Note: This is a little off subject for the blog, but I still feel it necessary to speak to.
When I was a teenager, I became caught up in ideals of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. I went to a meeting and hoped desperately that I could find a confederate soldier within my lineage so I could join. I followed the thinking of the SCV, believing that the war wasn’t entirely based on slavery. I even went around pointing out that although Abraham Lincoln was an abolitionist, he was still racist and the emancipation proclamation was more so a political move than an ethical/moral one.
In my shallow minded understandings, I thought the war was about classism and freedom from oppression. By being a part of the SCV I thought I was honoring the tens of thousands of poor southern farmers who became confederate soldiers and eventually died fighting the “rich” northerners.
Today, I’m not so ignorant. Though I was hinting at many truths to the war, I was blinded by a false sense of pride in being a “southerner.”
The truth, as I see it, is that it was a war of ideals between the wealthy, and as with most wars, it would be the poor who would shed the most blood—on both sides. While the confederate army did see more soldiers volunteering than the north, those poor and unfortunate volunteers did so under a false presumption of politics.
In the south, only 25% of the population was rich enough to own slaves. The remaining 75% were often very poor as they tried to compete against wealthy aristocrats who had free labor at their disposal. Why then would poor farmers fight to help them? Because the wealthy understood the values of the lower classes just enough to tap into their sense of pride and heritage, enough to make them believe their way of life was being threatened (even though it was more so the upper class’s way of life). They played upon everyone’s lack of education and their inability to think critically and question the status quo, and as a result, columns upon columns of poor southern farmers were formed, all willing to die in battle to defend their “way of life.”
In truth, confederate leaders were working to protect their lucrative profit margins all of which was achieved through slave labor.
While I do paint a rather sinister picture of the confederate leadership, the US government of the time was not much better. The primary source of recruits for the US Military were the poor and desperate. One third of the union army consisted of the foreign born immigrants, many of whom neared starvation as they fled the oppression of wealthier ruling classes in their home countries. The Union Army was also comprised of draftees many of whom were, you guessed it, poor. Conscious decisions were made by the US Government to draft the working classes that led to several uprisings including the New York Draft Riots.
The Civil War was about slavery, but not in the sense of good vs. evil, moral and immoral. Though it is true that the root cause for the war came from the abolitionist movement, which,in many cases was drawn along the lines of morality, I do not believe political support for abolition was the result of congressmen whose hearts led them to fight for social, ethical, and racial justice. I believe that abolition was a cause adopted by northern politicians to protect their economic interests. It is nearly impossible to compete against businesses with a fully exploitable workforce (slaves), therefor making the south an economic threat.
Abolition as regarded in moral and ethical terms, was more so a propaganda machine meant to provide a “moral high ground” to both dehumanize southerners and fund a war that would leave hundreds of thousands dead on the battlefields. The proof of this theory comes in the way African Americans soldiers were treated by the US Army during the Civil War, and the way they would continue to be detested and deterred from social mobility through institutionalized racism following the war. One could also include the lack of federal intervention during the Jim Crow era when tens of thousands of African Americans were lynched and mutilated, sometimes as public events.
Many tactics used in the Civil War by economic and political forces are still being used to manipulate the minds of the people in the United States today, especially in the south where there exists a strong sense of pride in rural living. Education systems in the south are still underfunded and very few teach critical thinking in ways that break through the cultural norms of the region.
A divide is created between those who are “book smart” (northerners) and those having “common sense” (southerners). It is not uncommon for southerners to create enemies out of people who have gone on to achieve a higher education. In many cases this helps them fill the voids of failure felt when they were unable to attend college in a culture that still judges achievement and success by academic standards–a culture that still portrays southerners in the media as being “stupid” or “backwards.” A defense mechanism is then set up that creates distrust for those with a higher education.
Having “common sense” becomes a means of self-worth which then leads many to believe they are right without the need to research facts. This is often taken further to ignore and refute the scientific facts provided by others who are seen as being “to smart for their own good.” When coupled with the constant streams of misinformation from corporate media and their renditions of popular southern culture, many people become misguided and led into false political battles that continue to harm themselves and their families.
It is a system of deceit played out through political speeches, the defense of symbolic relics, through corporate public relations campaigns, and even through channels of popular culture such as country music.
When reflecting on the Civil War, we should mourn the hundreds of thousands of lives lost upon battlefields and within the homesteads throughout our nation during this dark time in our history. We should see both flags, Union and Confederate, as banners that were used to mislead people into fighting for hollow versions of justice and freedom. We need only look underneath the surface to see this truth, and the deeper we look the more injustice we will find. Lest I remind people of both sides of this debate that our “great” nation committed mass genocide against the Native Americans who inhabited this land well before the Civil War, and who we continued to murder in cold blood for decades following the Civil War. Even today we continue efforts to destroy their culture and exploit their lands.
When it comes to the pride in the confederate flag, we are seeing once again a people who are standing behind a symbol as a means of resistance to a perceived threat against their pride, heritage, and identity without taking time to understand those who created it as a symbol of the CSA. The states rights that were being fought for, were the right to maintain slavery by southern aristocrats, by the 25% of slave holders who had the wealth and education to start a war. The other 75% living in the southern states were often merely surviving through subsistence farming and had no time nor educational means to take sides.
Make no mistake about it, the people who created and raised the confederate flag were wealthy southern plantation owners and businessmen who oppressed the humble and generous southern farmers, competing with them using slave labor, and keeping them in a low economic and educational standing. Those same plantation owners would start a war to protect the status quo they’d created, and would mislead our southern ancestors into believing there was a threat against their families. They would mount horses and wear medals and badges they created, taking credit for battles won as they remained far behind the masses of poorly outfitted farmers. They’d wave their brilliant swords and command in their proud uniforms, marching fathers and sons to certain death. Southerners should feel deep burning hatred towards the confederate flag and the rich aristocrats who brought it into being, and anyone of wealth and power who attempt to continue its tradition.