want to assume anything. The problem with this “what if” is that negotiations had been going on for decades. Compromises had been made repeatedly, yet despite all the compromises, when Lincoln was elected (in a legitimate election) southern slave holders decided negotiations were no longer possible and resorted to armed rebellion and secession.

38 Kevin Levin September 26, 2009 at 4:58 am

Bob,

I think that is the right way to look at it. We could add that the interests of Southern slave owners were clearly protected/reinforced by the Federal Government up until Lincoln’s election. Of course, I mean this on the level of perception since Lincoln and the Republicans were not interested in legislating against slavery in the Old South. Lincoln’s election clearly led to the secession of the Deep South where the staunchest defenders of slave interests resided.

39 Brooks Simpson September 26, 2009 at 11:23 am

“I’m not really surprised you wouldn’t admit your confusion over being able to figure out who wrote what or offer an apology for wrongly attributing the other Richard’s comments to me.”

I attributed Richard’s comments to Richard, Mr. Williams. That you suspect that apply to you is interesting, especially in light of the fact that others say they do describe you.

As you have seen fit not to retract your endorsement of the Crocker book in light of the inaccuracies that have been highlighted in this thread, well, then you aren’t in much of a position to demand or expect anything. But what we have learned is that you in fact haven’t even read the very documents upon which people like you base a claim of American exceptionalism, because, if you had, you would have known Crocker was wrong.

So why do you deliberately endorse bad history? Is it out of ignorance (which would remove you as a valid opinion on the works you comment on) or out of deliberate distortion of the historical record to satisfy your own prejudices (in which case, reader beware)? You can’t use the ignorance excuse any more.

In short, you’ve basically confessed that you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to American history, and you respond to what you read based on your own prejudices, not the actual record. If this was not the case, you would have immediately retracted your earlier endorsement of the Crocker book.

So, if you want people to retract or apologize for making mistakes, perhaps you had better set the example by writing a long post in your own blog about your own mistakes when it comes to endorsing the Crocker book, and your confession of your ignorance of the basic facts of Reconstruction [once again, it was the "other" Richard who "confessed" that, revealing that Simpson is still confused at this point - RW] and of the Constitution itself. Otherwise, you would reveal yourself as being quite the hypocrite. You should not ask of others what you evidently can’t ask of yourself.

In short, what you complain does not apply to you applies to you, and you’ve proved it.

Oh, and by the way, you assailed Jim Epperson for not reading books which he has seen fit to criticize. I’d suggest you might watch out, lest your own standards be applied to you. For some reason, for example, I doubt you’ve read Howard Zinn. Now, I don’t find Zinn’s version of American history particularly insightful, except as an illustration of a certain perspective, but at least I’ve read it. But I’ve seen no evidence that you’ve read many (if any) of the books you see fit to assail.

40 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

Kevin:

I assume you read that I would respond on my blog about Crocker’s book and I will. Be patient. You’ve assailed my credibility before Kevin. I think everyone knows what you think. Of course, you have your own issues in that category as well. I get emails about it all the time.

Brooks, you wrote:

“I attributed Richard’s comments to Richard, Mr. Williams. That you suspect that apply to you is interesting, especially in light of the fact that others say they do describe you.”

Right. That’s why KL had to clarify that there were two Richards commenting so you weren’t confused. The “other” Richard did not mention American exceptionalism, I did. I did not mention the Klan, the “other” Richard did. You jumped from addressing the other Richard’s comments to remarking about something I said on my blog. You need to go back and read your own comments. You’re still very confused. Kevin, can you help him out some more?

No demand, its just good manners to apologize when you criticize someone in error by confusing them with someone else, which is what you did, and which Kevin pointed out to you. And, no, I’m not retracting my endorsement of Crocker’s book. I stand by what I said and will discuss further on my blog.

I confessed nothing. Please don’t put words in my mouth. You’ve already done that once and shown you didn’t even know who was commenting. You’re beginning to sound a little incoherent.

