14 May 2012

Civil War Magazines - What I Like - Part One

My favorite Civil War print publication has, in the last 18 months, become North South Trader's Civil War. Though I've known of the publication for years (they've been publishing since 1973) and have read numerous issues before, I only started subscribing 2 years ago when I became an avid relic hunter. I'm certainly glad I did. Though geared toward CW relic hunters and collectors, it bills itself as a publication "for collectors, researchers, relic hunters, and historians of the War Between the States." And it is most certainly that. Published 6 times a year, there is enough in each issue to satisfy anyone who studies the WBTS - well almost anyone.

As publisher Steve Sylvia has alluded to in the most recent issue's editorial titled "Apologies and appeasement", those who concentrate on so-called "social history" (I think Robert Krick calls some of this emphasis "psychobabble") may not find the articles "socially conscious" enough; which is why it has become my favorite publication. When I subscribe to magazines which focus on history, I really don't want to read "preachy" styled articles emphasizing a morality play regarding the real Civil War myth: "North good, South bad." 

As  historian Brion McLanahan has pointed out:

The importance of this myth is that it is used to divide the country into progressive and enlightened (the North) and reactionary and racist (the South), and allows historians to portray all of American history through that divide, dismissing the Southern founders and Southern arguments about limited government and states' rights while praising ever-expanding powers for the federal government . . . ( The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, page 14.)

Quite frankly, I'm sick of it. There's enough of that shallow, agenda-driven, self-serving silliness available in the blogosphere at no charge. There's really no need for me to pay a subscription fee to have it delivered to my home.

Many of these publications (I'll showcase one or two in upcoming posts) have been sucked into blending multicultural identity politics with Civil War history. They often feature writers who - whether in the publication itself on in some other medium - love to mock and poke fun at the Confederate heritage folks; despite the fact that much of these magazine's advertising is directed toward that same demographic. Nothing quite like paying someone to insult you on a monthly basis while they simultaneously try to get you to purchase what many of their most avid fans would call "neo-Confederate art." I don't know about you, but where I come from, we call that hypocrisy. 

Back to NSTCW - Steve Sylvia's editorial in the most recent issue was so spot on that I'd like to share a few excepts with readers here. His comments are often one of the best features of the magazine and so refreshing in offering a different perspective from the "other" all too predictable PC commentary that has become so common in recent years.

From "Apologies and appeasement":

I read something today that made my jaw drop. Marc Pachter, the interim director of the venerable Smithsonian Museum of National History, commented to reporters, "We’re so getting away from the time when history was all about white men on horses." 
"White men on horses"? Doesn't that sound like something some college freshman would write to please his or her flunky professor? (What's he got against horses anyway?) The fact is that the nation's history is, to a large degree, about "white men on horses." Whether it be our founding era, the WBTS, or the expansion west, that's just the way it is. Facts are stubborn things. Now, I'm all for bringing to light some of the lesser known aspects of American history. Some of my own work in the public history arena has done just that. (See here and here.)

But if Pachter isn't hot to trot for the white boys on stallions, what does he like? You're not going to believe this.

This graduate of the University of California at Berkeley has forged ahead with an exhibit featuring Kermit the Frog, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and electronic gadgetry from 2004, now considered "ancient technology." As he said, "This is a broader definition of what is important to remember."
I told you that you weren't going to believe it. Well, I suppose that will please the chicks with ruby slippers and green slimy skin constituencies. Yes, Kermit and Dorothy are a "broader definition of what is important" than are "white men on horses". And I'm supposed to take "professional historians" seriously? Some of you are becoming quite the caricature. I would suggest you might want to start distancing yourselves from some of this Kookville perspective if you want to retain any sense of credibility. Of course, maybe you can't. Maybe you actually reside in Kookville. Or maybe you're just lacking in gastrointestinal parts.

Sylvia then goes after Waite Rawls who, as many of you know, is the current president and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy. Now, to be fair to Mr. Rawls, he's got a tightrope to walk - trying to please a number of constituencies interested in Civil War history. I'm sure its a challenging job. I've had a few conversations with Waite and have come to his defense on a number of occasions. However, I would have to agree with Sylvia in regards to his comments about Rawls' and the recent flag flap over the opening of a new MOC branch in Appomattox. I think Rawls' reasoning is lacking in any real logic. It's political correctness dressed up in drag as "history":

. . . Rawls, has refused to allow the Confederate flag to be flown over the new satellite museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox . . . In explanation, the ebullient director stated, "Appomattox is a metaphor for the reunification of the country. To put the Confederate flag into that display would be a historical untruth."

