Calling The "Civil War" Speech Police
Kevin was surprised that a "scholarly book . . . referred to the war as the War Between the States" and he's also surprised by what I "uncovered" related to the widespread use of that term. What I uncovered was the fact that lots of scholars, scholarly websites and publications use the term, "War Between the States." I was surprised that Kevin was surprised, but maybe I shouldn't have been. Sounds like Kevin needs to broaden his horizons a bit. ☺ In doing so, he'll find a lot more surprises lurking in
Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views. ~ William F. Buckley Jr.But there's more. In regards to this post, Kevin further claims that "The only problem is that Professor Sinisi is neither a War for Southern Independence historian . . ." Kevin makes this claim despite the fact that Sinisi authored a Civil War (sorry) related book which was published by a university press. Moreover, he co-edited another work related to the
Actually, I don't think I'm the one missing the full story - whether it's the issue of the "War Between the States" or Professor Sinisi.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go straighten my bent shape.
End of update.
That rather curious comment came from a recent post by Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory. Why would the use of the term "War Between the States" particularly catch one's attention when reading about that topic, also known as the Civil War? Is Levin suggesting or insinuating that the term "War Between the States" is somehow outside the mainstream of Civil War historiography? His post seems to invite others (via the Salon linked piece) to climb aboard for the ride to ridicule the term. There haven't been many takers at last read. Frankly, this seems like an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual one to me.
Though I've occasionally seen criticisms of use of the term on sites like Levin's before, I believe its a rather silly point. It's just as silly as those at the other end of the spectrum who refuse to use the term "Civil War." I use both terms interchangeably and, as we will see, many others do as well - including respected Civil War authors, publishers, and educational institutions. It would seem Levin is so surprised and shocked by the use of the widely accepted (outside a small academic bubble) term in a "university press book", that he believes the term's use needs to be, in some way, defended or excused. Seriously?
One spokesman for the Civil War Trust even seems to agree and apologize (or at least offer an excuse) for using the term in this video: The Civil War In 4 Minutes - The War Between the States
Ah yes, let's all roll our collective eyes at such an embarrassing term that drips with provincialism and used only by uneducated hayseeds and neo-Confederates.
Maybe Levin just hasn't been exposed to diverse sources outside of the narrow scope of books and publications he reads:
Perhaps I can help.
I hastily used a few Google search terms related to "the War Between the States" and, in the space of about 5 minutes, came across the following:
- This is shocking - Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Dr. Peter Carmichael was a contributing editor to, Columbiad: The Quarterly Review of the War Between the States,1999-2000. Yes, I know. Truly horrifying, but apparently true.
- Next, we have a book published by the Indiana University Press titled, Civil War Railroads A Pictorial Story of the War between the States, 1861-1865 (Shame - how could an academic press let such a thing happen?!)
- And here, we have a book authored by a professor of history titled, The Civil War Bookshelf: 50 Must-Read Books about the War Between the States (He must have missed the memo.)
- And the shame continues here where we have a lecture titled Localizing the War Between the States. And at a UNIVERSITY no less!
- The madness continues here at another university press: Rutgers, where the following is used to describe a book: "Many books have been written about the War between the States, but until now, none has chronicled—in their own words—the many important roles played by people from New Jersey." That's right, Kevin's home state of New Jersey and "War Between the States" used in the same sentence.
- And here's yet another case of a University Press revolting against the academic church of orthodoxy: Kent State University Press describes a Civil War work using these words: "Civil War History is in its sixth decade as the leading scholarly journal of “the middle period”—covering not only the War Between the States but the events leading up to it and the results flowing from it. Its topics include slavery and abolition, antebellum and Reconstruction politics, diplomacy, social and cultural developments in mid–nineteenth century America, and military history."
- And they just keep on coming: "Essays by eight noted Civil War scholars provide a three-dimensional view of Virginians’ experiences during the first year of the War Between the States" is part of the description for the University of Kentucky Press's Virginia at War, 1861, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr.
- Next offender up is The Citadel. Well, of course, what else would you expect from the very bosom of secesh sentiment? - "There were 224 living Citadel graduates when South Carolina announced it was seceding from the Union and 209 served in the confederate armed forces during the period referred to as The War Between the States (1861-1865)."
- Even the History Channel website is part of this neo-Confederate cabal: "The War Between the States, as the Civil War was also known, pitted neighbor against neighbor and in some cases, brother against brother."
And there is hope for some real scholarship on the topic. Noted Civil War scholar and author, Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. makes the following points about the competing terms:
During and after the conflict, the over whelmingly popular choice of a title was the “Civil War.” It could never become totally acceptable because the definition of a civil war changed from mid-19th Century usage to modern interpretation. In the early 1800s, a civil war was defined as people of the same country fighting each other. Later, “civil war” would be interpreted as people of the same country fighting each other for control of the nation. Certainly the Confederate States of America was not attempting to overthrow the United States. It sought to leave that governmental system and live by different standards of rule . . . Many Southerners were offended by the name. It implied rebellion: a resistance to lawful authority. The eleven states of the Confederacy were so strongly convinced of the constitutionality of their action that they willingly went to war to defend it. (Emphasis mine)But Professor Robertson notes that there are also problems with the popular alternative:
Yet “War between the States” is misleading as well as incorrect. The title implies that all of the states were at war with each other. In addition, Southern proponents of the theory of state rights preached loudly that the Southern nation was in reality a loose confederation of eleven independent sovereignties. Much more was involved in the conflict than the issue of state power. (Source)So neither term is perfectly correct but, both are acceptable due to their history and wide use among scholars and persons of varying perspectives. It's extremely petty and narrow-minded to quibble over either term. Lee used the term "Civil War", so what Virginian could possibly object? And, as noted above, "War Between the States" is still used extensively. And why not?
However if one truly wants to make such a big deal out of what we call the armed conflict which occurred in America from 1861 to 1865 , and if its historical accuracy and honesty that one truly seeks, then I think Douglas Southall Freeman is, perhaps, the truest to historical accuracy in coining the proper term. Author and fellow Virginian, David Johnson, discusses this topic in his wonderful biography of Freeman:
Freeman preferred the term "War Between the States" to "Civil War," although his preference was based on custom rather than logic. "I never had any objection to the term 'Civil War,'" he wrote, "nor, for that matter, after I got of age, did I have any complaint because the Federals called us 'rebels." If the name was a proper one, our fathers certainly dignified it." If pushed for a term, he believed "the War for Southern Independence" to be "the wisest and soundest name" because that was "precisely what the conflict was." (Page 305.)Can Freeman's final point regarding accuracy honestly be argued against? No, it cannot - if honesty and accuracy is really what you're seeking. If not, then I suppose we should be on the lookout for the