Yes, There Are "Sides" In Historical Interpretation
Old Virginia BlogFrom Free North Carolina
*Kevin Levin recently dismissed a poster on his blog who suggested there were "sides" in the varying views on the Confederate Battle Flag. You gotta be kidding me. Kevin even referred to "the losing side" in the post that preceded the comments and acknowledged there are "pro-flag forces". Where I'm from, we'd call that a contradiction. Perhaps Kevin just misspoke. But with academic historians constantly on the lookout for the neo-Confederate boogie man waving a Confederate flag, how can they deny the very divisiveness they've been instrumental in creating and fomenting? Virginia Senator James Webb alluded to this agenda-serving divisiveness in his excellent book on the history of the Scots-Irish in America, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America:. . . dishonest or misinformed advocates among political interest groups and in academia attempt to twist yesterday's America into a fantasy that might better serve the political issues of today. The greatest disservice on this count has been the attempt by these revisionist politicians and academics to defame the entire Confederate Army in a move that can only be termed the Nazification of the Confederacy. Often cloaked in the argument over the public display of the Confederate battle flag, the syllogism goes something like this: Slavery was evil. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought for a system that wished to preserve it. Therefore they were evil as well, and any attempt to honor their service is a veiled effort to glorify the cause of slavery. (Pages 207-208.)Webb continues:This blatant use of the "race card" in order to inflame their political and academic constituencies is a tired, seemingly endless game that is itself perhaps the greatest legacy of the Civil War's aftermath. But in this case it dishonors hundreds of thousands of men who can defend themselves only through the voices of the descendants. (Page 208.)I am one of those voices.And, in light of all this, consider this observation I recently came across at the History News Network:Historians, like everyone else, have their own political views. But these used to be kept separate from the scholarly role, which was to interpret and explain the past . . . With each passing year, the American historians have become more and more marginalized, and more irrelevant to anyone seeking insight about our nation's past. A few decades ago, the left wing was a small group, welcomed to participate by the mainstream historians in the profession, but unable to impose their will on a majority of sane historians. Today, they control the profession, and their two major associations have become almost indistinguishable from the organizations of the far Left.Many academic historians in the blogosphere have gone to great lengths to poo-poo any notion that such bias and agenda-driven and/or politically motivated historical interpretation exists to any serious extent in the academy, i.e.: "They're aren't really sides in historical interpretation, just objective observation." Right. Just how naive do they really think informed readers are? Yet some academic historians will, on occasion, confirm the existance of this politically driven bias, though not necessarily on purpose. Noted Civil War historian David Blight did that very thing (in my opinion) in a 2010 essay about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month proclamation. I posted some thoughts on that whole episode before. You can read them here. While I'm not going to belabor my criticisms of Blight's piece, one comment of his stands out:Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history?Blight, who "as a historian" publicly endorsed Barack Obama for President, appears to be unable to hide what is really bugging him about "the Confederacy" - its conservatism. Blight continues this pattern of using Civil War history to rant against conservatism in another recent essay which you can read here. One can see, in both of Blight's articles, textbook examples of what Webb refers to in the excerpts quoted above. Webb's critique and summation is quite accurate, is it not?
Back to Kevin's post. Kevin also dismisses another poster as having no credibility for noting that Marxist influence is rampant in academia and that this influences historical perspective - despite the fact this is a widely acknowledged fact by those who aren't a.) afraid to speak out, b.) complicit.Noted Southern historian, Eugene D. Genovese points out both the existance of "sides" in historical interpretation as well as the influence of leftist ideology in his book, The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Cultural War:. . . American history has largely become a plaything for canting ideologues . . . Our times call for a correct ideological line, which at its increasingly popular extreme regards the Old South as a rehearsal for Nazi Germany and calls for eradication of all traces of the conservative voices that have loomed so large in Southern history. And in our leading professional associations and their journals and in the classrooms of our most prestigious colleges and universities the correct line prevails. (Page 25.)I rest my case, though I doubt I changed anyone's mind - at least anyone willing to admit it.*This post is not meant to single out Kevin Levin. His recent post simply presented an opportunity for me to express some thoughts that have been on my mind lately. Kevin is a rather easy target due to the simple fact that he's quite prolific in blogging. When you write a lot, as Kevin does, you obviously expose yourself to an increased amount of scrutiny and criticism. I read Kevin's blog frequently and have learned from it, though I rarely agree with his perspective.