Keith Olbermann was again apoplectic on Wednesday evening (April 7) when he took on the governor of Virginia and the governor’s proclamation in celebration of Confederacy Month. The governor was promptly pummeled by knee-jerk left-wingers (maybe “pummeled” isn’t the right word, as that implies fists. “Stomped” might be a better verb, but it’s a minor quibble.) At any rate, the governor promptly issued an apology, re-worked his proclamation to condemn slavery, and obtained the less-than-good graces of Olberman et al. As part of the roast-the-governor panoply of indignation, Olbermann brought in NCAA Chairman Julian Bond to say yes, the governor’s apology was adequate, but celebration of the Confederacy is still an affront to civil rights.
Of course, Bond had to use Olberman’s Phrase Of The Day: “Treasonous violence against the United States of America.” The phrase got three airings on Olbermann’s show.
Okay, first of all, let’s not forget that Julian Bond, now a revered stateseman in the civil rights movement, was once the mouthpiece of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and in vetting hearings for his seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1966, sat with Stokeley Carmichael’s hand up his ass and professed to condone draft-dodging, resisting arrest (non-violent, Julian?) and other illegal measures to protest U.S. foreign and domestic policies. Yes, that was a long time ago. But it was documented, it happened, and it is part of the man’s complex history. I’m just sayin’, that’s all.
But really, “Treasonous violence against the United States of America?” Wait, time for an open kimono moment: Yes, I have used those very words some time within the past 10 years, and in reference to the Confederacy. I wasn’t necessarily wrong, and in a twisted kind of way, Olbermann is technically correct. But by an identical standard, the American Revolution was treasonous violence against the British Empire. If things hadn’t gone so well at Yorktown in 1781, we’d all be sipping tea and … well, okay, maybe we wouldn’t be sipping tea, but we wouldn’t be making so many jokes about Canadians and Australians, either. We would be, as those great friends and allies are, members of the British Commonwealth, and our country would look a great deal different than it does today.
With so many civil rights issues -- housing, employment, health care, and education, to name a few -- still begging for attention, for Olbermann to draft Bond into repeating his Phrase of the Day is to trivialize civil rights. By any scholarly standard being used today, slavery, and the denial of fundamental human rights that went with it, was only the third of the top five causes of the American Civil War. States’ rights, an issue dear to the heart of Virginian Thomas Jefferson, is considered the No. 2 cause (I’m using a scale adopted from Shelby Foote, my favorite and Ken Burns' favorite authority on the War Between the States) surpassed only by the North’s economic subjugation of the South. This was a deliberate and highly profitable, almost conspiratorial, set of economic policies that denied the South any meaningful manufacturing capacity.
Yes, the plantation system of providing cotton to northern and English fabric mills was an antiquated social system, but the northern industrialists offered no alternative. Failure by the manufactures to pay more than rock bottom price for cotton only prolonged the abomination of slavery. If Northerners had really wanted to abolish slavery, they would have first invested in Southern manufacturing (it thrives today in the textile, wood products fabrication, and automobile assembly industries) and bargained with the South to pay a dollar or so more for goods in exchange for freeing slaves and paying them wages.
But the North didn’t do that. With unprecedented greed (yes, there was a Wall Street even in 1858) the North withheld industrial investment from the South, forcing Dixie to rely in an antiquated colonial system that raped the land and befouled humanity. It then threatened to outlaw the only kind of labor that could support that system, condemning master and slave alike to abject poverty. The South did not secede and did not declare war until its back was against the economic wall. When it fought, it did not fight for slavery, it fought for economic survival.
For native New Yorker Olbermann to condemn something pretty much necessitated by his ancestors is an affront to patriotism across this land. The men who fought and died for the Confederacy were defending the only way of life they’d ever known. I have seen photographs of the windrows of dead bodies of Southern men at the Battle of Gettysburg, and there is not a slaveholder among them. Yes, there were officers who owned slaves, including the venerated Robert E. Lee, a relative of George Washington’s, whose home at Arlington was confiscated and turned into a national cemetery -- for Union soldiers. But those offiers are no more guilty than were Jefferson and Washingtom themselves, and most of those Confederate officers -- Lee foremost among them -- had already taken steps to free their own holdings of slavery.
I have served in the U.S. Army alongside men from the South. They are passionately loyal to the Unites States of America. When the Confederacy was beaten, the South again subjugated, and then systematically plundered by Northerners, Southerners grimly swore allegiance to this one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And they have abided by their oath to this very day. On foreign beaches, in foreign jungles, across foreign deserts, Southern men and women have bled to death to keep America strong, and that patriotic tradition goes back to Yorktown, to Sharpsburg, to Gettysburg, and to Richmond, Virginia.
I say, let the South celebrate Confederacy Month, for if that is a celebration of treasonous violence against a legitimate government, then so is the Fourth of July.