Regarding Zinn, why would I want to read his hyper-leftist writings? I’ve read enough of his writings to know it would be a waste of my time. (BTW, did you read all of Crocker’s book? “What’s good for the goose . . . “) I’ve got more books on my reading list than I’ll ever be able to get to now. I’m certainly not going to waist my time reading someone like Zinn.

41 Kevin Levin September 26, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Richard Williams,

I don’t need to read your response. Your words are sufficient. That you do not retract your support for this book says all that needs to be said about your level of understanding of history. Yes, I have challenged your credibility and I’ve provided reasons for doing so. I stand by those statements. You have done the same thing on your blog so don’t for a minute attempt to play the victim with me. Like I said, you always find a way to avoid being pinned down.

I have no doubt that your readers send you emails about me, but that only shows that they read my blog. And that speaks volumes to me.

42 Brooks Simpson September 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Richard Williams declares: “Regarding Zinn, why would I want to read his hyper-leftist writings? I’ve read enough of his writings to know it would be a waste of my time.”

And yet this is what Richard Williams told Jim Epperson in discussing Crocker’s book:

“It’s rather silly of you to debate its merits, and the author’s points, while at the same time admitting you haven’t read it.”

http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2009/03/harry-on-harry-and-me-on-harry-and.html

Then Mr. Williams closed the comments to hostile fire.

I believe this is what is meant by hypocrisy.

Bravo, Mr. Williams, for admitting that you still endorse factually-flawed history.

As for what Kevin knew or didn’t know, Mr. Williams, if you read his response to my first post, he identified “Richard” as you. I simply took advantage of the confusion and drew you out, because I was curious as to what would happen once you were exposed to the blogging world as a fraud. But I simply responded to “Richard,” Mr. Williams. I can’t help what you assume.

Given your muddle logic, Mr. Williams, it’s ironic that you would charge anyone with being incoherent.

And, from the same exchange on your own blog:

“Great comeback James. Any time someone disagrees with academic orthodoxy, its a rant.”

And yet let’s look at what you say above:

“Brooks, should I expect an apology for the lack of knowledge which led to your rant against something I didn’t post?”

In other words, Mr. Williams, a “rant,” according to you, is any post that disagrees with your view of the world. The only lack of knowledge in this exchange concerns what Mr. Crocker and you know about Reconstruction. The other Richard acknowledged his lack of knowledge: you do not. [Again, it was the "other" Richard who made the comment about Reconstruction, not me. Simpson is still confused at this point. - RW] That shortcoming is now evident to all.

So continue to endorse false history. At least it’s now out there for all to see, since you can’t close these comments.

You’ve been taken, Mr. Williams, and a very delightful taking it was. I couldn’t have done it without you. Have a nice day.

43 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 26, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Kevin:

Most of the emails to which I allude have come from other CW bloggers. And, as you and Brooks so often quote and refer to me here, it’s obvious your readers read my blog as well. Some of them comment there, some don’t, but they do email me as well.

Brooks:

Zinn is an admitted leftist pushing a leftist agenda:

“Objectivity is impossible and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you should make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.”
~ Howard Zinn

“I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle. I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself as a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching.” ~ Howard Zinn

I have read enough of his works to come to an informed decision in the context of this discussion. How much excrement does one have to taste before he realizes its unwise to continue? Epperson’s comments about Crocker’s book, to which I was responding, were more detailed and I believe my criticism was appropriate. Your comparison is not an accurate one, though in short blog comments like this, easy to make it appear as though it is. So the hypocrisy charge is invalid. Yes, I close comments from time to time, as many bloggers (including Kevin) do. Most times, I close them because I become bored and/or those debating an issue are simply repeating the same points. There does come a point when enough is enough. You see that as an opportunity to charge that it was because of hostile fire? I’ve never banned anyone from commenting on my blog. The same cannot be said about some blogs.

“As for what Kevin knew or didn’t know, Mr. Williams, if you read his response to my first post, he identified “Richard” as you. I simply took advantage of the confusion and drew you out, because I was curious as to what would happen once you were exposed to the blogging world as a fraud. But I simply responded to “Richard,” Mr. Williams. I can’t help what you assume.”

