05 November 2011

Yes, There Are "Sides" In Historical Interpretation


*Kevin Levin recently dismissed a poster on his blog who suggested there were "sides" in the varying views on the Confederate Battle Flag. You gotta be kidding me. Kevin even referred to "the losing side" in the post that preceded the comments and acknowledged there are "pro-flag forces". Where I'm from, we'd call that a contradiction. Perhaps Kevin just misspoke. But with academic historians constantly on the lookout for the neo-Confederate boogie man waving a Confederate flag, how can they deny the very divisiveness they've been instrumental in creating and fomenting? Virginia Senator James Webb alluded to this agenda-serving divisiveness in his excellent book on the history of the Scots-Irish in America, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America:

. . . 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 was 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. (Pages 207-208.)

Webb continues:

This blatant use of the "race card" in order to inflame their political and academic constituencies is a tired, seemingly endless game that is itself perhaps the greatest legacy of the Civil War's aftermath. But in this case it dishonors hundreds of thousands of men who can defend themselves only through the voices of the descendants. (Page 208.)
I am one of those voices.

And, in light of all this, consider this observation I recently came across at the History News Network:

Historians, like everyone else, have their own political views. But these used to be kept separate from the scholarly role, which was to interpret and explain the past . . . With each passing year, the American historians have become more and more marginalized, and more irrelevant to anyone seeking insight about our nation's past. A few decades ago, the left wing was a small group, welcomed to participate by the mainstream historians in the profession, but unable to impose their will on a majority of sane historians. Today, they control the profession, and their two major associations have become almost indistinguishable from the organizations of the far Left.

Many academic historians in the blogosphere have gone to great lengths to poo-poo any notion that such bias and agenda-driven and/or politically motivated historical interpretation exists to any serious extent in the academy, i.e.: "They're aren't really sides in historical interpretation, just objective observation." Right. Just how naive do they really think informed readers are? Yet some academic historians will, on occasion, confirm the existance of this politically driven bias, though not necessarily on purpose. Noted Civil War historian David Blight did that very thing (in my opinion) in a 2010 essay about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month proclamation. I posted some thoughts on that whole episode before. You can read them here. While I'm not going to belabor my criticisms of Blight's piece, one comment of his stands out:

Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history?

Blight, who "as a historian" publicly endorsed Barack Obama for President, appears to be unable to hide what is really bugging him about "the Confederacy" - its conservatism. Blight continues this pattern of using Civil War history to rant against conservatism in another recent essay which you can read here. One can see, in both of Blight's articles, textbook examples of what Webb refers to in the excerpts quoted above. Webb's critique and summation is quite accurate, is it not?

Back to Kevin's post. Kevin also dismisses another poster as having no credibility for noting that Marxist influence is rampant in academia and that this influences historical perspective - despite the fact this is a widely acknowledged fact by those who aren't a.) afraid to speak out, b.) complicit.

Noted Southern historian, Eugene D. Genovese points out both the existance of "sides" in historical interpretation as well as the influence of leftist ideology in his book, The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Cultural War:

. . . American history has largely become a plaything for canting ideologues . . . Our times call for a correct ideological line, which at its increasingly popular extreme regards the Old South as a rehearsal for Nazi Germany and calls for eradication of all traces of the conservative voices that have loomed so large in Southern history. And in our leading professional associations and their journals and in the classrooms of our most prestigious colleges and universities the correct line prevails. (Page 25.)

I rest my case, though I doubt I changed anyone's mind - at least anyone willing to admit it.

*This post is not meant to single out Kevin Levin. His recent post simply presented an opportunity for me to express some thoughts that have been on my mind lately. Kevin is a rather easy target due to the simple fact that he's quite prolific in blogging. When you write a lot, as Kevin does, you obviously expose yourself to an increased amount of scrutiny and criticism. I read Kevin's blog frequently and have learned from it, though I rarely agree with his perspective. 

37 comments:

Brock Townsend said...

though I rarely agree with his perspective.

Well, you do more than I since he has a one track, non-debatable mind. Nuff' said, but a most excellent piece and posted.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Brock - its rare, but it has occurred once or twice. ;o)

Brock Townsend said...