So how does Sylvia respond to this rather strange explanation put forth by the son of a Confederate Veteran and member of the SCV?

I believe that is but one interpretation of the place. It is also where the Confederate flag last flew over Lee’s army in a major conflict. It is where the last blood was shed in Virginia in the most significant war of the 19th century. If we follow Rawls’ interpretation of reunification, wouldn’t it be appropriate to fly both the US and the CS flags together as this was where they last both flew above warring Americans? 
Of course it would be appropriate. Sylvia makes an excellent point. To suggest otherwise is absurd on its face and the kind of thinking which most often finds its dwelling place in an alternate universe; which, come to think of it, is the abode of similar politically correct nonsense. Sylvia continues:

Doesn’t the UN building in New York City fly flags of nations, some of whom terrorize, murder, and enslave people at this moment? Where is the hue and cry against those banners?
Ah, yes, the UN does fly flags of nations which still practice slavery, imprison political dissenters, abuse women, persecute certain faiths, etc, etc, etc. But protesting those flags, in the words of Dr. McLanahan, could not be "used to divide the country into progressive and enlightened (the North) and reactionary and racist (the South), and allows historians to portray all of American history through that divide, dismissing the Southern founders and Southern arguments about limited government and states' rights . . "

See how this works? As Sylvia observes, "I find the contradiction hard to take.This is simply political correctness at its most hypocritical extreme."

Indeed it is. Though I've defended Rawls in the past, he looks rather ridiculous defending the flag decision in Appomattox.

Sylvia concludes his insightful commentary with this:

Maybe I’m an anachronism, but it seems too many of our political leaders and museum directors are too willing to take the easy road and simply apologize to shut up the opposition. That does disservice to our ancestor’s courage, will, and determination. They set the bar for us and it’s difficult to measure up. But it’s easy to lower the flag, mutter, "I’m sorry," and put Kermit on a pedestal.
Me, I’ll stick with the old guys on horseback.

Yeah, me too. Someone at the MOC and the Smithsonian needs to grow some vertebral column. I suppose, as an alternative, they could always borrow some from Kermit.

But there's much more to NSTCW than Steve Sylvia's masterful opining each issue. There's well-written, well-researched articles about personalities, equipment, battles, discoveries,  and, of course, relic hunts. The most recent issue (Vol. 36, No. 3) included articles on Confederate shotgun bayonets, the discovery of a Pennsylvania cavalry camp as well as a fascinating story about Harvey's Scouts - the story of 8 Confederate scouts and their capture of 52 federals, along with their horses and equipment. Often, the articles will center around a particular relic or article of history related to the Civil War. But the articles frequently go deeper than examining the item; often discussing it's discovery, the soldier and/or unit connected to the artifact, their experiences during the war, as well as after. Following the thread of events from the time of the conflict to the present is always a fascinating journey through time. The most recent issue also included a piece by an acquaintance of mine and a frequent contributor, Quindy Robertson. Quindy discusses a surprise attack by John Hunt Morgan and some relics he's uncovered related to that event.

Another recent issue, (Vol. 35, No. 2), featured articles on Civil War photography, "snake" buckles, and a "Mystery Crate" from a Civil War arsenal - all fascinating reads.

Each issue is a collector level publication. By that I'm referring to not only the quality of the articles, but also the actual physical attributes of the magazine. The covers are made of heavy stock and always include beautiful images and photography. Even the ads are exquisite to look at. The inside pages are also made of heavier stock than you'll find in most other history related publications. These magazines are heirloom quality and intended to be kept and collected - a welcome and refreshing rarity in today's mass-produced, throw-it-away society - which is what I usually did with most of the "other" CW magazines I used to subscribe to. 

Bottom line: NSTCW is a publication for adults who prefer to get their preaching in church, without a subscription fee. I would highly recommend it to readers of this blog. Visit their website and subscribe here. You can read Mr. Sylvia's complete opinion piece here.

Civil War Magazines - What I Like - Part Two . . . coming up soon . . . 


Anonymous said...

Nice post! I have now subscribed to NSTCW!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Great - you'll love it.