As we have all seen on the news, an effort is underway to remove statues and other remembrances of people who fought on the losing side in the US Civil War. This has attracted a lot of publicity due to the racist behaviour of some of the defenders of these monuments. But there is much more to this than the defence of slavery, which was equally prevalent on the winning side at one time.
History is the most biased of subjects because the winners write the official histories. We have all seen this wherever the US has gone in recent times: Saddam is an evil dictator because he uses the weapons the US gave him to fight the Ayatollah, Assad is an evil Islamic dictator because he protects certain Christian groups while the Christian US funds the Islamic terrorists who murder them, etcetera.
So it was inevitable that sooner or later the US would do this with its own history, not by academic thesis but by diktat. Facts don’t go away when you ignore them, but if you can remove all the physical evidence that such facts existed this goes a long way to helping people forget. Just like in North Korea and the world created by Robert Mercer’s trolls, if everything people sees expresses only one view, it is that much harder to believe your own eyes, much less convince anyone else of the reality.
The last curtain call of accurate history is being held across the South. Anyone below the Mason Dixon Line can tell you that the Civil War is mostly forgotten, but that is not because it never happened, or has nothing to teach us. It has been forgotten because it gets in the way of the standard US narrative, just like Saddam, Assad, Aristide, Gamsakhurdia and many others.
Hopefully the violence in the South will make Americans themselves wake up and see that the world they live in is not the reality most people have to endure on a daily basis. Hopefully they will also understand that these tactics are being used at home because they have been so successful elsewhere: in other sovereign states, whose people aren’t allowed to live in a world which resembles reality because they could improve it by addressing that reality, the last thing the US wants anyone in its client states to do.
Black white and saying so
It is always the same story: the winners are all good and the losers all bad. Recalling the crimes the Union committed during the Civil war, I cringe at the syrupy repetitiveness of the condescension wielded at the Southern heritage.
The Confederacy’s crimes having been extensively catalogued since the war of secession. However we never hear much about General Sherman and what he did in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and in the deep South, Georgia and South Carolina – some of the worst war crimes in history.
The corollary of this presentation is that all reasonable people must agree with the winning side and automatically accept what it does to show they are reasonable. If they don’t, they are bad people. Just like the millions of Syrians who support Assad, or the millions who continue supporting people the US was happy to assist five minutes ago, but has suddenly changed its all-mighty, all-knowing mind about.
Robert E. Lee freed his slaves, unlike Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant’s excuse was for keeping his was that “good help is too hard to find.” This is the sort of attitude now condemned by the official US, and used as a reason for destroying the Southern heritage, which is represented by Lee, not Grant.
The problem the official US has with the South is not that it advocated retaining slavery – as we can see in how the people in US allied countries are treated today. It is that it advocated, and still does advocate, States’ Rights. The Civil War resulted in the Federal government removing some of the rights states had to run their own affairs. These rights were guaranteed by the Constitution, and existed because all the US states were theoretically independent countries which chose, either voluntarily or via coercion, the join this union of states in the same way the cantons of Switzerland and city states of Germany and Italy once did.
We have a situation at present in which many state governments are at odds with the President of the United States, whichever party controls them. If these states exercised their rights, there are many ways in which they can impede the president. Like other democratic rulers he ultimately has to rule by consent, and not a lot of that is flowing his way right now.
Trump has made a number of comments supporting the racists who are threatening people in Charlottesville. But equating states’ rights with racism, however much some Southern politicians did that themselves, simply supports the official line. Far from supporting racism, Trump is facilitating further efforts to stamp out potential dissent. Maybe he has never heard of Tito’s Yugoslavia, but if he wants to know where that leads, he need only look there.
Good truths and bad opinions
Sherman, Sheridan and Grant were all war criminals, despite being the three best generals the north had. The contemporary problems in Northern Ireland remain because both sides used violence to get their way but only one was officially protected. Similarly, that most racist of states, Apartheid-era South Africa, ended up that way because the British, their colonial masers, herded all the Boers into concentration camps at the turn of the twentieth century. No one was going to listen to British pleas for racial tolerance when this was the tolerance displayed towards the families of future apartheid supporters.
