Letters: Jan. 26, 2023


Praise for Dave Anderson

Thanks, Dave [Anderson]! I suspect you had to be a historian, or anyway teach U.S. history at some level, in some decade, to fully appreciate the passions, struggles and sometimes the pure nuttiness of the discussion of the U.S. Civil War era (Anderson Files, “Fake history of Civil War fuels MAGA,” Jan. 19, 2023). Or you had to have been awake in high school history class even when, as so often, U.S. history fell to the… football coach.

It was increasingly fascinating to me, decades after the 1960s, when major liberal historians, (e.g., Arthur Schlesinger Jr.), unfailingly devoted to Andrew Jackson and other such heroes of the Democratic Party, began to explain that slavery had been really, really awful but never unforgivable, because the U.S. economy could not have been built otherwise, and the U.S. was, after all, the exemplar to the world, the protector of the 20th century world, and so on. By the 1980s, Schlesinger and even such past stalwarts of liberal histories of the South as C. Vann Woodward, raged in the pages of the The New Republic against “revisionism,” “divisive history,” “history without central narratives” of American freedom ever advancing, etc.

The MAGA folks today have taken up the charges, in their nutball way, but they have plenty of backing in the backlash against 1619, liberal to conservative, and a new battle front in the centuries-long confrontation of Europeans and Indigenous folks.

Paul Buhle, Providence, Rhode Island

Criticism for Dave Anderson

As much as I usually love Dave Anderson’s columns, his latest, about the Civil War, could have been better (Anderson Files, “Fake history of Civil War fuels MAGA,” Jan. 19, 2023). 

I’d like to offer some facts that Dave at least kind of left out. 

In recent years I have frequently gotten the impression that a lot of Americans are confused about the Civil War. People think it was about states’ rights and not slavery and racism. In recent decades many people in the Republican Party who were either closet racists (or had been fooled by them) thought it was fine to have the Confederate flag displayed wherever people wanted to display it, including as part of state flags.

The Confederacy and its symbols were and are about slavery and racism. The Confederacy was not about state’s rights as some have claimed. Those who pushed for its creation complained that northern states had anti-slavery laws. At one point, the Confederacy’s leaders briefly considered ending slavery to get military support from Europe — support that probably would have resulted in victory against the Union. They decided to keep slavery, meaning that slavery was more important to them than independence from Washington D.C. And there was at least one incident where Black Union soldiers captured by the South were executed instead of being taken to POW camps as were the white Union soldiers.

When Donald Trump needed a new Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2018, the position was filled by Robert Wilkie, a man with a history of involvement with the neo-Confederate movement. In 2020, Trump passionately opposed re-naming military bases named after Confederate military leaders, including one responsible for the incident where Black POWs were executed. In 2017, Trump talked about the Civil War and said former President Andrew Jackson would have handled the slavery issue better than Lincoln did and the Civil War would have been avoided. Jackson was a passionate opponent of abolitionists and would have compromised with the South and slavery would have continued with (at most) minor changes to its geographic scope and/or life time and/or there may have been minor changes in how slaves were treated. Or he may have done absolutely nothing about slavery — if it were up to Donald Trump, slavery might still exist today.

As Dave said, the neo-Confederate view is part of the MAGA movement.

Tom Shelley/Boulder

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