A significant portion of contemporary Americans hold an interesting perspective on the War Between the States (aka: the Civil War). They liken it to a Super Bowl game, an annual single championship skirmish in football in which the winner takes all. The losers cannot challenge the score and have to go home suffering the humility of defeat? In 1865, two years after fumbling cannonballs at Gettysburg, the Confederate States lost and had to go home.
War is a Spectator Sport
The championship season would have an entirely different ending if the Southern offense had a different strategy after the First Battle of Bull Ran/Battle of First Manassas. The Confederates won that day and all the visiting spectators, who arrived from Washington, D.C. to have picnics and watch the carnage, hurried back home in panic.
When Confederate leadership decided not to walk into Washington, D.C. and destroy everything in their path (unlike the methods of the Union’s General Sherman in the Southern states), it became obvious that the play-off would be a tough one. Six hundred thousand lives later, the fans of the Union celebrated their team’s victory.
Confederates’ general manager, Jefferson Davis, and the coach, General Robert E. Lee, were sacked as the league desegregated, and retired. Neither of them would again be in a position to compete for a championship. But that did not mean that the team’s fans would allow their memory to fade away; rather, their supporters decided to commemorate a good season with a series of monuments, statues, and other traits in Southern cultural landscape.
To this day, the question remains: why would the Southerners remember and celebrate a losing team, and how come the non-Southerners care about it so passionately? A convenient answer revolves around the issue of slavery; i.e., a commemoration of the era of slavery for the former, and, for the latter, the feeling that the landscape reminders of that era should be entirely erased.
Truck-drivin’, squirrel-eatin’, moonshine-cookin’, first cousin-marrin’, slow-talkin’ Southern rednecks also need to be reminded by non-Southerners that their cerebral gear is insufficient to comprehend the realism of the Confederate legacy. Hence, they need an intervention, which frequently comes in two related forms: negative portrayal of the Southerners in media and Hollywood and removal of Confederate traits in the cultural landscape.
Or, could it be perhaps something else that bothers the winning team?
If It Does Not Fit You Must Acquit
By definition, a union is a voluntary legal arrangement by two or more separate parties. A union created through the power of coercion is involuntary. In a marriage, for example, two parties join a union voluntarily and have the right to leave it at their own will. They enter a marriage on equal terms, so they can leave it on equal—and legal—terms. Leaving it on legal terms does not constitute a felony, or even a misdemeanor.
Also, a matrimonial union cannot create individuals, i.e., exist prior to existence of its integral parts. Marriage is a concept and individuals are facts, hence only individuals can create and disband a marriage.
Figure 1. Widespread opinion on reasons for the Civil War are like some flags painted on sheds, garages, and barns—esthetically pleasing, entrenched and immovable, but not necessarily entirely correct. (Photograph by the author.)
Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were not prosecuted for treason after the war. Not because they were cut some slack. [The country of the United States was initially created as a confederacy; these United States (see the Declaration of Independence) was a plural and not a singular term (until the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1868, three years after the War)]. They were not prosecuted because according to the United States Constitution it was not illegal for the states to leave the Union. If prosecuted, they would have been acquitted.
[As an exercise, conduct research on (A) which states have ratified the Constitution only after assurance that they could withdraw from the union of the United States should they choose, and (B) where was the first secession movement in the United States and why.]
And the War Came
“Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came,” said Abraham Lincoln in his second inauguration speech. Evidently, he had nothing to do with the war, which just arrived on its own. During that war most of the fighting would take place in the Confederate state of Virginia, illustrating perhaps that the Virginians invaded their own state.
Meanwhile, in the North, after the war came, the President managed to imprison (e.g., an Attorney General of the United States among many) and bomb his own people (e.g., bombing of New York City), a type of public service generally reserved for dictators like Saddam Hussein of Iraq or Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. In both countries the United States intervened to eliminate dictatorships.