Despite this, the US is determined to stamp out the heritage of millions of its own citizens, which is based on exerting their legal rights, on the grounds of political correctness. Even the furore surrounding these protests is being used for this purpose, to present this as a new issue. There are of course many reasons why the official US doesn’t want attention being drawn to how consistently it has pursued the same policies.
In the 1950s the popular TV series Gray Ghost was cancelled after one season because its sponsors considered it inappropriate to show an irregular Confederate Calvary Officer as a man of honour fighting a lost cause. The series was based on the true story of Major John Singleton Mosby, a Virginia officer in the Confederate Army, whose cunning and stealth had earned him the nickname “Gray Ghost”. Walt Disney later made a movie of his exploits without anyone making a “big deal’’ out of it. But in the era of Red Scares and nuclear standoffs putting a human face on the War Between the States ran the risk of making other enemies human, and thus leading people to question what the US government told them about them.
Now the world is facing a similar nuclear threat from Communist North Korea, if it can get hold of all the technology it needs. Therefore contemporary movies, such as those describing the Battle of New Market Virginia, also have to pass the litmus test of political correctness. For now they are being countered by others which are mysteriously being funded, e.g. Field of Lost Shoes, which is basically a recruitment film for the Virginia Military Academy, VMI. Presumably we will be told that this funding came from the same “concerned citizens” who allegedly backed Michael Moore Hates America when that filmmaker’s acid documentaries gained a global following.
Identity and the card
If someone expected to identify with a particular viewpoint expresses it, a common riposte is, “well you would say that, wouldn’t you?” You expect immigrants to support immigration, you expect junkies to support the decriminalisation of all drugs. There is no more reason to think that anyone expressing these views is more venal than those who express a more acceptable line, which equally serves their own interests in some way. But if you reduce everything to “identity politics” all other considerations go out of the window.
The term Identity Politics refers to the discussion of, and politicking around, issues pertaining to an individual’s personal identity rather than national or global issues. Those who focus on gender issues, religious and cultural issues and suchlike are usually accused of only being interested in such matters for narrow personal gain, regardless of the wider benefits their suggested actions might bring.
Yet Trump and Obama both played the same card to get elected. Hillary tried to do the same, hoping she would capture the women’s vote. This is why it is again in vogue in the US to be white and male, working class, and a bit xenophobic, and not closely aligned with the previously-mentioned identities: if it’s OK for one side, despite being officially frowned upon, it merely emboldens the other side to do the same.
Lots of monuments to even more distasteful men than Confederate war heroes can be found in America. Andrew Jackson is routinely memorialised, though from the perspective of Native Americans, those who have the right to be there, he remains anathema. Jackson routinely called Indians “savages” and people of mixed heritage “half-breeds,” was unshakable in his conviction that Indians should be removed from the South and followed through with that. If he is a Great American and those who don’t agree with him are simply indulging in identity politics, it explains why so many Americans can’t even find allied countries on a map.
You think what I pay for
It is highly likely that many of those protesting at Charlottesville, Boston and elsewhere had financial and not ideological motivations for being there. After all, it is the US which provides those fancy cars to the families of the terrorists it trains in Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. This standoff, and the accompanying violence and murder, are part of a larger plan to polarise America, which makes everyone a venal player of “identity politics” and thus prevents any view actually being heard.
As David Graham of the Atlantic stated in a recent article, “Though plenty of observers are disgusted by the president’s validation of racists protesters, no one should be surprised or take it as a spontaneous riff—it was one of the most cogent, precise, and enduring cases he has made as a politician.” So cogent in fact that he is unlikely to have made it without help. Given the official US policy for so long, Trump cannot help but be surrounded by people whose jobs depend on offering such assistance.
If you say there is fault on both sides at Charlottesville and elsewhere, you acknowledge that there are two sides. When did you last hear the US talk about “two sides” when referring to its own partners? If the government of a different country, with different traditions and political imperatives, agrees with the US in general there is only one side. The “other side” are those individuals who don’t agree with the US, and those people are only playing identity politics, not caring about the rest of humanity as the US does.
When the US claims to be acting in the name of its own people there are not “both sides”. Only one side, that of the democratic, caring, automatically right side, exists. Now the US is determined to ensure that its population is divided into sides so that only the official view, that which is above “identity politics”, is heard. Americans may not see what is going on, but this is a very familiar scenario to millions of other people who desperately want the US to be their friend, and then have to suffer the consequences.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.