Damn,you should engrave those in gold!:)

13thBama said...

For the left,the truth unfortunately, is not the drug of choice.

Kevin said...

Hi Richard,

Hope all is well. I probably could have been clearer in my response, but as you know often we are forced to respond on the fly and the message gets lost. Of course, I believe there are sides to this issue, but it is difficult to take people seriously who believe that there position is the only position. I see the flag as a divisive symbol because of its rich history so any attempt to narrow its meaning based on a select few years of its past is going to create a great deal of bitterness and defensiveness. That can happen on all sides, which is why I tend to think that the best place for the flag is in a museum.

You've mentioned Genovese quite a bit of late. All I can say is that I read Roll, Jordan Roll, which was written during his Marxist days as well as his most recent study, which as you know were written during a more conservative phase. To me, both books are equally valuable and worth reading, not because of his politics, but in spite of it. I do not believe that anyone can place their political convictions to the side nor do I have any interest in seeing that happen. That worldview shapes a great deal of what we do, but I judge history books based on their arguments. I look at the kind of evidence used, how it is interpreted and the conclusions that are made.

Hope that helps. Best of luck with the book project.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Good morning Kevin. Thanks for the well wishes. All is well, hope the same is true for you.

"but it is difficult to take people seriously who believe that there position is the only position."

But that is how folks on the opposing "side" see many of your positions - and those of other professional historians. (Just refer back to the quotes in my post. And much of that observation is coming from within academia.) But I didn't get that impression from the poster - just that he was on the *opposing* side.

"I see the flag as a divisive symbol because of its rich history so any attempt to narrow its meaning based on a select few years of its past is going to create a great deal of bitterness and defensiveness."

But that is what many "anti" flaggers do as well. I certainly understand why some feel that way. The flag has been abused. It infuriates me. But the symbolism of the flag, as in so many other symbols, is in the eye of the beholder. Various hate groups also use the U.S. flag, the Christian cross, etc.

"the best place for the flag is in a museum."

Then that should be true for all non-governmental flags, since they all can represent different, opposing ideas to different people. My wife, who is of American Indian ancestry, could, using your logic, make the same case about the U.S. flag.

I do have a copy of "Roll, Jordan Roll", but have only read excerpts. It's on my ever-growing list. I understand Genovese's transformation and agree that one can learn from other perspectives. My biggest complaint regarding that subject, as I've often noted, is the failure to admit one's perspective or deny it has an influence.

Thanks for taking the time to comment and offer further explanation. I sincerely appreciate it.

Michael Aubrecht said...

"Blight, who "as a historian" publicly endorsed Barack Obama for President, appears to be unable to hide what is really bugging him about "the Confederacy" - its conservatism."

Richard, If you are equating the Confederacy in any way to modern conservatism you really have allowed your own political inclinations to distort your entire perception of both causes.

And what does a historian's endorsement of Obama have to do with these discussions? You continually use that as some kind of accusatory term when criticizing historians that you do not agree with.

13thBama said...

"but it is difficult to take people seriously who believe that there position is the only position."

I am glad to see that the "Their/There" snake does not only seek me as a target :).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Michael - its quite obvious you didn't read my post. Try once more, including Blight's essays and HIS words, not mine. After you do so, then come back and try again.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Michael - Let me help you out here. If you'd read my post, as well as the links I provided to Blight's pieces, you'd see that it was Blight who did precisely what you are criticizing me for. So, I'd assume you agree with me that Blight (using your own words), allowed his "own political inclinations to distort your entire perception of both causes." Right?

Secondly, "what does a historian's endorsement of Obama have to do with these discussions?"

Now that I've shown you Blight made the connection w/the Confederacy, I would have to believe that answers your question. But, just in case . . . the fact that Blight, as a historian, publicly endorsed a presidential candidate on a history related website, certainly opens that endorsement up for scrutiny and criticism, not to even mention the fact the endorsement if full of factual errors and misstatements. Then, after endorsing a socialist, Blight writes at least two essays attacking those who espouse conservative values and links that to the "Confederacy" and the Civil War.

