Virginia's Governor: What's the Confederacy been up to lately?

If there’s been anything posted about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell declaring April “Confederate History Month,” I haven’t seen it.

(Washington Post link is free, but may require registration of an e-mail address)

The Governor immediately followed up his calculated-to-offend announcement (a bit of revisionist history which conspicuously did not mention slavery) with an apology the next day, which may or may not defuse the racial tensions he seems to have consciously courted.

I have strong feelings regarding the appropriateness of celebrating the Confederacy itself, but curiously, that’s not what I’m posting to complain about.

Instead, it’s this interesting bit of mental gymnastics that caught my eye:

Yeah. See, Bob, there’s a problem with that right there. It’s redundant. All the sacrifices made by Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens were made “during the period of the Civil War,” and for a pretty specific reason:

According to Mr. Lincoln’s theory, the existence of the Confederacy itself constituted an attempt to destroy the government of the United States, and caused a state of war to exist. Theoretically he could well have been wrong, but in practice, Mr. Lincoln’s idea was the one that counted. The moment the Confederacy started, the state of war started, although the shooting would wait for Sumter.

The Confederacy only existed during the war. It had no leaders, soldiers and citizens before the war; they were just Americans like those in the North. It had none after the war either – the war ended not with a peace treaty but with the official dissolution of the rebellion. The moment the Confederacy ceased to exist, the war ceased to exist (in theory…ignoring the messy reality of getting the word out and disarming the troops themselves). There were certainly sacrifices made by these people after the war, but they weren’t Confederates at the time.

I don’t think this is a simple semantic disagreement. I mean, I guess it could just be a thoughtless phrase, but it would vapidly stupid thing to say unless you’re trying to make a point, and I doubt he’d make such an important announcement without thinking about it in advance. I think the Governor, his speechwriters, and/or some pointy-hatted intellectuals somewhere are trying to imply something. Are they trying to suggest that there exists a “Confederacy” somewhere and, while it did some things during the war, it’s moved on to other things now? Like voting for Bob McDonnell?

If he just wanted to bring the word “war” into the conversation, why not say “sacrifices made by Virginians during the Civil War” and remind folks that everyone suffered?

“Confederacy” isn’t a legal term, but a state of mind these days. To “those people,” the cause transcends semantics. He was pandering to “those people.”

He’s an idiot.

That’s the War of Northern Aggression buddy!

Seriously all this “the south was right” states rights, civil war stuff is all over ultra-conservative sites. It’s amazing all these super patriots celebrate the dismantling of the country.

So … do I understand your thesis to be that because the proclamation said, “…understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War,” and because the Confederacy only existed during the war, we may be sure that the REAL message is that the Confederacy still exists?

No, I’m going to take the courageous position that you’re reaching a bit, here.

You’re assuming a whole lot of foresight, careful planning, sharp wordplay, and semantic trickery on the part of a guy who couldn’t figure out that Confederate Appreciation Month was a bad idea.

I’m no fan of Confederate History Month, or Governor McDonnell - but in all fairness, the extra passage that he added to his proclamation (following massive outcry) was a pretty strongly worded condemnation of slavery. Somewhat more interesting, it explicitly acknowledged that the war was about slavery, at least in part:

"WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history… "


I’m willing to believe that the Governor did a stupid thing that he now honestly recognizes was stupid. I can respect that. He’s doing plenty of other questionable things - his stance on gay rights, for example, is pretty bad - but I think he’s resolved this particular mess about as gracefully as he could.

Your courage is laudable. I know I may be reaching, nitpicking, making a semantic argument. But it’s just such an awkward thing to say. It’s equivalent to saying “let’s remember the sacrifices people made during their lives,” to distinguish them from those made when they were dead. The Confederacy only did things during its existence.

And on the broader picture, which will inevitably arise in this thread… what do you do when you have a bunch of intending-to-be honorable people who have made great sacrifices, performed with heroics, and served with honor a cause we now know to be morally wrong?

And the answer is: I don’t know for sure, but I have a strong feeling.

I know that you cannot impute our understanding of the wrongness of slavery to those people that lived in 1860. Guess what? They weren’t sensitive to women’s issues, either. They were positively neanderthal on gender identity issues, they weren’t LGBT-friendly, and they were shockingly blasé about carbon neutrality, too.

