Recently, a friend relayed a story about an acquaintance who is a Sons of Confederate Veterans member who wanted it known that while he agreed with me “99% of the time”-I still “had my head up my ass” concerning foreign policy. The gentleman pretty much supports our current foreign policy and takes issue with my frequent criticism of it. But there’s only one person here who cannot see the light for the darkness.
That any member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans would defend America’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is mindboggling. That any supporter of Southern heritage would applaud increased executive power during wartime betrays his ancestors’ memory. Waving a Confederate flag, while also readily waiving the civil liberties of one’s countrymen in the name of “national security,” is a slap in the face to the soldiers’ who fought under that proud Southern banner.
Ask any product of America’s public schools who started the “Civil War,” and something about “Fort Sumter” and “slavery” will clumsily fall from their lips, as if they were programmed, which of course, they were. Many of my Confederate-admiring friends have devoted significant time to dispelling these and other myths, in which complex historical questions have been whittled down to politically-correct bromides, more digestible to children and politicians.
Like Fort Sumter, the 9/11 attacks were not simply the first shots fired in a long, “unavoidable” war, but a convenient starting point for those who would prefer a more black and white narrative. As the late columnist Samuel Francis noted just five days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001: “the blunt truth is that the United States has been at war for years-at least a decade, since we launched a war against Iraq in 1991, even though Iraq had done absolutely nothing to harm the United States or any American. Our bombing attacks on Iraq certainly caused civilian casualties, and if they were not deliberate, nobody beating the war drums at the time felt much regret for them. For ten years, we have maintained economic sanctions on Iraq that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and we have repeatedly bombed it whenever it failed to abide by standards we imposed on it.”
What is it about resistance to invasion and occupation that some of today’s Confederate heritage supporters do not understand? 19th century Southerners naturally felt it was their duty to repel foreign armies in their own backyard. These Southerners were considered “terrorists” during the war and “insurgents” after the North declared mission accomplished in 1865. Likewise, the US has been trying to “reconstruct” the Middle East for decades, increasing its efforts tenfold since 9/11-while Islamic resistance continues, and continues to grow. This should come as no surprise to students of human nature or Southern history.
Did the South fight simply to protect slavery? Of course not. No more than insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere fight today simply because they hate “freedom.” Defenders of President Lincoln’s war say that despite the hundreds of thousands of soldier and civilian deaths, it was all worth it to end slavery. Those who still believe President Bush made the right decision in invading Iraq say it was worth it to defend “human rights.” Lincoln wrapped his imperialism in moral language to justify the indefensible-a war of aggression to satisfy corporate and political interests. Today, Presidents Bush and Obama have continued this tradition, waging foreign wars for corporate and government interests, both giving Lincolnian speeches along the way to justify their actions. Lincoln’s squelching of Southern secession was unquestionably a war of offense and so was Iraq, a war waged against a country, that, as Pat Buchanan notes “did not threaten us, did not want war with us, and did not attack us.”
It is no mistake that the only two Republican presidential candidates in recent years who have shown significant support for states’ right, sympathy for the Confederate cause, or who have even been willing to criticize Lincoln publicly, were also strongly opposed to the Iraq war–Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. It is also no mistake that the GOP presidential candidates in recent years who most admired Lincoln and either loathed or were ambivalent toward the Confederate flag, also strongly supported Bush’s war in Iraq and now strongly support Obama’s war in Afghanistan.
Robert E. Lee was not in love with militarism, aggression and certainly not war itself, but with Virginia, for which he raised his sword without hesitation. Presidents Bush and Obama wage war for every interest but ours, or as Bush said in 2004 “hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror… bringing hope to the oppressed.” It’s not hard to fathom what a man as practical and as Christian as Lee would think of today’s American foreign policy and yet too many of his admirers have instead adopted the temperament and logic of Lincoln. The irony is overwhelming-and tragic-as too many Southern sons continue to support a perpetual union that wages perpetual war so that “freedom” shall not perish from the earth.