Search This Blog

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Do You Want to Understand the Past? Examine the Witnesses!

Investigators know that if they interview ten witnesses to an event they are likely to get ten different reports. Figuring out what really happened requires sifting through the data and finding the agreements, determining who are the most credible witnesses, etc. To arrive at an accurate picture of an event is not so easy as evaluating one testimony or one photograph and extrapolating from that to the big picture. That's how dishonest historians evaluate the past. Honest historians study the big picture.

And that's how it is with understanding the Civil War, or as one book is titled, The War Between the States: America's Uncivil War by John J. Dwyer and other contributors. A broad and deep study is necessary. I've just begun the book, but I'm already impressed by the author's approach and common sense. He speaks of the war as a "Fifty Years' War" that involved numerous factors: economic, religious, regional. Slavery was one issue among many, a factor yes, but not necessarily the most fundamental.

I found this in the introduction particularly interesting:

Nearly always overlooked in mainstream academic examinations of the War are the disparate religious and worldview perspectives held by large masses of the Northern and Southern sections prior to the War. In many ways, on many levels, these foundational differences contributed to the discord that did not end even with the conclusion of the shooting war. People and Nations are always directed by their theological beliefs, whether they realize so or not.... we examine what these were in antebellum America and how they guided the people's actions.
Alexis de Tocqueville who wrote Democracy in America in 1830 alluded to this obliquely when he wrote:
In that part of the Union where the Negroes are no longer slaves, have they become closer to the whites? Everyone who has lived in the United States will have noticed just the opposite. Race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known. 
In the South, where slavery still exists, less trouble is taken to keep the Negro apart: they sometimes share the labors and the pleasures of the white men; people are prepared to mix with them to some extent; legislation is more harsh against them, but customs are more tolerant and gentle.
Apparently many blacks agree. For several generations more and more blacks have migrated south, either returning "home" or because they find the South "more hospitable" as famous actor Morgan Freeman did. His solution to racism is "Stop talking about it."

One observation any honest person has to see is that Barack Obama made racism in this country worse. The constant harping that we are still racist (interesting that a vicious, racist country would elect a black president) and Obama's deliberate stirring up of specific incidents to exacerbate racial conflict was disgraceful. Eight years of Obama gave us more racial tension in this country than we've experienced since the Civil War.

It's time to study the past so we can understand the present. As I read Dwyer's book, I'll be reporting on the witnesses, especially those who were eye witnesses to the events leading up to the armed conflict. It's time to drop the simplistic meme of the evil South and the saintly North -- because it isn't true. Slavery was horrible, but the war that ended it was also horrible and it created some of the problems we still experience today.

In evaluating history a little skepticism toward the "experts" is a good thing. The dearth of honest reporters may only be matched by the dearth of honest historians. Remember the slogan, "Consider the source," and apply when you study any issue. Those who are honestly searching for the truth are the only ones worth listening to.


Susan said...

Thank you so much for bringing this to light! I, too, have been frustrated by the Civil-War-all-about-slavery lie. Just reading the Emancipation Proclamation proves that's not the case. I like Dinesh de Souza, but his portrayal of the history of the CW does not tell the whole truth by a long shot. We need more information like what you're providing to get the word out about the whole historical truth.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

I'll definitely be posting more as I read. This book is amazing! I also have several diaries from both the North and South and plan to read those as well. Primary sources tell the story better than some of the dishonest historians who like to drop inconvenient facts down the memory hole. Stonewall Jackson's letters to his wife Anna are wonderful.