Mike the Mad Biologist

(A Short) Book Review: The Bloody Shirt

Stephen Budiansky’s The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox is a powerful and detailed examination of the widely-supported terrorism in the post-Civil War South. Because Budiansky cites a lot of primary literature, such as newspaper editorials, legal testimony, and published memoirs, the horror and the nauseating race hatred of that era are not hidden with euphemisms. Were it up to me, this book would be required reading in every high school history class. And it is relevant to today’s politics.

Why?

Because the Southern Strategy is beginning to fail: that is, the bogus notions of Confederate Heritage, the Nobility of the Cause, and States Rights are slowly being exposed as the pathetic excuses for racism that they truly are.

This has led to an upsurge of revisionism regarding the causes of the Civil War, for if these odious, bigoted concepts can be rehabilitated in a less overtly racist form, then it grants more ground in which closeted unreconstructed bigots can maneuver. In the 2008 presidential election, there is a very good chance that a black man will be running for president, and that will send these troglodytes into a frenzy. But if they lose their code and trigger words, or at least some of them, that will far more difficult to mainstream their virulent toxin of hatred, and that strategy might even backfire. We, as a nation, will be the better for it.

Find someone you know who blathers on about Confederate Heritage or States Rights, and give him a copy of Budiansky’s book.

Comments

  1. #1 Stormcrow
    March 2, 2008

    Find someone you know who blathers on about Confederate Heritage or States Rights, and give him a copy of Budiansky’s book

    You know the old saying about leading a horse to water….

  2. #2 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 2, 2008

    I’ve been thinking that having Barack Obama in the final race will be a painful opportunity for many Americans to face up to the racism that lurks even among the most liberal people. Win or lose, there is the chance for shining bright lights into corners that have been dark since 1960′s and early 1970′s.

    We will finally see some of these people come back out in the open.

    As far as the South and the revisionist history goes, I say that if the rebels rise up again we should just say “Okay, you can have it, but were taking NASA out of Huntsville, Houston and Cape Canaveral. And we’re keeping New Orleans. Other than that you are on your own. Good luck with preventing federalism from creeping back in.”

  3. #3 Art
    March 2, 2008

    Stormcrow makes a very good point. Such individuals are not generally the sort who actually read books, IMHO, and they are possibly the least likely life forms on the planet to develop a conscience or spontaneously begin a critical introspective housecleaning of their intellectual and spiritual biases and assumptions. Send them the book and they will use it as a doorstop or as kindling for their next cross.

    Might I suggest that instead of attacking the issue directly and sending the offending member a copy you instead slip it into their wives after Sunday school book club. And you might place it prominently at their kids school library in the section clearly marked ‘Danger – Not for young impressionable minds’. Essentially guaranteeing that the kids will want to read it.

    Sometimes it is better to address attitudes like you would a forest fire. You don’t stand out in front and fight it directly so much as attacking it from the sides and choking it down.

  4. #4 peter
    March 2, 2008

    stormcrow, I think the relevant quote begins:

    “You can lead a horticulture…”*

    Dorothy Parker

    *”but you can’t make her think.”

  5. #5 Russell
    March 2, 2008

    Perhaps I am naive, but it seems to me that a lot of the right wing today that reveres the south is not so much clinging to racism as it is pushing the values of a propertied aristocracy able to set the law, free from both the constitutional checks of the federal government and the political action of a broader electorate. And regardless of the degree of racism still present, it’s important to realize that racism was far from the only evil in that legacy.

  6. #6 Mike
    March 3, 2008

    Two comments:
    1. The Constitution is quite clear that unless a power is specifically given to the federal government or denied to the people or states, that those powers then reside with the people or states. Thus the people who rail against states rights are treating the Constitution as a “God d*mned piece of paper.” I think most people are tired of the Constitution being treated that way, whether the issue is denial of states rights, denial of the right of haebus corpus, denial of free speech or denial of the right to bear arms.

    2. Terrorism did occur after the Civil War. But that terrorism and guerrilla war could have been far worse. Lee disobeyed direct orders from the civilian leaders to wage a guerrilla war.

  7. #7 slim
    March 3, 2008

    Terrorism did occur after the Civil War. But that terrorism and guerrilla war could have been far worse.

    Can’t everything, always, be far worse?

    I think that the South gave up the right to claim it was all a states rights issue at that schoolhouse door in Little Rock. Show me one place where the claim of states rights was not related to slavery, Jim Crow or otherwise maintaining the white male hegemony of the South. “States rights” is just a polite way of saying what the privileged white kids I grew up with in the South learned at their parents’ knees: that blacks were better off under slavery and look what a mess emancipation/integration/voting rights made.

  8. #8 Mike
    March 4, 2008

    Slim: “Show me one place where the claim of states rights was not related to slavery, Jim Crow or otherwise maintaining the white male hegemony of the South.”

    The very first time that a southern state threatened to secede was over the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition act. It was after this act passed that South Carolina threatened to secede and both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson reaffirmed the right of states to secede.

  9. #9 KeithB
    March 4, 2008

    slim:
    I have heard it said that in grade school you learn that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves*. In High School you learn that it was over State’s rights. In College you learn that the right the State’s were fighting for was slavery.

    *Given my kids recent reports about Abe Lincoln last month, this does, indeed, seem to be the case.

  10. #10 Mike the Mad Biologist
    March 5, 2008

    Mike,

    In Louisana, after the Civil War, there was a bloody uprising against the Federal Government, that also involved ‘volunteers’ from neighboring states. But I guess that’s not as bad as a revolt in all of the Southern states. And that’s before you get to the thousands of terrorist murders.

    Regarding states rights, I think KeithB and slim basically said what I’ve said before.

  11. #11 bwv
    March 5, 2008

    Moral outrage over the 19th century South is cheap. Its also a way for non-Southerners to scapegoat the South for the history of racism and slavery that is equally theirs. Racial terrorism was not unknown in the North, as the NY draft riots attest to. Slavery persisted in the South because the economy depended on it wheras abolition was easy in the North. Nothing to do with any greater morality.

    That said, Reconstruction was in many ways a greater tragedy than the Civil War. Historians have called the 1890s the nadir of civil rights in the South – in many ways conditions for African Americans were worse then than under slavery.