The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A wry smile and a belly laugh

Someone posted this under the heading: "Why Obama will win." Funny, and telling.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1008/Confederate_battle_flag_Obama_yard_sign.html#comments

ᅠ##

And my favorite video of the election thus far, the "Dance Off" between Obama and McCain, with a surprise visitor:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzyT9-9lUyE

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The Confederate flag thing is so fascinating, and says so much about the complexity that is America. No, I don't believe that the "Southern Cross" is completely separate from the racist ideology driving the Confederation. But there is some truth to the idea that many embrace it as an expression of cultural heritage. Considering that I've known hundreds of black people from the south, and not ONE of them had a Confederate flag suggests that this is a racial cultural heritage.

I remember talking at Worldcon with a writer I've known for years who is publishing a series based on the Civil War. And he tried to convince me that slavery would have ended within ten years regardless of whether there was a war or not. And that therefore, the Civil War shouldn't have happened--all those lives saved.

I smiled at him. Let me see: millions of black people should be falsely incarcerated for a decade, tortured, raped, murdered, and worked to death, to save a bunch of white people from dying (yes, sure there were black soldiers...and my guess is that every one of them would have wanted those slaves freed NOW, not in ten years). My answer: no. If you don't care about a decade of torment (and that's the best case scenario, assuming Southerners are, frankly better than human beings really are. Slavery is profitable, and a useful social convention--that's why it has to be outlawed. It doesn't always just wither away by itself.)

I mean, I don't hold slavery against the South, or white people, but I reserve the right to chuckle at vast and violent battlefield scenes in Civil War movies. About as close to Reparations as I'm ever gonna get. I take my entertainment where I can find it.

28 comments:

Steve Perry said...

Problem with those battlefield scenes -- depending on which side you root for -- is that half the guys being cut down are on *your* side ...

I always liked the T-shirt "Custer Died for Your Sins." and the Little Big Horn was certainly a brief and shining payback for the Indians, but in any shootout, the losers on both side are just as dead, ain't they ...

Everybody wants to see the bad guys get theirs, but if a lot of good guys have to die to do it, there is a certain pyrrhic note being sounded. I don't believe I own a stars 'n' bars flag, but Dixie was Abraham Lincoln's favorite song ...

Mike Ralls said...

>I don't hold slavery against the South, or white people, but I reserve the right to chuckle at vast and violent battlefield scenes in Civil War movies.<

Assuming you are chuckling over the deaths of the Rebs, that is not really unusual as rejoicing in the defeat or death of one's enemies seems pretty hard-wired in humanity. I can't think of any cultures that don't practice it to some degree, and even on the individual level it's rare and takes a good deal of cultural conditioning to not do so.

Christian M. Howell said...

The Civil War wasn't fought because of slavery, per se. Every other country had outlawed the slave trade and enforced an 1832(if I remember correctly) deadline on it.
But because of chattel slavery in America, no slaves would actually be freed.
It was when the South saw that the Fed was following the rest of the world - except for Spain - they decided to try and dissolve the Union.
That's what started the Civil War. Slavery would have ended on its own, but the South would have still seceded because of the agrarian nature of production.
It would have been nearly catastrophic to all of a sudden have to pay people.
Yet another reason why slavery was a bad idea. It's self-defeating.

Steven Barnes said...

I don't believe slavery would have ended in ten years. Sharecropping, Jim Crow, and Segregation lasted a lot longer, and served solid social and economic purposes. Slavery persists to this very day, and if there weren't laws against it, we'd see a lot more of it. I think believing it just would have vanished is wishful thinking.
##
And the part of me laughing at the Civil War battle scenes isn't healthy or mature enough to differentiate between Rebs and Yanks. Sorry. It's just enjoying watching vast swaths of white men dying horribly. Not for a second do I believe that the primary interest of the Northerners was freeing black folks--that was a by-product of preserving the Union. And the way that part of me deals with the endless dying, de-sexualizing, exclusion and denigration it has experienced in media and culture over the course of my life is giggling when white teenagers get sliced and diced in "Saw." Just being honest. As soon as Will Smith gets laid, I'll probably stop finding the carnage so amusing. A relatively harmless venting of genuinely homicidal emotion.

Mike Ralls said...

>I don't believe slavery would have ended in ten years. <

Me either. 1920's at the earliest, and thats if the rest of the world did some type of boycott of slave goods and that's the best case scenario (barring another war in which the South is conquered). The South would continue slavery until it stopped making them gobs and gobs of money and that was likely to continue for a long time. Most of the "Slavery was unprofitable," info out there comes from the abolitionists who were convinced that because slavery was morally bad (true) it had to be financially bad as well (not true, for the owners). The abolitionists won, and won so completely that their version of history had dominated every since. A lot of that version is true, but some of it (like slavery being unprofitable or doomed to die) is pretty much pure wishful thinking. Most people don't like to think that something so god awful wrong could also be so very profitable.

