Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A way down south in Dixie

At left: Alexander Gardner's famous historical photo of the hanging of co-conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt, 1865.

Locally, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War has brought them all out of the woodwork to dress up like rebel soldiers. (As I've said here before, I think a crucial aspect of this is the long-suppressed desire of grown men to play dress-up.) Before any of the rebels yell at me [1], let me present my credentials: I have an ancestor who risked his life to run away, and I qualify for this discussion. (And in my genealogy, there are a few more where he came from, on both the Union and CSA side. But great-great-great-granddaddy Hatcher is my pacifist DNA and my favorite confederate ancestor.)

I have never bought into the whole southern glamour of the Civil War, although I like Vivien Leigh as much as the next person. But getting starry-eyed and romantic over lost causes is not something I was raised to do. However, I have been paying attention, and I have figured out that much of this Civil War Nostalgia is bluntly nationalist in origin. White southerners still feel dissed by the mass culture, and this is a way of honoring those who feel continuously insulted. Just as there is a secessionist vibe all over Texas that has never quite abated, there is a similar tone running through discussions of the vanquished Confederate States of America. This is why so many of them protest that "It isn't about slavery!"--since for them, it isn't. It's about where they live NOW. It's about southern pride, about place, about the mass culture employing actors with bad southern accents to be the butt of sitcom jokes and commercials. It's about people making fun of rednecks for being uneducated. It's about global capitalism colonizing old neighborhoods, old folkways and rearranging everything so that it is unrecognizable to the people who grew up here. It's about yankees not understanding WHO DIED in the Civil War and/or who decided to swim across the river like Thomas Hatcher: poor white people. Not Stonewall Jackson.

We were used as cannon fodder, as always. [2] That is something to MOURN, not celebrate, and that is where I get off the bus. WE WAS HAD, WE WAS USED, a buncha rich planters USED us to jab at Abraham Lincoln. That should make you angry, not make you want to organize a charity costume ball.

I'm glad the Civil War anniversary has at least produced an interesting film; I do want to see the new movie The Conspirator. Lots of people do not know who Mary Suratt was, and that she was the first woman executed in the USA. Nice to see some of this history brought out in movie-form, where people will actually see it... those of you who think all southern white women were Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, you should have a look. I don't know if the movie takes the position that Suratt was guilty or innocent, but she was likely guilty. Death by hanging, of course, is rather harsh.

But you know, you kill Abraham Lincoln, people are going to be pissed.


How SHOULD we commemorate this awful, violent period of American history? Is there a way to honor the dead (including dead slaves) in a respectful way that includes everyone? Or is this simply impossible?

Discuss amongst yourselves.


1) I knew if I tried hard enough, I could work "rebel yell" into the post, so congratulate me. That's as close as I could get.

2) We are being used as cannon fodder right now too, but they don't seem too worried about that. (((Daisy scowls in disapproval)))


catsynth said...

Probably the way to honor the dead is to simply honor the dead. From the various Civil War monuments I have seen, the thing that always stays with me the most is the huge number 600,000 dead. Just let people pause and think about how huge a number that is, even in the context of the current wars before adjusting for population growth And then juxtapose it with personal stories from their own families.

(I suppose I tend to be a bit analytical.)

Anonymous said...

I doubt too many will touch this one, lol.;-)

I had relatives that fought in the civil war too. Funny the union side doesn't have such a strong need to play dress up, or to relive the civil war; or for that matter keep on living it. I think it was easier for the north to forget the civil war because the war didn't leave a trail of destruction in the heart of their lands. But, the south was arrogant in the way they thought they could actually win this war against their country. No matter what the south says the war was fought over or about, we never win when human beings are enslaved. People keep beating a dead horse here. The politicians are still giving it to us...think about The Trail of Tears, the Black Hills, Little Big Horn, etc. It's all about the same thing. And it's not about helping anybody or anything other than whatever the government wants, it takes.

Charles D said...