And you ask what that's got to do with the discussion?! Again, either you never really read my post and the links, or you're living in a parallel universe in which I have no desire to enter.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Michael - one more question, not related to this post. On several occasions, you've accused a former member of the military who posts here of being a "coward" because he uses a screen name rather than his real name when he posts. Yet, a few weeks ago, you posted a response to one of my posts on your website by a member of the military who chose to post anonymously.

Do you see any contradictions/hypocrisy in that?

13thBama said...

Cut to the swinging saloon doors...

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Cut to the swinging saloon doors..."

LOL, I like that! Makes me want to go watch The Outlaw Josey Wales. ;o)

Brock Townsend said...

Swinging doors, reminds me of:)

A Small World
http://www.namsouth.com/viewtopic.php?t=234&highlight=bien+hoa
One of the first times I went to Bien Hoa, I was walking down a dirt street when the two swinging doors of a bar abruptly opened and a soldier came flying out backwards into the street, evidently as a result of a fight. When I looked down at him, he was a friend from college in Virginia!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Great timing Brock. ;o)

Michael Aubrecht said...

The difference is that I know for a fact that my poster was a military officer with a .mil address. For all we know, your poster could be a 15 year old girl. A deeply disturbed teenage girl, but one pretending to be a rightwing lemming nonetheless. :)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Now you're obfuscating. That was not the point of your criticism and you know it. I know who my poster is as well. Hypocrisy.

Michael Aubrecht said...

Richard, you now routinely state that those who do not share your conservative views (including the President, Academics, and the Occupy Wall Street folks) are: Socialist, Marxist, Leftist, AND Communist. Which is it? You're ranting and I fear that you may be becoming as crazy as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

I worry about you at times my friend. The whole world is not a political conspiracy and just because folks are liberal or moderate, or progressive does not make them enemies of the state or you.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Socialist, Marxist, Leftist, AND Communist. Which is it?"

You should take a political science class at your local community college.

"as crazy as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh."

I think Beck is a little "out there" but I respect him. Limbaugh's a genius.

You're naive.

Michael Aubrecht said...

"Limbaugh's a genius."

You just proved how insane you really are. :)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Based on some of your recent posts, I'll take that as a compliment coming from you Michael.

Michael Aubrecht said...

Remember, I never say any of this with malicious intent. Our political differences are merely one facet of who we really are.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I understand Michael. But these are serious times in which we live. I'm passionate about what I believe and my concerns are real. I could not care less if you, or others of your mind set disagree and mock. There's simply too much at stake. I believe, quite confidently, I'm right, you're wrong.

13thBama said...

Ok Michael, What makes Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck crazy? This should be good. Or is name calling your only act?

Michael Aubrecht said...

All of those conservative jabbers are nuts. They ALL have chicken little syndrome. The sky is not falling gentlemen. America is not being destroyed or converted into some kind of socialist/communist régime. Yes, there is a liberal democrat in the White House. They have been there before. I think we will survive.

If you listen to Beck or Limbaugh and all the other right-wing bigmouths, you would think that we are engaged in our own civil war. They are alarmists.

There is a reason why Glenn Beck had to create his own Internet talk-show...because none of the TV networks will show him anymore. There is a reason why Limbaugh’s TV show is gone and why he got fired from the NFL broadcasting.

They talk of liberty and freedom, yet their very own political inclinations are to prevent others who have different genders, religious beliefs, lifestyles, or sexual preferences from having the same freedom as you. It’s childish and conceited to think their way is the only way and then whine constantly about it. That is hypocrisy and exactly why I left and denounce the right.

Richard said above that "There's simply too much at stake." What exactly is at stake?" Please explain.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Yes, there is a liberal democrat in the White House. They have been there before."

No, he's a Marxist, not just a liberal Democrat and we've never had a full blown Marxist in the WH before. Yes, "America" will survive but will it continue as a constitutional republic or continue to move closer to European socialism?

"There is a reason why Glenn Beck had to create his own Internet talk-show...because none of the TV networks will show him anymore."

That's false. He never was on network TV - he was always on cable. And he left because he has more freedom and isn't shackled as he was on Fox, though I've not watched him for a couple of years.