Interesting fact; Saudi Arabia outlawed slavery in 1962. That's not a typo. That's _19_62.

>And the part of me laughing at the Civil War battle scenes isn't healthy or mature enough to differentiate between Rebs and Yanks. Sorry.<

It's your psyche, but it's a little odd. It's like a Jew watching a WWII movie and laughing at all the Gentiles getting killed. The Allied troops were mostly anti-semitic to some degree, but the Nazis were quite a bit worse.

>not for a second do I believe that the primary interest of the Northerners was freeing black folks<

Primary? No. A main one? Yes.

A useful exercise is to imagine if the CSA made the following offer in 1861-1865; "We will return to the Union, but we keep all our slaves and you give back any slaves you've freed." What would the answer be, year by year?

1861? North, "Hell Yes! That's all we ever wanted!"
1862? North, "Yes."
1863? North, "Um . . . "
1864? North, "No."
1865? North, "Hell no!"

>that was a by-product of preserving the Union.<

True, but the Union was only endangered because some Northerns cared enough about blacks to not want them to be slaves.

If your brother is doing something that you don't like or approve of, most people let it slide because hey, the dude is their brother. It's only if one's brother is doing something one regards as _really evil_ that most people break or even risk the breaking of their relationship with him.

Steve Perry said...

"Die, whitey, die ... !?"

Wm. Golding got it right ...

Mike Ralls said...

Also, while I am firmly in the camp of the Civil War being one of the few clear cases of "Good Guys vs Bad Guys" in history, I also think it's very easy to demand more of the past then we demand in our present.

The cost of a war in the far past was born by people we never knew and can never know except by the records they've left behind which is but a bag of bones compared to a real living breathing person.

The Civil War was horrendously expensive to America. If we translate the per-capita costs to the modern day, it would cost;

6,200,000 dead American soldiers.
5,000,000 more wounded, many crippled for life.
And probably somewhere around $26 Trillion dollars in prosecuting the war, and maybe $13 Trillion in damage to America in terms of burned houses, businesses, infrastructure, etc.

Could we stop every single genocide in the world for less than that? Probably. Probably for a lot less. But we don't try to stop all genocide in the world because ultimately we value our lives and our treasure more than that of others and we like our peace and prosperity more than we hate genocide. But we feel free to demand more of the past than we demand of ourselves.

Charles said...

Also, while I am firmly in the camp of the Civil War being one of the few clear cases of "Good Guys vs Bad Guys" in history, I also think it's very easy to demand more of the past then we demand in our present.

That I don't agree with. I don't really look at the majority of Southerners in the Civil War as 'bad guys', just as I don't look at the majority of Germans fighting in WWII as 'bad guys'. Were there bad guys? Yes. But leading the unwashed masses astray and causing bad feelings towards a group as a whole did not start with the Wahabbis...

Mike Ralls said...

>I don't look at the majority of Germans fighting in WWII as 'bad guys'<

I do. Let's say "Bob" is kind to his family and friends, a pillar of his community, and willing to sacrifice his life for his side. But if Bob is fighting on the side of the Nazis he is one of the bad guys. Once that side is defeated and crushed if Bob survived and if he didn't commit any atrocities himself and no longer tries to advance the side of darkness, it's best to let bygones be bygones and Bob no longer needs to, currently, be considered a bad guy. But he used to be. While the fight wass going on, Bob was evil and should be killed with no more regret than the elimination of a smallpox virus.

Most German soldiers were not fighting with the thoughts of exterminating as many Jews as they could find throughout Europe . But some of them were and that was the end result of their collective initially successful fighting. Consequences _count_. Same-same with Reb soldiers. It's only different in that a vastly higher % of them agreed that slavery was just and proper and right and should be illegal than Germans believed Jews should be exterminated.

Mike Ralls said...

Besides the slavery issue, every single southern soldier of the Civil War was also a rebel and a traitor against the Republic. Which is an evil in and of itself, and traditionally punishable by death.

It was politically impossible to do so, but if every single southern soldier who fought for the CSA (about 100,000 fought for the Union, remember) from Bobby Lee to the lowest private had been hanged from the neck until dead, it would have been perfectly legal. No different than the execution of Timothy McVey.

Steve Perry said...

Must be nice to be able to separate things into black and white with no shades of gray, hey, Mike?

My dictionary defines evil as "profoundly immoral and malevolent."

Being a traitor -- like, say, the colonials were to the British, circa 1776, automatically makes someone "evil?"

Only if you lose.

If you want to apply that to enemies, that's your right, but you'll excuse me if I am unconvinced that your argument has any merit.