Tear Down This Statue
In the past two decades, the American(s)’ intervention has brought down the statues of Hussein, Gaddafi, Davis, and Lee respectively. Internationally, the work seems to be completed. Domestically, the next stage will be removing the names of highways, libraries, parks, and schools of the men who have not done an illegal act. Eventually, all such traits in the cultural landscape of Virginia may steadily disappear, because they are symbols of Confederacy.
If one visits battlefields in Virginia he/she can observe a growing number of memorials dedicated to fallen Union soldiers, the symbols of the Union. This does not bother the Southerners. In Chancellorsville, next to the General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s monument (where he was mortally wounded after a win over the Union forces), is a commemorative inscription for the fallen Union soldiers.
On the Battle of Wilderness battlefield, the commemorative stone for the Union volunteers from New Jersey stands right at the beginning of the visitors’ walking path. As time passes, landscape features of depicting the Union’s presence in the South are steadily increasing.
Cultural Landscape and Geography of Conflict
Cultural landscape is incredibly important to any society. In Cultural Landscape and Geography of Conflict article, I wrote under Preservation of Identity that “Attachment to a place and one’s sense of belonging to a specific community, for sake of identity preservation, are among the most essential cultural traits and are clearly manifested in cultural landscape.”
Under Opposing Ideological Value Systems and Beliefs I noted that the “Promoters of political ideologies have mastered the use of cultural landscape to preserve the thread of romanticized mythological legacy for generations to come. Deification of great leaders and liberators…would not have occurred without their participation in conflicts over opposing value systems and belief.”
Throughout the world, including the United States, an attachment to a place and one’s sense of belonging to a specific community is an intrinsic cultural trait. It socially evolves through long periods of time and does not fade away overnight.
An attachment to one’s place of birth and residence place cannot be created through the power of coercion; i.e., no one can make us love places and share values if we do not want to. In a political context, existing ideological value systems and beliefs cannot coexist with those imposed by the central government. Therefore, the government seeks to replace the existing system and all of its visible reminders with its own system.
Living in the Mainstream, Walking on the Margins
Any central government’s main purpose is the preservation and expansion of its own power. It only supports the values that benefit the State. All other values, which can be a threat to its power, it tries to eliminate. Socially, this process is frequently conducted via changes in the cultural landscape resulting from removal of statues and monuments. This is done in an attempt to erase people’s collective memory—or minimize it to only a fraction of population— thereby creating a fringe element that celebrates the values previously shared by the majority.
Figure 2. A residential home landscape feature in Virginia. The owner’s rationale behind positioning a statue of a Confederate soldier here revolves around preserving the identity of Southern legacy and states’ rights. (Photograph by the author.)
Meanwhile, the process of deification of great leaders and liberators will continue. Consolidation of the federal government’s power in the United States, particularly its executive branch—from which the “great leaders and liberators” hail—has continued as strongly as its own avoidance of enforcing the Tenth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution–the same Constitution, of course, according to which the secession of Southern states was not an illegal act.
Passion for erasing the Confederate legacy, to modify the Southerners’ collective memory into a feeling of shame that what their ancestors have done was illegal and immoral, is not incidental. Feeling eventually turns into believing, which can easily transition into rejection of one’s own history and values. It is the last stage in ultimate fortification of the central government’s power against the states, which it has tried to accomplish for the past century and a half, yet has never fully achieved.
Gone With the Wind
Precedent of legal separation and subsequent devastating conflict was established in the 1860s. The Super Bowl game was over and the Confederacy went straight into the history books. President Abraham Lincoln received the largest statue on the National Mall, only a short walk from the District’s border with Virginia.
The statue, an impressive landscape feature, is greeting thousands of tourists each year who visit the man who preserved the Union. It is not facing the southern direction, however, as if President Lincoln is avoiding acknowledging that the Super Bowl win of 1865 came with an asterisk. This seems to keep bothering the winning team, even though the losers cannot challenge the score.