02 February 2014

The End Of Civil War Memory?

A post at Civil War Memory poses the question. The post seems to put a lot of (optimistic) stock in an unscientific student/classroom poll posted at Wiki, part of which "revealed":


The post's author, Kevin Levin, then uses the "polling data" (not collected by Kevin's efforts), along with other anecdotal evidence to conclude:


Instead of an unreliable Wiki poll and anecdotal observations, let's take a look at some recent (2011) scientific polling from the Pew Research center on the same topic:


But more importantly, as to Kevin's straight-faced fantasy (specifically regarding younger Americans), that "The war over memory is finished and from a certain perspective we should be able to say with a straight face: "What a relief.", one should consider this data from the Pew research:


The above should be quite enlightening to Kevin, given the fact he stated: "Despite our tendency to complain about the historical knowledge of young people I suspect that they are no more knowledgeable than previous generations."

And this "certain perspective" to which Kevin refers should be interpreted as any perspective which conflicts with the narrower-and rather shallow-single cause interpretation of the WBTS, as well as what often comes off as a "North good, South bad" morality play or, in a description used by historian Bob Krick, "anti-Confederate." 

Many from Kevin's perspective extrapolate that any deviance from their view equates to the sweeping generalization (and automatic discrediting) and labeling as a "Lost Causer." In other words, if you reject single causation (or even question slavery's emphasis) of the Civil War, or if you revere Confederate figures, or respect the Confederate Battle flag for the honor it represented to Confederate soldiers/ancestors, then you are considered a pariah and should be dismissed out of hand. As Dr. Clyde Wilson has pointed out:
. . . according to the wisdom of current "scholars," no credit is to be given to anything that Southerners might say about their own reasons and motives. They are all merely repeating "Lost Cause myths" to cover up their evil deeds.
But this is what an "activist historian" (words Kevin has used to describe himself) does. As another educator to Levin's post noted: "I’m glad that it is fading away, but we have to do our part in making it fade away." Indeed. I thought educators simply presented facts to their students objectively, taught critical thinking, and let students make up their own mind. Silly me.

Such doing their part dovetails perfectly with a recent National Association of Scholars study which concluded that educators, "increasingly think of themselves as responsible for reforming American society . . ."


While I readily acknowledge that perspectives can change with generations and time, I would suggest that the reality regarding this issue over "memory" is that these educators have a lot more "making it fade away" work to do before they can finally relax and joyously proclaim, "What a relief."

Here's the link to the Pew Research on the topic.

I do recommend you read the post at CWM, along with the ensuing comments. Quite instructive.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The term "Civil War Memory" doesn't make any sense.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Memory studies" in regards to the conflict. How society remembers a particular period in history.

Anonymous said...

Kids today do not care about history and the vast majority do not identify with it. It's completely logical to conclude that as generations go by history becomes more distant. All history become s ancient memory eventually.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Anon - There's always been some element of that. But you're right in that I believe its worse now than in earlier generations. Part of that is due to the way American history is taught - America's heroes are oppressors and were evil, rich slaveowners. No more Disney type characters depicted like Davy Crockett, the Swamp Fox, etc. Yes, they were romanticized versions but, nonetheless, encouraged interest and admiration for our history. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I would say that in today's world of internet and social media where everyone is in constant contact with people there are no more traditional heroes. There are no more barriers seperating regular people from celebs or politicians or athletes. Facebook and Twitter are direct links so the whole premise of heroes in modern day cyber society is gone. It's the great equalizer. If you could have simple emailed or tweeted or texted or msg'd Robert E Lee he would have ceased to be an I reachable icon. We would also have known all of his faults and shortcomings the instant they occurred even further removing the mythological status. My point is kids today don't have, need or care about heroes. It's a foreign concept.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"My point is kids today don't have, need or care about heroes. It's a foreign concept."

Frankly, that's absurd. We all need heroes and examples of courage and high moral concepts. Your view represents (no offense intended), our society's modern narcissism.

Anonymous said...

You said "Your view represents (no offense intended), our society's modern narcissism."

Yes but it is still true. Past generation's interpretations of heroes vs. today's version is much different. I attended a lecture in college a few years back that presented that the lack of heroes today is a good thing because it knocks all of the "mythological beings" off of their pedestals and presents the concept that anybody can be anything. And that kids today don't value looking to the past because they are too busy trying to reshape the future. Not saying that is entirely right but it is the norm.

PS. No offense taken.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I attended a lecture in college a few years back that presented that the lack of heroes today is a good thing because it knocks all of the "mythological beings" off of their pedestals and presents the concept that anybody can be anything."