Yeah, right. You and Kevin were in on the conspiracy together, right? I suppose you strategized in “drawing me out” and that is why he tried to relieve you of “the confusion.” Anyone reading that string of comments can clearly see you did not realize to whom you were commenting and which “Richard” said what. And now you’re saying that was intentional and some brilliant plan on your part to trap me? So who is the real fraud? (By the way, how does one take advantage of his own confusion?)

“The other Richard acknowledged his lack of knowledge: you do not. That shortcoming is now evident to all.” [Note Simpson now attributes the "acknowledgement/confession" to the correct Richard. - RW]

Yes, I see that when the other Richard admitted his inferiority to your superior intellect, you granted him absolution. How very gracious of you (and humble too).

I’ve “been taken”? Really? Are you sure, this time, which Richard you’re speaking to? I don’t believe I would characterize our exchange as “delightful.” It has, however, been interesting to observe such hubris on public display for all the world to see. You have a nice day too.

44 Kevin Levin September 27, 2009 at 1:01 am

Richard Williams,

While I disagree with much of what Zinn has written about American history, his “exrement” is 10x more interesting than anything you’ve written. But if Zinn’s leftist agenda is a sufficient reason to dismiss him out of hand than I also assume your right wing agenda is as much of a reason to dismiss the few things you’ve published. Haven’t you gone just as far as Zinn in revealing your political/social/cultural bias? Your choice of quotes seems to imply that it is possible to distinguish between one’s political views and the actual historical interpretation. But if that is the case you rarely follow along. Most of your commentary about academic Civil War history is nothing more than vague generalizations and assumptions about its political/cultural bias. I read this as just more evidence that you haven’t really read that much academic history – at least I can’t find much of anything in your Online library. As far as I can tell most of your criticisms of Zinn can just as easily be applied to you.

45 ST September 27, 2009 at 1:34 am

Brooks,

I agree with most everything you have said here. I also understand that you are an expert on Reconstruction and respect that. In following this discussion, it was my understanding that you did confuse the two men who are named “Richard”, however. If you had not confused them, I do not think you would have been so harsh in your initial response, because you are always fair to readers who lack a background in history when you comment. If this was a strategy to encourage Richard Williams to respond, I did not understand that. I add this comment for the sake of fairness. You have stated that you did not confuse the two men, so I believe you. That was not clear as the thread progressed, at least not to me. The strength of your argument was not diluted because of the confusion, so the issue is, in the end, a non-issue.

“Richard version 2”: I offer respect to you. You have been spoken of almost in third person, as if you are not there.

Richard Williams: You do ban people on your blog.

All: I, like other readers of this blog, lack a background in history. That does not mean that I am “ignorant”, or that other readers are “ignorant”. That means we lack a background in history.

Kevin: Thank you,

ST

46 Richard G. Williams, Jr. September 27, 2009 at 4:03 am

Kevin:

I do respect Zinn for his honesty. He’s very up front about his beliefs, as am I. (Read my header. I let people know where I’m coming from.) It’s left up to each individual reader to decide which (or neither) biases are closer to the truth. The biggest problem I have is with those, like you, who proclaim they are above it all and objective, when your bias, agenda, and political views are every bit as clear. The same with Brooks Simpson.

And most of your commentary about Confederate history, as it relates to various aspects of Southern heritage and culture, is nothing more than vague generalizations and assumptions and reveals your cultural/political bias.

My focus on reading is biography, which I believe is the best way to study history, as well as the most entertaining and enlightening. What you, as a liberal academic, believe are the best books to read, means absolutely nothing to me. I reject the faddish books on history which echo what academia expects every one to open wide and swallow. And I’ve not taken the time to list every book in my library, (which is admittedly modest - about 1200 titles at last count) though a couple that are listed actually happen to be ones you’ve recommended. Imagine that.

End of comment string.

