A needful task
The question has been raised as to why we should study the causes of the War of Secession. After all, aren’t most folks really only interested in the people and events of that War? Indeed, most of those interested in the subject know (or think they know) pretty much what the war was all about and certainly, who won. Can’t we just enjoy learning about the great heroes and awesome events and let the matters of blame and cause “rest in peace” so to speak? As has so often been said, can’t we just “get over it?” Ah ~ but can we realistically do that? Is it desirable? Is it even possible?
During World War II, there were two men – Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto - who, taken as individuals, were of honorable and noble character as well as being possessed of great military genius. Both were extremely successful warriors—for a while. Both were eventually overcome by sheer strength and numbers rather than any strategic defects on their parts. Finally, both served on “the losing side”. But for the sake of the question posed at the beginning of this article, we must ask, who now celebrates them? Does there exist a General Erwin Rommel Society or an Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Society either in America or elsewhere? Perhaps they do—somewhere—but I tend to doubt it. Why? Because the cause for which these personally noble and supremely gifted men fought is justly considered unworthy of celebration or commemoration. Their faultless service to that cause is seen as a blemish on their characters rather than actions to be praised and glorified. Their military achievements are considered actions intended to advance an inhuman tyranny and therefore, the more brilliant their military service, the more condemnation obtains for that very reason. For the soldier cannot be separated from the cause for which he fights no matter the nature of his own personal life or professional abilities. Certainly there is more sympathy and respect, historically, for Rommel and Yamamoto than for other Axis military figures because of who and what they were as men, but neither can escape the wicked nature of the cause for which they spilt their blood or the stain that cause cast upon their memories.
Ah, but one might ask, what has that to do with the great men of the Confederacy? Everything! Consider the present ongoing, relentless and all-pervading assault on Southern history and heritage. The cause for which men like Lee, Jackson, Stuart and Semmes fought and for which Jackson and Stuart died, is being implacably, irresistibly and irrevocably reduced to the same moral level as the cause for which Rommel and Yamamoto fought and died. Furthermore, this assault proceeds from every cultural and establishment institution and across political and ideological spectrums. Members of both political parties either condemn the cause of Southern independence or remain mute in the face of every calumny brought against it while this new war—every bit as violent, hateful and bitter as the first—only becomes more brutal and unforgiving with each passing year.
Gone are the days of “the Grand Bargain” in which the South was honored for its cause while admitting, however, that it was for the best that that cause was lost. Gone is respect for Southern heroes, Southern values and Southern culture. Gone is the acknowledged right of Southerners to display their symbols while others look on with respect or, at the very least, tolerance. Left unchallenged, very soon indeed the cause of Lee and his comrades in arms will be as hateful and despised as the cause of Rommel and Yamamoto! Indeed, the only way to prevent such a travesty of justice is to educate people to those facts and truths of history which are at present being denied them. For a perceived “noble cause” will ennoble atrocities committed in its name—Sherman’s March, Sheridan’s Desolation of the Shenandoah—while a perceived “wicked cause” will debase even the most noble men who supported and sustained it. But the cause of Lee and the rest, was the cause for which the Founders and those of their time fought: individual liberty and limited government deriving its power from the consent of the governed. This is a cause that deserves the respect of all true Americans whether or not it prevailed on the battlefield.