Ahh . . . you get to the crux of the matter. Much of the "lack of heroes is a good thing" emanates from academia. And therein lies much of the problem. A narcissistic, egotistical society and culture obsessed with immediate gratification and one that has rejected its founding principles finds it impossible to believe that a Lee or a Washington, with their towering characters and principled examples of self-denial and patriotism, could have ever existed. The typical modern, full of self and educated (he thinks) to the point of a smug, arrogant cockiness, simply cannot conceive of the selfless, heroic acts of which we read in the lives of these men, as well as so many others which have contributed to America's exceptionalism. The example of some of these heroic figures in American history necessarily causes some self-doubt among moderns regarding their own self-awarded superiority. Can't have that. Unable to measure up, it becomes easier for the modern to tear down.

Much of this tearing down is also rooted in a distaste for America's history, for a whole variety of reasons, including much of academia's leftist political agenda. Andrew McCarthy made note of this some time ago at National Review's website:

"What most frustrates Americans is that we are a happy, optimistic, can-do people ceaselessly harangued by media solons, delusional academics, post-sovereign Eurocrats, and the Democrats who love them. While we free and feed the world, they can’t tell us enough that we’re racist, imperialist, torturing louts. We know it’s a libel, an endless stream of slander. But we also know it’s an absurd libel. We’re tired of hearing it, but taking it too seriously would give it power it doesn’t deserve."

Thanks for commenting.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

PS - I couldn't care less that other history bloggers and writers will roll their eyes at that comment and shout denials. It makes no difference. The research and evidence is overwhelming and many in the belly of the beast confirm this. The louder the deniers protest, the less credibility they have.

Anonymous said...

You are correct, but you are also implying that the values of generations past that defined heroes still rings true today. What typical teenager cares anything about patriotism? Most kids don’t even know who Davey Crockett or Francis Marion are. “Heroes” in today’s typical view are 1. Successful millionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, 2. Humanitarian activists like U2’s Bono, or 3. Hollywood/Music entertainers and sports stars. But even those are more idols than heroes. I’m afraid the world you cling to is gone with this current youth generation. Right or wrong, the millennia generation is really the first to reject the notion of heroes, nationalism and embrace a more socialistic mindset that the world is all in this together.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"you are also implying that the values of generations past that defined heroes still rings true today. What typical teenager cares anything about patriotism?"

No, I understand that. But there's a reason for it (actually multiple), but one very important ones. It's because they're not being taught those values (in regards to Washington, Marion, et al) in our schools, as they once were.

"1. Successful millionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, 2. Humanitarian activists like U2’s Bono, or 3. Hollywood/Music entertainers and sports stars."

You're confusing celebrities with heroes. There's no comparison.

"Right or wrong, the millennia generation is really the first to reject the notion of heroes, nationalism and embrace a more socialistic mindset that the world is all in this together."

I would agree to a certain extent, but that did not happen in a vacuum. It's the fault of the educational establishment.

That same statement does not hold true (at least not to the same extent) in most homeschooled children. We taught our children the difference between "hero" and "celebrity" and used the examples of founders, pioneers and statesmen.

Brother Juniper said...

You don't need to create "mythological beings" in order to have heroes. Robert E. Lee, qualities and faults considered together, is a hero. Sometimes overcoming your faults is what makes you a hero at the end (Oscar Wilde?). St Augustine had faults uncountable, but became a great hero. Without heros, the masses (that's us) become docile sheep following the government. When equality is your defining principle, mediocrity is the result.

To get back to the question at hand, isn't slavery a subset of states rights when it comes to the causes of the war? So some overlap there.

As a term, Civil War has the advantage of being short and in common use. I would think the most accurate would be The War Against Southern Independence, since the South wanted to go in peace.

Brother Juniper said...

You don't need to create "mythological beings" in order to have heroes. Robert E. Lee, qualities and faults considered together, is a hero. Sometimes overcoming your faults is what makes you a hero at the end (Oscar Wilde?). St Augustine had faults uncountable, but became a great hero. Without heros, the masses (that's us) become docile sheep following the government. When equality is your defining principle, mediocrity is the result.

To get back to the question at hand, isn't slavery a subset of states rights when it comes to the causes of the war? So some overlap there.

As a term, Civil War has the advantage of being short and in common use. I would think the most accurate would be The War Against Southern Independence, since the South wanted to go in peace and the North favored war.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"You don't need to create "mythological beings" in order to have heroes."

We certainly don't. Part of the problem is explained quite simply by Bud Robertson:

"Robert E. Lee never existed [in the minds of some] because we don't have a Robert E. Lee today." ~ James I. Robertson, Jr.

"isn't slavery a subset of states rights when it comes to the causes of the war?"

Yes. It was, of course, central to the WBTS, but to say it "caused" the WBTS is misleading and shallow.

Similar to saying weapons of mass destruction "caused" the war in Iraq.