Dust-Up with History Prof over Rebel Flag Continues
To comment go to B’Man’s Revolt.
This is a continuation of my email exchanges with a history professor who was formerly a colleague of mine in North Carolina. I taught economics. The first four rounds are chronicled in “Johnny Reb and Billy Yank Flag Debate Continues.”
The History Professor
Yes, there is some common ground. I acknowledged the individual right to display the flag early, citing Gov. Haley also. So we agree. I still believe that the fact that a right exists does not mean it’s proper always to exercise it. If that is anti-free speech, so be it.
Regarding the state of race relations. Many white Southerners, some of them Republican politicians, acknowledged the pain of their black compatriots and urged the removal of the flag; this is positive.
On the other hand, here is support for your position: The other evening I drove highway 97 to a Mudcats game. I use that road several times a year, but not since the shootings and the flag controversy. In the past, I have noticed no Confederate flags on display. This time there were five. What the motivations of the displayers were, I don’t know. But most blacks would take it only one way.
Regarding historians: Of course, the use of phrases like “timorous eunuchs” is polemical. But one must take the consequences of them nevertheless; people might take them seriously, as I did. In your latest there are some qualifiers (historians “who have addressed the subjects”), but you still often slander the whole profession.
Yes, some of the ones I named do not address the causes of the War or the Forrestal case. That’s the point. Your criticism did not exempt them. Friedlander studies the Holocaust, Lerner the role of women in the Middle Ages. I don’t know Engerman’s position on the causes of the War.
Genovese is a wonderful example of my point. There is Genovese of the ‘70s, and then Genovese of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Forgive an anecdote that might help explain his evolution. In about 1976-7, he and Willie Lee Rose were at dinner at my parents’ house. Pa invited xxxxx* and me to come. I remember two things vividly. First, Genovese was quite a raconteur. Second, when we were talking about his surprising treatment of slave religion, he became philosophical. He worried that atheists like himself had no answer to the finality of death, unlike the devoutly religious. Sometime later, he rejoined the Catholic Church. Perhaps this was the start of his conservatism. But which Genovese is the eunuch?
After all is said and done, nothing you’ve said about the origins of the Civil War changes what I, and many others, believe:
- No slavery, no war
- No war, no Confederate flag
- No flag, no flag as present symbol of slavery and racism.
Finally, on Forrestal and others. I meant “relatively unimportant” in this way: I believe that the most important question historians ask is, “what caused it, and what did it cause?” You and others think the death of, for example, Forrestal was caused by either fearful communists or agents of Israel. If you’re right, then his death was an episode either of the Cold War or the controversy over Israel’s founding.
But what did Forrestal’s death cause? There were obviously some things – grief for family and friends, for example. And, perhaps, an example of government lying, of which there have been many. But I haven’t seen anything that takes it much beyond this.
I very much appreciate your honesty in reporting what you call the support for my position that you recently witnessed. You may correct me if I'm wrong, but I take that to mean my position that race relations have worsened rather than improved in the wake of the event in Charleston. The evidence you present is the sudden blossoming of five Confederate flags upon your rather short route to the local minor league baseball park. In spite of what you might have picked up from an open-minded reading of B'Man's "What Does the Stars and Bars Represent?" and from this old friend's exchanges, whom you say you take seriously, this phenomenon seems to have you puzzled.
Once again I must say that you have to be in a small minority on that one. Obviously, it's a conscious reaction to the national campaign, led by the mainstream news media, against the Confederate battle flag. White Southerners naturally resent having what many have come to regard as a symbol of themselves and their culture and heritage dragged into the mud based upon what one deranged person allegedly did. What you saw in your little corner of North Carolina was on display in central Florida a couple of weeks ago in the form of an eight-mile-long Confederate flag rally comprised of some 4,500 people. I don't think that got a lot of media play, nor did the apparent murder of black Confederate flag supporter Anthony Hervey by fellow blacks in Mississippi, a real sign of deteriorating race relations, which I don't think the Florida flag caravan or the flag display you witnessed were.
None of these national news organs who, like you, take the aggrieved-black position with respect to the Confederate battle flag are owned and run or in any way controlled by actual black people. One that is, the Black Muslim Final Call, takes a very different view on the deeper origins of black slavery in the United States than one is likely to find in the mainstream news media or in the approved history books.
I would like to think that you are selling black people short when you say that most of them would take this new flag display only one way. From what you have written previously, I take it that the "one way" would be as some form of unexplainable recrudescent racism, a celebration of slavery, as a "flag of hate." No statements to the contrary on the part of the displayers of the flags count for anything. Empathy must forever be a one-way street.
This is not exactly a blueprint for racial harmony.
Toward the improvement of race relations, the next time you are together with those black folks you frequently meet with you could try to dampen any outrage you might encounter over these new displays of the flag by sharing my views with them, but, as I say, I really think you have underestimated them and that it will not be necessary.
Regarding American historians and my use of H.L. Mencken's disparaging quote, I am frankly astonished that you would defend the historians in their ongoing cover-up of the obvious assassination in 1949 of America's first secretary of defense, James Forrestal. Somehow, I don't think Mencken would be astonished. I suppose you would offer the same sort of defense for the historical blackout of the attempted assassination of President Harry Truman in 1947 by the Zionist Stern Gang.
* Another former colleague in the history department.
July 27, 2015