Gods and Generals and Political Correctness

This weekend I went to see God and Generals, which is based on the book of the same name by Jeff Shaara. Overall, the movie was okay, the battle scenes were pretty well done, though both the Union and the Confederacy had men that died roughly 20 times each. That is, you kept seeing the same actors die over and over during the battle scenes. That’s not what this is about though.

The book, which is excellent by the way, chronicles the beginnings of the Civil War from the point of view of several key figures, including Jackson, Lee, Hancock, Chamberlain, and others. It explores each man’s belief in God and how that contrasts their experiences on the battlefield and with each other. A good, interesting read.

So why is it, I wonder, that the writer and/or director of the movie felt the need to put not one, not two, but three back stories in the film that not only did not appear in the book, but have nothing to do with the book whatsoever?

The first back story is the interaction between Jackson and his black cook. It is beyond me why the writers believed that a Civil War general, certainly a man of his time, would see fit to stand under the stars and listen to a black man pray about slavery, quote scripture, and in general hang out with a cook. Never mind that the cook is black, I find it hard to believe Jackson had deep and meaningful conversations with any of the cooks in his camp.

The second back-story is about a black maid who stays behind in Fredericksburg when the Union troops attack the town while the white folks run for it. She is, of course, tremendously noble, and feels sorrow for both the Northern and Southern troops. She is also apparently capable of passing herself off as a free woman who owns a huge house in downtown Fredericksburg during the 1860’s.

The third is about the fighting on the front line between Meagher’s Irish brigade and the Irish soldiers on the Southern side. All I can say is that it’s remarkably cheesy and overdone.

The stories about the slaves are handled in about the most ham-handed, moralizing way possible. And my question is: What’s the point? Why add this to the story? Just to appease the inevitable shouts about racism if there were no major parts for black actors? To ensure that everyone watching equates the Civil War to the question of slavery? It seems to me that the producers simply wanted to make sure that the movie was as politically correct as they could make it?

There is no reason for them to do so. The story was not about slaves, slavery, or the interaction between slaves and military men. It was about generals, particularly Southern generals, during the Civil War, and their relationship to God and to each other. Instead the entire focus of the story in the book shifts focus to slavery.

What do other Dopers think? Has political correctness gone to far when you change the entire thrust of a project to accommodate the sensibilities of a few? Or am I just an uber-fan of the book that was very disappointed with the movie and therefore am nitpicking? I can say this: Were I Jeff Shaara, I’d be one pissed off puppy when I went to see the movie.

The entire treatment of Southern generals in the Shaara books smacks of whitewash; it’s hardly surprising the whitewash (no pun intended) extends into the movies, even if in different ways.

Hero worship of Southern generals, especially Lee, is something of an American tradition. You hardly ever hear anyone admit that Lee was a traitor and a war criminal who allowed black prisoners of war to be murdered by the hundreds; instead, he’s sort of been elevated to the position of Saint Robert Of Hazzard County.

What you saw in the movie was the 2003 version of the same whitewash that’s been happening for 140 years; the difference is that today, you can’t get away with just portraying them as brave war heroes, you have to pretend they liked black folks.

I have my own theory behind Gods and Generals. that it was a very subtle attack on religion. Stonewall Jackson was portrayed as an exemplary gentleman man, a brave general, devoted husband, lover of children and not a racist. But more than anything a deeply religious man who believed that God was on their side and would grant the South victory. Well, we all know how wrong that turned out to be, we didn’t need the movie to tell us that. But if Jackson had been portrayed with character flaws, certain targeted members of the audience would be able to distance themselves from him, saying, “I’m not like that; he’s just using religion as a cover”. His one true flaw was his religion–in all it’s sincereity–the same religion that so many adhere to today.

I’ve read several bios of Jackson (he’s a fascinating character, at least to me).

It’s clear that he was religious. Extremely, fanatically, insanely religious.

He was also a racist, there’s no doubt about that. He firmly believed that the ‘black race’ was best served by remaining subservient to ‘whites’, God help us.

This site is more than a little apologist (OK, a lot):

But it does contain the fact that Jackson considered teaching the gospel to blacks to be his duty as a christian.

A weird and interesting character. To try to get inside his head once I tried to eat straight lemons like he did. Good God I couldn’t do it.

Well, look at it this way. Movies about the Civil war play best in that area of the nation that still call it “The War for Northern Aggression”. And Civil war books sell better there, also. The Civil war is big business down South. Look how some states insist on using the rebel flag as part of their “history”, even though that era was 5 years of a 225 year history (note they they don’t also want the Union Jack as part of their flag, even though they were under that flag far longer than the “stars & bars”).

So, Civil war books & films tend to be “Southern apologist”, and treat the Generals as chivalrous knights on horseback, and the slaves as “happy darkies”- even Shelby Foote is guilty of this. Now, sure- some few slaves likely did support the Southern cause, and as much as I’d hate to admit it- some very few were happy being slaves (there are always some humans that will give up freedoms for security, and under a “good, kind Master” those kind of people might be happy). And some Rebel Officers did try to act chivalrous.

But- the South left to Union to preserve Slavery. We tend to try to forget that, and many history re-writers like to minimize that, or hide it. And, since the Northern position was initially NOT a “great crusade against slavery”, but was simply to re-unite the Union- with or without slavery- some point can be made the War was not really about Slavery- and that’s true. The WAR was mostly about the North trying to re-unite the Union. The SECESSION was almost entirely about Slavery.