************************************************************************
First, both Levin and Simpson erect a straw man by implying that I endorsed Crocker's book as an "academic" historical study of the WBTS. I did no such thing. Yes, I endorsed the book and still do, but I SPECIFICALLY AND PURPOSELY characterized the book as, "academic inquiry for Joe the Plumber" and that is was "written mostly for a general audience and not for academic peers. Thus, the authors are not constrained to follow politically correct dogma and kiss the ring of the court historians. Yet they serve a useful purpose in revealing that there is much more to the subjects addressed than what the PC elites in academia and the media are force feeding us—the statist approved version. They provide a good place to start an inquiry and provide sources for further study." (See original post here.)

And in another post, I characterized Crocker's book in this way:

"Certainly, Crocker's collection of factoids and essays are not meant to be a scholarly, in-depth study of the WBTS. The book is, however, meant to challenge some popular myths surrounding the war and do it in a popular, somewhat witty, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, entertaining style; which it does very well. Crocker is a gifted writer." (See original post here.)

And the criticisms over my endorsement beg the question, to wit: Does one's endorsement of a particular book require that the endorser agree with every aspect and statement in the book? That's ludicrous and intellectually dishonest.

The additional logical fallacies employed in the comments by both Levin and Simpson are so numerous and sophomoric as to be embarrassing. Pointing out each and every one of them would be a waste of time, as most readers here will easily detect them.

Finally, regarding the criticism of Crocker's book, the comments and posts, at least to this point, seem to reveal much more about Levin's and Simpson's provincial prejudices and narrow views regarding certain Southerners and their perspecitves regarding their history than it does anything about the book in question. The criticisms over the book seem to me to be based more on style (Crocker's pro-South perspective) than over substance.

22 comments:

Brooks D. Simpson said...

"The biggest problem I have is with those, like you, who proclaim they are above it all and objective, when your bias, agenda, and political views are every bit as clear. The same with Brooks Simpson."

Gee, Richard, what's my political agenda? Let's see you document your claim. Otherwise, you would prove yourself a fraud.

I'm amused you've spent so much time on me and what you claim I believe. Too bad that the result isn't quite what you so ardently desired.

I'm also amused at your attempt to shuffle around your endorsement of Crocker's book. Apparently its factual missteps are no deterrent to you. Yet it's evident that your endorsement of bad history stands, and you justify it by saying that it's a bad history that's good enough for a general public. Do you hold everyone in such contempt?

Please don't tall about being intellectually dishonest. You criticized Jim Epperson for commenting on a book he admitted to not having read, but you did the same thing when it came to Zinn's book, and you admitted it. That makes you an admitted hypocrite.

Enjoy your weekend.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I'm amused you've spent so much time on me and what you claim I believe."

Actually, very little time. The majority of my post is simply a repost of the comments on Levin's site. The comments and your obvious confusion, followed by the illogical and false charges based on your confusion, speak for themselves.

"I'm also amused at your attempt to shuffle around your endorsement of Crocker's book."

"Shuffle?" I made my endorsement quite clear.

"Yet it's evident that your endorsement of bad history stands, and you justify it by saying that it's a bad history that's good enough for a general public. Do you hold everyone in such contempt?"

Your very weak and transparent logical fallacies don't become stronger because you keep repeating them.

"Please don't tall about being intellectually dishonest. You criticized Jim Epperson for commenting on a book he admitted to not having read, but you did the same thing when it came to Zinn's book, and you admitted it. That makes you an admitted hypocrite."

I already addressed that in the original comments. Do you have anything new to add?

Thank you. I'm having an enjoyable weekend. I trust yours is as pleasant.

Michael Bradley said...

The critics of Crocker's book are engaging in a favorite academic pasttime by quoting selected sources, in this case the 14th Amemdment. Let's look at the larger picture concerning disenfranchising ex-Confederates.

The Wade-Davis Bill of 1864 called for an "iron-clad oath" swearing past and future loyalty to the U.S. before a person could regain their citizenship. While Lincoln exercised a "pocket veto" on this bill its passage makes it clear that the view of a majority in Congress was that supporting the Confederacy destroyed the right to citizenship.

From April to December 1865, while Andrew Johnson exercised governmental control while Congress was in recess, the original Lincoln plan of reconstruction was followed, allowing those who swore future loyalty, and that alone, to regain their civil rights.