But trying to honor their very real sacrifices and bravery now comes with a price: it’s a slap in the face to the descendants of slaves. The evil we now know slavery to be resonates very strongly with today’s people that would have been slaves had they had the misfortune to live then.

In my view, giving that offense is worse than withholding that honor. So in short… yeah, I get it, the Confederacy had heroes and they acted with great honor. But since the cause they supported is one we now understand is one of grave evil, I think we ought to shut up about the honor and the heroism out of respect for the other feelings that those reminders must inevitably cause.

What bugs me is when people talk about honorable people and the Confederacy, they invariably talk of the Generals. I can understand a soldier in the Confederate army - Virginia or South Carolina or Florida meant a lot more to him than the United States, and while the government he was fighting for was reprehensible, lots of soldiers have fought gallantly and honorably for reprehensible regimes.

But when we look at Lee and Pickett and Jackson and their colleagues, we are talking about people who almost to the man attended West Point, swore an oath of allegiance to the United States, and served in the United States military. They then chose to break that oath, and to fight for a reprehensible regime. That doesn’t strike me as an honorable action, however charmingly they behaved to women and however dapper their uniforms were.

In front of the Old Courthouse in Loudoun County (Virginia), there is a statue dedicated to the confederate soldiers of our county who gave their lives in the Civil War. I have to admit that it squicked me out a bit when our wedding photographer wanted a dozen plus picures of Mr. LLCoolBJ and I in front of the statue.

I wonder if any parallel can be drawn with the German soldiers who gave their lives in WWII. I have travelled in Europe a bit, but not in Germany. Are there statues and tributes to the German soldiers who fought and died in WWII?


I don’t really know these guys’ biographies. But I can imagine that if I swore an oath of loyalty to someone, and then that person fundamentally betrayed me in some way, I might be justified in “betraying” my oath (if that’s even the right word). Is this how these guys saw themselves?

I also wanted to say maybe they saw themselves as the true defenders of the nation they swore an oath to, and saw the north as having ceased to be that nation. But I’ve always hesitated to say this, because it seems to me that if the CSA really saw itself as continuous with the nation founded in 1776, they would have insisted on calling themselves the USA, and would have claimed the Constitution as their founding document, even if they needed to heavily amend it or something.

Well, to fulfill other aspects of the inevitability, I’ll just go ahead and cast the opinion that sons of the confederacy should be (mildly?) ashamed of their roots and ancestors. History is full of people who “made great sacrifices, performed with heroics, and served with honor” for despicable causes. While time does heal and dampen the spirit of the malignancy, the racial history of Virginia and the essence of the Confederacy has not yet transcended the evil of its existence.

Yes, there is plenty of nuance, and yes, no heroes are entirely clean and look at that, there is hypocrisy in the celebration of all sorts of celebrated figures and historical events. But venerating those who fought for the destruction of the union and the continuation of slavery is absurd.

I don’t give a rat’s ass to be honest how they saw themselves. Breaking the oath isn’t always wrong - Stauffenberg as a member of the German military presumably swore an oath of allegiance to Hitler. Breaking that oath was a good thing. But to break an oath, in order to defend a reprehensible regime strikes me as somewhat worse than simply defending a reprehensible regime.

The complaint in the OP strikes me as semantic nit-picking that should be subordinate to the issue of having an official government proclamation calling for recognition of Confederate sacrifices.

If the Daughters of the Confederacy want to don their crinolines and pine for the good ol’ days, or the South’s Gonna Do It Again 351st Brigade of Confederate Wannabes play dress-up to try to defeat Union re-enactors, O.Kkk.

Government needs to stop appeasing the Confederate glorifiers and historical revisionists. At least Virginia’s governor had the sense to backpedal after his idiotic proclamation.

There are. But it gets messy when government officials get into the act, as when German leaders and Pres. Ronald Reagan visited Bitburg, home to a cemetery for SS troops - which led to the following classic statement by Reagan:

“These [SS troops] were the villains, as we know, that conducted the persecutions and all. But there are 2,000 graves there, and most of those, the average age is about 18. I think that there’s nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery where those young men are victims of Nazism also, even though they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps (bolding added, with suitable disbelief)

Long before he was elected, Virginia’s Senator Jim Webb gave a speech at the Confederate Memorial in which he essentially lauded the valor of the Confederate soldiers. It’s reprinted on one of his websites, and here’s an excerpt:

This was never made an issue during his run for the Senate, which I found a bit surprising.