Limbaugh has over 20 million listeners a week. There's not a TV talk/news show even close. So what's your point?

Pure tripe.

What's at stake? America's greatness, our way of life, freedom, liberty and my grandchildren's future.

Michael Aubrecht said...

"What's at stake? America's greatness, our way of life, freedom, liberty and my grandchildren's future."

I am sorry, but that's a bit dramatic IMO and makes it difficult to take these posts seriously.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"that's a bit dramatic IMO"

I think your head's in the sand.

"makes it difficult to take these posts seriously."

So why waste your time?

Brock Townsend said...

Anyone who hasn't prepared their family for possible dangerous times ahead, has failed his responsibilities.

Michael Aubrecht said...

You said: “Limbaugh is a genius” and “has over 20 million listeners a week. There's not a TV talk/news show even close. So what's your point?”

The point is that you believe he is some kind of legitimate political guru.

I believe that a large portion of Limbaugh’s popularity has little to do with what he’s actually saying. Instead, what keeps people tuning in is Limbaugh’s outrageous and controversial style. Political shock jocks like Limbaugh exist purely as steam vents. The common citizen gets to be ticked off by the millions, unrelentingly, without cease or solution, and in return, Limbaugh’s is praised by the far right who idol worship him.

This kind of pre-fabricated alarmist and sensationalized anger strips away all tolerance, understanding, sympathy and regard for "the other side’s perspective." He was the one who said “no compromise” and wishes that the president “fails.”

Here is a real ‘take’ on Rush Limbaugh. He is (like me, a former Pittsburgher) a huge Steelers fan. He travels to all of their games. The team owners (the Rooney family) are very good friends with the President, in fact he appointed Dan Rooney as the ambassador to Ireland. Some of the asst. coaching staff went to high school with me and my wife. According to them, when Rush comes around Heinz Field nobody in the organization wants anything to do with him. He never gets any invites to any Steeler/celeb events. Obviously they are put off by his extreme-conservative politics.

Deepak Chopra stated that "the imperial bearing of Rush Limbaugh thrives because he never stops being angry, thus he never stops being right." He may have 20 million listeners, but his “shtick” is often lacking in substance. His background is as a Top 40 radio DJ. He is a clown, an entertainer. Nothing more – nothing less.

For you to refer to him as a genius here legitimizes him in a way he is not worthy of.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

MA - I don't quite follow much of what your incoherent comments have to do with Limbaugh's status as a political genius, but I posted them anyway.

"wishes that the president “fails.”

I had hoped he'd fail too - fail in his effort to turn American more into a European-style socialist basket case. When you oppose someone's policies (as you've said before you did w/Obama's), isn't it simple logic to hope those same policies fail? Why would you oppose someone based on their politics/policies and then hope those same policies succeed? That's ridiculous on its face. Do you for one minute believe Obama wants Republican policies to succeed? If so, you are even more naive than I thought.

Deepak Chopra (?!) Well, then, that settles it.

You're too much Michael.

Michael Aubrecht said...

I guess you're right, someone who taught at the Tufts University and Boston University Schools of Medicine and was the Chief of Staff at the New England Memorial Hospital and Boston Regional Medical Center is probably intellectually inferior to a blowhard right-wing radio DJ.

Agree to disagree again. Enjoy the holiday weekend. :)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you for conceding. No need to embarrass yourself further.

I didn't know until now that medical training gave you the final word in political commentary.

Besides, its good to remind ourselves every now and then that its the "educated experts" who are running the country. How's that workin' out?

Michael Aubrecht said...

Last response since you asked:

You said: "How's that workin' out?"

I work in Govt., in DC, so my career is going great.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Your response explains quite a lot about your perspective.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-19/beltway-earnings-make-u-s-capital-richer-than-silicon-valley.html

If the OWS folks want to "eat the rich", it would appear the best chow's in your neck of the woods.

13thBama said...

You could have saved yourself a lot of time by answer "yes" to "Or is name calling your only act".

Michael Aubrecht said...

You're right 'Bama,' your one liner comments that you post here all the time are full of such insight.

'Happy' Veterans Day.