I know, I know- some history books say it was about “States rights”- and in a way it was- about the “rights of States to have slaves”. Indeed the South was not a huge supporter of “States Rights”- they sued successfully that other States could not make laws that protected run-away slaves. If they were so “het up” about States rights, they’d have conceded that the other states have the right to treats slavery in their borders as they wished. I could go on, but the South wasn’t so big on “States rights”- it was Slavery that was THE issue.

So- those “noble knights in Grey” were fighting for institutionalized Slavery- that Blacks were rightfully & legally, and under God’s will- Slaves & inferior beings. The only way you could beleive this is be the worst kind of racist.

Just to make a slight lemon hijack, in Stonewall Jackson’s time there was much greater variety of lemons commonly available. So it’s possible he would’ve been eating lemons that were less sour than the lemons in our local groceries.

Source: The Cause Lost by W. C. Davis

Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Washington aren’t considered traitors. It might have been because they openly declared their alliegence was not with the throne. Arnold on the other hand is recognized as a traitor on both sides of the ocean. It might have been because he was deceitful.

The worship of southern generals probably arose because many of them were excellent tacticians/strategist, they had the love of those who served under them, and they had the respect of their enemies. Let’s not forget our habit of ignoring the flaws of our leaders, our love for the underdog, and a false idea of what the antebellum south was.


>So- those “noble knights in Grey” were fighting for institutionalized Slavery<

No, they were fighting for their right to self-government. This was not an army of wealthy, plantation owners. Most of them didn’t even have shoes or a uniform.


I’ve lived in Texas and Arkansas and the only people who call it “The War of Northern Aggression” say it with a chuckle. Most people just call it the Civil War.


The Union Jack isn’t exactly a symbol of self-assertion or independence whereas the stars & bars certainly are. Even today the stars & bars elicite strong reactions from many people while the Union Jack doesn’t. Let’s also consider that the events during those 5 years played an important role in shaping the south for over a century.


I’m not sure if this is a result of the war being big business in the south. We’ve elevated plenty of our leaders to mythical proportions and in the process ignored their flaws. Washington, Jefferson, Lee, Wilson, and Kennedy are a few I can think of off the top of my head.


Somehow I think you’ve taken something complicated and oversimplified it. You come from the perspective of someone living in a society where slavery is not the norm.

I’ve got no evidence that southern officers were any worse or better then their northern counterparts in the chivalry department.


Do you have a cite for Lee allowing any prisoners of war to be murdered? Not just blacks. You speak of Lee being a war criminal…what of Grant? Sherman? I suppose they were pious soldiers just doing their duty. Even if the duty was burning out civilians and shelling of civilians of southern towns.

Rickjay, are you sure you’re not talking about Forrest at Ft. Pillow?

Yeah, that’s what I thought of, too. And that would hang on Forrest, not Lee.

Especially since, at that time, Forrest wasn’t under Lee’s authority. (The only time he was, in fact, was near the end of the war, when Lee finally became C-in-C of the Confederate Army.)

There is even some controversy as to whether the “massacre” even occured at Fort Pillow. In the heat of battle many bad things happen.

I’ll freely state that Sherman was a racist and a murderer. Maybe Grant, too. But at least they weren’t traitors. I don’t care if they were pious or not, but Grant and Sherman are not what I was talking about, anyway. My position is that Robert E. Lee was a traitor, a murderer and a war criminal of the most odious sort. He may have been a good man at heart, for all I know, and certainly the evidence prior to 1861 and after 1865 suggests he was. But that doesn’t change what he did during the war.

As to the issue of black prisoners of war… well, I can’t say I’m surprised that some have never heard of it, it’s that ol’ whitewash again, pun intended this time. The murder of black Union soldiers in Confederate captivity was a routine and officially sanctioned occurrence in the Army of Northern Virginia. During the Petersburg campaign, Grant formally wrote to Lee asking Lee to treat Union soldiers equally irrespective of race. Lee refused to do so (although the matter of using prisoners in the construction of a canal was resolved) and continued to allow the murder and enslavement of black soldiers. As a result, Grant refused to continue the program of prisoner exchange.

Lee has become whitewashed as a hero, in my honest opinion, because some Southerners seem to insist on denying the fact that the Confederacy was an abomination created to support the greatest evil in the history of the United States. It’s hard, I suppose, to accept that the Civil War was fought to maintain so evil an institution as slavery, so a “oooh, they were pious men fighting for justice” malarkey has been created to disguise the truth, which is that the Confederacy and its armies were fighting a war to continue the enslavement of human beings. Anyone who hangs a Stars and Bars should be ashamed of themselves, and spare me the “oooh, it stands for our heritage” crap. It stands for an ugly and shameful period of history no right thinking person would be proud of.

I can’t begrudge Grant’s decision to pardon the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia - at the time it was the right thing to do, because the country needed to escape the bloodbath. But, in all honesty, Lee should have hanged.

You can’t produce a cite?

Grant ended prisoner exchange because he knew the South was getting low on manpower. He figured why send soldiers back to fight for the South again. Not because of killing black POW’s.

You really do need to study your history a bit more.


Well, here’s an order of Jefferson Davis regarding treatment of captured black soldiers and the troops that command them (bolding mine):


But yeah, the prisoner exchange does seem to have been halted on practical rather than humanitarian grounds.

Rickjay, I agree with you. Lee and the rest of them were traitors, who, because of their actions, plunged the country into some of the worst tragedy it’s ever seen.

Or, as Thad Stevens put it, better than I could:

It should be noted that this page is on a website maintained by a Holocaust revisionist organization, the Institute for Historical Review. Take it with a grain of salt.