Beginning in 1866, when Congress reassembled, all that had been done was overturned by Congress. For the next two years a process of reconstruction was debated. During this time the ex-Confederate states (10 of them) were under military rule and the military governors were supposed to register voters. Who did these military governors allow to register? That is where the fact of ex-Confederate disenfranchisment is hidden. Voter registrars had to take the old "Iron Clad" oath. As staunch Unionists who do you suppose they permitted to register? Look at the record of Sheridan in Louisiana.

When the 14th Amemdment came up for its ratification vote there were 635,000 white voters in 10 ex-Confederate states--far fewer than there had been in 1860. Even deducting those who died during the war years this number tells us that disenfranchisment was a fact of history. McPherson (surely the critics of Crocker will accept McPherson) admits that up to 15% of white voters were disenfranchised.

In addition to the disenfranchisment done by military governors it must be remembered that state laws disenfranchised ex-Confederates. If the critics of Crocker look only at Federal disenfranchisment it is obvious why they miss the point. Voting was a state concern and was regulated by the state and many "Carpetbagger" state governors regularly disqualified ex-Confederates from voting.

Thus, any argument based on the provisions of the 14th Amendment, and that alone,will miss the reality of ex-Confederate disenfranchisment.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Professor Bradley:

Thanks for the input and the very thorough response. I appreciate your contribution. As I pointed out, I think there are other motivations behind the criticisms of Crocker's book.

Corey Meyer said...

Richard,

Crocker's Pro-South perspective does taint his understanding of the war...and I think it taints your understanding as well. I don't know how someone of your intellect could otherwise endorse this kind of book. You claim it is a good book to start an understanding of the war...how? It cannot lead any reader down a legitimate path of understanding anything but the lost cause mythology that is currently be debunked by people like Brooks and Kevin and hopefully myself.

You can post more mega-posts all you want...but it will not change the fact that in this case you are just wrong.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Corey:

Actually, if you'll take the time to read my mega-post (and the other posts), you'll see that I'm just right.

Michael Bradley said...

Meyer raises the point of perspective; he is right to do so but is too limited in his application of the issue.

All historians have a perspective
(the technical term is "bias" which is not a negative concept). Crocker has a pro-Southern view. Meyer needs to admit that many writers have an anti-Southern bias.

Since bias affects interpretation one must always begin by asking "what is the bias of the writer?" The next questin is, "Does the bias adversely affect the interpretation of fact?" Bias does not always do this, bias may simply shade the interpretation.

The problem arises when any writer is accepted as being absolutely true and without bias. This problem has become common among those writers/historians who see only one cause for the Civil War--slavery--and who now refuse to give consideration to any view which challenges their biases. By making slavery the only cause for the war, and by insisting on a
21st Century moral reaction to slavery, these writers/historians are able to use their biases to denegrate the South and all things Confederate. The refusal to grant Crocker any validity and the rejection of all points made in Crocker's book, is an example of the problem caused by bias.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Professor:

Yes, I started to add that point, but you've done a concise job of doing so.

"The problem arises when any writer is accepted as being absolutely true and without bias."

This is exactly the point I so often make. So many in "mainstream" academia get a pass and their obvious bias is overlooked or ignored or, more often, *advanced* because the bias fits the "official" view of the WBTS. Your analysis is exactly right. Thanks for the input.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mr. Simpson:

Your most recent comment was rejected. I don't mind spirited--even heated debate--but I've tolerated all of the name calling and personal insults from you I'm going to.

BorderRuffian said...

"I get the distinct impression from both Simpson and Levin that they are really offended by a non-academic like me who is rather vocal about academic elitists and biased history which claims to be objective and apolitical. The constant sneering "lack of credibility" and "lack of knowledge", etc. charges you so often see on Levin's blog aimed at those he views as "beneath" his academic level (or his historical interpretations) betrays the elitist attitude of which I'm so often critical."

Similar attitudes are showing up in the Obama regime as to what constitutes a "real" news organization.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR:

Of course. Whether its corporate America, academia, or the government, the elitist mind set can't deal w/critics who they view "beneath" them.