100 years after the Civil War was fought over slavery, the descendants of the poor white folks who gave their lives and limbs to defend the right of the rich plantation owners to own slaves are now supporting politicians whose goal is to enslave them. The antebellum plantation masters wanted to treat people like property that could be used and discarded same as the 1% of today. Once again, poor white folks are being played by their "betters" and they're as unaware of it now as they were then.

JoJo said...

Daisy, is it true that all Southern courthouses were built facing south, with their back to the north? One of my friends who'd lived in Alabama told me that.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Charles, preach it, preach it! That is the song we like to sing here at DEAD AIR! Yeah!

Damn straight.

Anon, certainly, it was a war about slavery/rich people keeping their free labor. I happen to believe most wars in history have been rich people fighting with each other, using poor people to do it. Why don't the poor wake up? Well, that's the question.

Southerners say it isn't about slavery, because to them it is about RIGHT NOW. These celebrations are actually a form of "acting out" about their current circumstances and feelings about the present (i.e. being culturally dissed)... is my point. They don't care about slavery, they care about how they are getting fucked over RIGHT NOW and fall back on easy nationalistic explanations and warm fuzzy GWTW nostalgia.
Do the words WEIMAR REPUBLIC mean anything to you? (And that is only breaking Godwin's Law a little bit, doesn't count.) Seriously though, its the same kind of cultural atmosphere. Scary to think of it that way, but IT IS.

They feel unverbalized, unacknowledged and socially unacceptable class-based anger because they are getting economically ROBBED, "and so you grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last" (we also quote Steely Dan at this blog)... the idea of being part of the Tide of History is intoxicating (I am sometimes given to this lovely fantasy myself) and plugging into a ready-made identity, constructed with xenophobia and nostalgia, is the American Way.

Thus, the orgy of Confederate Re-Enactors.

And yes, I've always found it fascinating that the Civil War dress-up seems to be mostly in gray, not nearly as much blue.

SC Boy said...

So...for the second time Open ID ain't workin. I was bummed out last time because I wrote a big long thing about Tumblr and WM and lost it. Anyway...

I have talked to quite a few Southerners who got right upset at me for calling their love of the rebel flag racist. In the end, it all boils down to, "Well it wasn't just rich slave owners involved in that war; it was my poor ancestors who never owned slaves and fought and died." They don't seem to realize that the rich slave owners used their poor ancestors for pawns. It reminds me a lot of the whole, "You don't support the troops if you don't want them *over there* doing their jobs," thing.

I will say, though, that if you scratch if the surface of these poor Confederates' proud descendants, the chance of finding racism underneath is very near 100%. I don't mean racism as in, "Well, all of us white people are racist to an extent";I mean unapologetic bigotry.

thene said...

Then and now, if 'patriotic' loyalty wasn't being given over to the wealthy landowners who are robbing us, war might be seen for what it is; pointless slaughter.

I have a friend in Yorkshire who does American Civil War reenactments! He plays a young Union soldier from Indiana. I have no idea how he or anyone else in his group got into that particular hobby, but hey, it's clearly got some wide-ranging appeal.

Renegade Evolution said...

GAHHH blogger ate my first comment...

Ahem. Daisy I think you know where I stand on this, but yeah, SHORTER version of the comment that just got eaten (grumble).

Anti-Southern Bias is REAL. There is one group of people it is STILL fine and dandy to shit on (heck, even funny to do so) and that is poor white folk. Calling people hicks, crackers, rednecks, hillbillies, white trash, so on IS TOTALLY OKAY even when it is done in a MEAN and Vicious way that is totally intended to degrade and hurt. And RARELY is that shit ever called out- at all...its totally fine whereas doing so with pretty much any other group of people (jews, people of color, gay folk, so on) is Not Done Or Accepted....

Non Rich White Southerners get SHIT ON all the damn time...so hell yes I get why many of them grab something and hold onto it and take and invest pride in it- even if it is NOT the best symbol to do so with (like the Confederate Battle Flag)...hell, when you get shit on ALL the time you get both angry and need something to cling too- great choice or not.

AHem, as you know, I got some pretty STRONG feelings on these issues.

And sure enough, like so many other wars, the Civil War was poor folk dying for Rich Folk's interests.