Actually, I don't believe it has any merit whatsoever. It's the standard military demonization of the guys in the other trench, and long considered necessary to make sure your troops shoot instead of reconsidering the notion that the other guy has a family, friends, and a dog, too.

There are certainly criminal, even evil soldiers on every side of every conflict, to be sure, but that broad brush you use slops onto plenty who fight for what they considered valid and just reasons.

You are wrong about the Germans, wrong about the Confederates and, I suspect, wrong about anybody else you hold up as part of the axis of evil.

I'm really glad you aren't in charge of things.

Mike Ralls said...

>Must be nice to be able to separate things into black and white with no shades of gray, hey, Mike?<

In an imperfect world, everything is gray to some degree, but some things are so close to black and white that it's really pedantic to treat them as not.

> Being a traitor -- like, say, the colonials were to the British, circa 1776, automatically makes someone "evil?"<

If you'll note, I specifically said "traitor against the Republic." Context matters. Not all governments are created equal. German Jews in 1942 who were working with the Allies were technically traitors to Nazi Germany, but they weren't evil.

The main difference in the specific comparison you brought up is that the colonists did not have any power or representatives in parliament. The South, by contrast, dominated Congress and the Presidency for most of the first 80 years of the Republic and then turned traitor the first time they got someone they _really_ disliked as President.

> Only if you lose.

And the South did lose. So therefore it stands that we are in agreement that they were rebels and traitors. I'm so glad you saw reason.

> reconsidering the notion that the other guy has a family, friends, and a dog, too.<

I don't see why that notion should be an impediment to killing someone evil. Evil people have family, friends, and a dog. This is some big revelation?

>plenty who fight for what they considered valid and just reasons.<

Timothy McVey had what he considered valid and just reasons. Do you give a crap? I don't. Dude was evil. I don't have a problem with the E-word, even if many people do.

>You are wrong about the Germans, wrong about the Confederates and, I suspect, wrong about anybody else you hold up as part of the axis of evil.<

Actually, you are wrong about the Germans, wrong about the Confederates and, I suspect, wrong about anybody else who is part of what Bush called the axis of evil. Now did that convince you that you are wrong? It should, because I said you were wrong, and that is a most convincng argument, isn't it?

> I'm really glad you aren't in charge of things.<

Right back at ya.

And I'm glad I'm not in charge of things either. Wouldn't want the job.

But incidentally, if I had to take the job of Grand Dictator of the Republic in 1865 for some reason, I wouldn't have had all the reb soldiers executed. It just wouldn't be in the long term interests of the country. This would be unjust, but life often is.

Likewise, and for similar reasons, plenty of Iraqi's who have killed Americans or killed allied Iraqi's are going to get a free pass for doing so. This is wrong, but I learned that life is not fair and that we have to do the best we can with what we have when I was about 7 years old.

Steve Perry said...

I see. So in a just world, if you get into a war, the enemy is ipso facto evil, and come the end -- if you win -- you can hang them all.

Got it.

You have any idea how this sounds to those of us who are, you know, sane?

Mike Ralls said...

>So in a just world, if you get into a war, the enemy is ipso facto evil,<

I said that the Nazi's and the South were evil. How you jump from that to all enemies are evil is beyond me. You seem to me to have a reading comprehension problem. That seems odd for someone in your profession, but the world is filled with many odd things.

> and come the end -- if you win -- you can hang them all.<

Again, your jump in logic do not fit the text I have written. In most cultures and most times, including our own culture and our present day, people engaged in treason and rebellion against a state are treated much differently from soldiers of other countries engaged in war against that same state. Execution is not an uncommon punishment. Were you seriously not aware of this?

>You have any idea how this sounds to those of us who are, you know, sane?<

For the record, here is the current law code as it stands today;

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/2381.html

§ 2381. Treason
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
--
Apparently "sane" (defined by you as opposing the death penalty for treason - a very odd definition of sanity which I have never before heard) people like yourself haven't been able to reflect your sanity in the law of the land. Odd that.

Steve Perry said...

That the law of the land is more nutso than Aunt Annabelle's Christmas fruitcake ought not to surprise anybody.

Look around.

And aren't you the guy who is pro-war?

And for the the record, the South, honey chile, was not evil. If I recall my history correctly, and we roll back the clock a few years the North had plenty of slaves.

As did every other "civilized" country on the planet. Slavery is evil, but if you are a reformed smoker, you can't get too much holier than thou.

The Nazis were bad guys, sure. But a lot of German soldiers a) weren't Nazis and b) were just following orders -- much as American soldiers in Iraq are just following orders. If Hans was evil, then G.I. Joe is, too. I don't see it. You haven't made the case. Your separation of "good guys versus bad guys" is specious. It isn't that simple.

Believing that it's that simple gave us Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, who thought they were the Earp brothers going to clean up Tombstone.

Look how well that worked out.

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