Anonymous said...

Brooks Simpson posted:

Oh, Richard, I knew you couldn't handle the truth.

Let's repeat: you say I have a political agenda. You've failed to prove that. You've even failed to define the agenda. You just ran away when asked to stand by what you asserted.

I'm amused that Mr. Bradley simply can't admit that Crocker was wrong. Why is that?

You can dish it out, Mr. Williams, but you can't take it.

Now you boys go play. I haven't insulted you, Mr. Williams: I've called you out for what you are.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"couldn't handle the truth"?

You're confused again. You're mixing me up with yourself. You couldn't even admit you didn't know who you were talking to, though FOUR other persons clearly saw you were confused and attributing comments to the wrong person. How about a little honesty about that?

And, once again, you twist what I said. This is actually what I wrote:

"The biggest problem I have is with those, like you, who proclaim they are above it all and objective, when your bias, agenda, and political VIEWS are every bit as clear."

That comment was directed toward Levin. I then added the following:

"The same with Brooks Simpson."

Specifically, I was referring to your bias and agenda regarding your historical perspective as your comments on Levin's blog reveal. I'll retract the "political views" accusation in regards to you specifically. That was intended for Levin. I should have been clearer. My apologies.

(See how easy that was?)

As Professor Bradley points out, a biased perspective is not necessarily a bad thing - we all have one, to one degree or another. My issue is with those who claim objective purity while wagging their fingers at others. It's laughable.

"I'm amused that Mr. Bradley simply can't admit that Crocker was wrong. Why is that?"

Boy, you're really hung up on "all", aren't you? I'll leave that question to Professor Bradley. But I would ask you, why can't you admit you were utterly confused, wrong, and couldn't figure out who said what, even after it was pointed out to you? Or are you still going to try and convince everyone that was part of some brilliant scheme?

You really think folks believe that?

Michael Bradley said...

Actually, Crocker has a good deal of truth in what he says. There are historical examples of all ex-Confederates being barred from voting and holding office by state authorities. That is why it is falacious to look only at the actions taken by the Federal government under the terms of the 14th Amendment. Those who criticise Crocker are looking at limited examples which prove their case (following their own bias) instead of looking at the whole picture.

Again, I invite interested parties to take a look at Sheridan's record in Louisiana and at Brownlow in Tennessee. Crocker has overstated his case since the disbarment was not permanent for all ex-Confederates but his critics seriously understate their case.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Professor Bradley:

Great response, thanks.

Brooks D. Simpson said...

I ask both Mr. Williams and Dr. Bradley simple, direct questions, and neither of them can offer an answer.

As for whether I was confused, Mr. Williams, ask Kevin. He learned how I had tricked you. I told him at the time to watch carefully, and explained it afterwards. I drew you out, and you fell for it. You've been obsessed about it ever since.

Take care, gentlemen.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Just can't let it go, can you Professor? We both answered your questions. You just don't like the answers and you just assume others are going to be swayed by your very weak circular reasoning. Sorry, not here.

"Ask Kevin"? I don't need to ask Kevin. I can read the string of comments, the same way the other 3 (including Kevin), did and saw that you were confused right to the end. Besides, Kevin's reputation for objectivity is somewhat lacking.

You "tricked" me? Tricked me into what? You're becoming incoherent again. You "drew me out"? Really? I suppose you also drew out Kevin, Bob, and Sherree since they all came to the same conclusion. That's quite an accomplishment. Drew me out to what? What is it you are so desperately trying to convince everyone that you accomplished? I replied honestly to all questions and comments and even retracted a charge against you and apologized. What's your beef? Frankly, I don't believe you for one minute. Too bad for you the whole string of comments are here for everyone to read and clearly see you confused me with the "other Richard." As a matter of fact, you were even still confusing the two of us *after* you put forth the notion it was intentional! If it was intentional, why did you continue the charade after you admitted it? (See comments 39 and 42, clearly showing Professor Simpson is still confusing the two Richards AFTER he proclaimed it was all a purposeful ruse.) You're just digging the hole deeper Professor. You're too smart by half.

