I was kind of nudged by one of my illustrious relatives (who is now in the Old Country) on the subject of our Confederate ancestors, and this is what I came back with:
I think that what’s been neglected in this debate is an answer to the simple question “How did the ‘Lost Cause’ lose?” The answer to that goes a long way to clearing up many of the “rural legends” that surround the whole issue of the war here in the South.
The Confederacy went into the war with the better part of the U.S. Army, the better part of West Point’s graduates, etc. (The Navy was another story altogether.) It was in a defensive position, forcing the North to slog through a vast, underdeveloped territory with few railroads, making it difficult to move large numbers of troops around. (Napoleon, Kaiser and Hitler alike faced the same geography problem when invading Russia, albeit on an even larger scale.)
But the underdevelopment of the South was its undoing. While Southern grandees contented themselves with living off the sweat of black slaves, their Northern industrial counterparts were building a modern economy based on making things and improving productivity. When Lincoln was elected and the South reacted impulsively by seceding, they were in no position to defend themselves in a long, protracted modern war. And, once the North figured out how to make it work (and that did take a while,) the result was a disaster.
For me personally, what that means was that, while one set of ancestors were producing cannons and ammunition to send southward, the others were on the receiving end of all this, and the result wasn’t pretty.
And I must say that, after living in this part of the country for nearly two score, I can see how this happened. (And this in a part of TN that was divided over secession, many fought for the Union.) White “supremacists” don’t have anything to be supreme about, their ancestors wouldn’t have lost the war if they had. All of the rural legends they’ve spread around only covers up their past and present failures.
It’s disheartening to live in a country that goes off on one moral crusade after another without stopping to think what’s really necessary to preserve and move forward the general welfare and the strength of the nation, to preserve its integrity. To me the Confederate monuments are a reminder of what happens when you allow hotheads to drag a region into a war it wasn’t prepared to fight, and that’s defeat.
One of the “supremacist” protesters from this area expressed his pro-Nazi sentiments in school and wondered what it would have been like if Hitler had won. That assumes that Hitler would have recognised these people as fellow Aryans, and that’s unlikely. (Just ask the Slavs.) My guess is that, in the end, the white “supremacists” would have put a victorious Hitler in the same category as William Tecumseh Sherman, and that’s a name that doesn’t get mentioned too often in polite company around here.
Given the general level of ignorance about American history, this debate seldom gets past the level of platitudes, but it’s still worth a try to change that.