I don’t think you’re reaching. People often conflate the antebellum south with the Confederacy, as if there was no culture or history worth appreciating prior to the War. The south up to that point had been around for almost a century (and only if we start the clock at 1776), but it’s weird that almost all the celebrated “heroes” came out of a period of a few measly years.

I think the governor’s proclamation perpuates this conflation. To emphasize the sacrifice of the Confederates is to imply that the Confederacy is indistinguishable from the South. Ultimately, it not only reinforces the idea that the South is completely defined by its opposition to the North (this is an idea that seems to be embraced by both Confederate apologists and anti-southerners, ironically), but is also a way of treating black southerners (and/or their ancestors) as a non-entity in a history that has much if not more to do with them than any member of the Son or Daughter of the Confederacy walking around today.

This doesn’t even address the idiotic brazenness of imploring descendants of slaves (presumably, the Governor realizes that almost 20% of the population are black) “to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” Don’t get me wrong, I feel sorry for all the people who were unwillingly drafted into fighting just so that a bunch of rich white men could keep up their concubines and cash flow, but my pity stops there. The sacrifices made by the Confederate leaders weren’t sacrifices at all. They were fighting for their own evil self-interests.

I don’t find that excerpt offensive. It honors soldiers for doing their duty, for unquestioningly doing what was asked of them by leaders, whether the leaders were right or wrong.

Besides, if someone perceived it as racist, or apologist for the confederacy, are they really going to go vote for George Allen?

Couple of points.

First, are you a Democrat? And if you are, are you mildly ashamed of your party’s roots - especially with regard to slavery? I don’t think you need to be - I’m just examining your thinking here.

Secondly, I’m of the view that we have to take ownership of the whole of history, good and bad. As such, my preference would have been for a Civil War History Month - that seems more inclusive.

After all, nobody in my family were living in this country (that I know of) during the Civil War - they arrived from Wales in the late-1860s and from Italy around WWI. When they arrived, they settled in Pennsylvania. I relocated to Virginia permanently in 1998 - before that I had been stationed here in the Navy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have ownership of and admiration for the history here - this belongs to everyone. And yes - I am appalled by certain things as well. But I don’t feel the need to apologize for that which I cannot control.

You know what I just can’t stand about Adolf Hitler?

Look, “Aryan” is a concept applying to languages, specifically those of Indo-European or Indo-Iranian descent, not people. Man, Hitler was just such an arsehole because his use of that word makes no sense at all. Sure, it COULD just be a careless forgetfulness in mixing up entirely different concepts, but I really can’t believe Hitler didn’t have some kind of ulterior motive for saying things like that. It just makes me so MAAAAD! :mad: So I’m pitting him.

Some people try to pay tribute to bad historical causes out of a sense of persecution, other people try to learn from history. April is not Sweatshop History Month in New York.

I don’t know if this is mental gymnastics. It seems like more of a nitpick. However I found something more interesting: to my eyes, “the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens” excludes slaves. So this month, McDonnell wants people to consider the sacrifices Virginians made during the war, but that doesn’t extend to the hardships endured by slaves at that time. Maybe that’s covered by Black History Month and he didn’t want them to get double-counted. :stuck_out_tongue:

Incidentally, the two previous Republican governors of Virginia (George “Macaca” Allen and Jim Gilmore) issued similar Confederate History Month proclamations during their eight years. Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine did not do this. And I’m going to guess Douglas Wilder didn’t do it before Allen…

I disagree. There’s no reason to be ashamed of something you didn’t do yourself.

However none of the nitpicks take away from the fact that honoring the Confederacy (or having the ‘anti-MLK’ Lee/Jackson Day and so on) is moronic and disgusting, and the fact that McDonnell didn’t see fit to mention slavery in his original statement underscores the amount of bullshit and denial involved.

It may be wrong to hold people from 150 years ago to modern understandings. But plenty of people in 1860 knew slavery was wrong.