And, even if it were true, you've just revealed to the whole world that you are willing to purposely trick and deceive people in a discussion in order to prove a point; which you never did. Smooth, very smooth. I'm sure that will make readers trust you all the more.

And in regards to obsession, it is both you and Levin who are obsessed and can't stop mentioning me on his blog. I simply respond here when appropriate.

Brooks D. Simpson said...

"Just can't let it go, can you Professor? We both answered your questions."

No, you did not. And when I called you on it, you deleted the post, because you lacked the courage to admit that you know nothing about my political views (and my supposed "agenda") and that you were simply throwing around accusations without any evidence. You've been nailed on that issue repeatedly.

Professor Bradley's tried his best to shift the discussion, but he can't answer the question I posed of him, either.

But continue positng on what you claim to be my confusion. Now, about your confusion about the "Obama thesis"? Seems it's easy to trick you.

Carry on. I need not continue the discussion. But you will. That would suggest that it is you who is obsessed. Otherwise you would just admit your error.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"No, you did not."

(More circular reasoning from the Professor.)

"And when I called you on it, you deleted the post,"

Nothing you've "called me on" has been deleted. I have no idea what you're talking about, unless you're simply confused once again. Is this a distraction tactic?

I hope everyone pays very close attention to this comment of Professor Simpson's - it further proves the points I've been making:

"because you lacked the courage to admit that you know nothing about my political views (and my supposed "agenda") and that you were simply throwing around accusations without any evidence. You've been nailed on that issue repeatedly."

Can you read Professor? I'm beginning to have serious doubts. I specifically did that very thing in one of my comments above.

Now, for my readers, if this does not prove that Professor Simpson has problems following comments in blog posts - or doesn't even read them carefully before making his own comments, I don't know what would.

This is what I said in one of the comments above:

"Specifically, I was referring to your bias and agenda regarding your historical perspective as your comments on Levin's blog reveal. I'll retract the "political views" accusation in regards to you specifically. That was intended for Levin. I should have been clearer. My apologies."

So, once again, it is you that's "been nailed." Why don't you quit before embarrassing yourself further?

Yes, I was taken in by the "Obama thesis" - so what? So were numerous other bloggers and talking heads. The difference between me and you is, I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong. As soon as I found out, I apologized and took that post down.

"Carry on. I need not continue the discussion. But you will. That would suggest that it is you who is obsessed. Otherwise you would just admit your error."

I think it a good thing you not continue, since your comments make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Michael Bradley said...

The only direct question I have been asked is why I don't admit that Crocker is wrong. That is not a question, it is an attempt to end a discussion by splitting hairs. Mr. Simpson has received an answer when I pointed out that Crocker is not "wrong" but "overstated." History, Mr. Simpson, is not just a matter of facts, narrowly presented, it is a matter of interpretation and nuance.

Mr. Crocker has an interpretation which challenges the views of the Holy Cause but that does not mean he is wrong. He makes a sweeping statement which goes over the mark and is "overstated." That does not deprive his work of all value.

McPherson says 15% of ex-Confederates were denied the vote on the basis of the terms contained in the 14th Amendment. Since ex-Confederates were denied the vote on terms other than those contained in the 14th Amendment is McPherson "wrong" or has he understated the case?

Mr. Simpson seems to wish to discuss the past on the basis of "facts" of which he is the sole judge of accuracy. That is not the way the profession of history is practiced. If he wishes to hold to that restricted basis for discussion he will receive few answers to his "questions" because they are not truly questions; they are merely attempts to force people to adopt his views and his narrow version of "facts."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Excellent points Professor Bradley. Thanks for the thorough reply.

I believe you got to the real "rub" of the whole debate:

"History . . . is not just a matter of facts, narrowly presented, it is a matter of interpretation and nuance."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

To clarify, the "deleted" post to which Professor Simpson refers is the one where he hurled personal insults. That particular comment was rejected. It added nothing of substance to the discussion.

Newsflash - comments insulting the host will not be posted. If the best you can do is call names, take it elsewhere.