Were Confederates the Moral Equivalent of Nazis?

Well, are they?

The subject of the Civil War and modern “Confederate apologists” or “neo-Confederates” has come up in several threads in the past few weeks, most recently in the thread about John Ashcroft and the thread about the Georgia flag.

In these discussions, the Confederate battle flag regularly draws comparisons to the Nazi swastika, and Confederate generals like Nathan Bedford Forrest get called “storm troopers” or worse.

Also, anyone who dares to take the position that Confederates were not evil incarnate gets branded a “Confederate apologist,” (with that phrase being used in such a way as to imply that crypto-racism is afoot).

This debate has several parts, I suppose:[ol][li]Does the comparison between Nazis and Confederates hold? I say it does not. I say there is a wide gulf between enslavement of Africans and the attempted extermination of the Jews. Both are evil, but are they equally evil?[/li][li]Is there some deep psychological need to make Confederates seem more one-dimensionally evil than they actually were, or, conversely, were Confederates truly Satan’s minions?[/li][li]Is anyone who sticks up for their Confederate ancestors a crypto-racist?[/li][li]Should all monuments to Confederate leaders be torn down? (I have a feeling that this is going to become a big issue just as soon as the Confederate flag gets removed from all of the state capitols.)[/ol][/li]

  1. I think the biggest problem in comparing the two is that national socialism was an ideology, while the confederacy was not. Supporters of the confederacy included those opposed to slavery, for example. As such, it is difficult if not impossible to compare comparative evils.

  2. I don’t know about “deep psychological need”, but I can certainly see (and understand) people who refuse to distinguish between the motivations of various members of the Confederacy. This gets into a much more complex issue of whether supporting a bad cause for personally good (or neutral) reasons is evil. It’s a hard question, so it’s easier to ignore it.

  3. No. Some are, some aren’t. BTW, I don’t believe that “crypto-racists” exist. Either you are racist or you are not.

  4. No idea.


The way I see it, Nazism was less of an ideology and more of an excuse.

I suspect the turning point for the movement to eradicate the memory of the Confederacy will be the carving of Davis, Lee and Jefferson on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Look for it some time in the next several years.

The main motivation for all this, of course, is that the left wants to impose its views about the Civil War on everyone else.

When I have more time, and get my thoughts more organized, I’ll come back here and input my transplanted-Yankee take on things (some of which I already posted in the Georgia Flag thread). In summary, I don’t think the Confederates were “evil” or “bad.” I do think they were wrong, and I think that most non-apologist Southerners (e.g. spoke-, xenophon, Ivorybill) will agree with me there.

*Originally posted by spoke- *

This debate has several parts, I suppose:[li]Does the comparison between Nazis and Confederates hold? I say it does not. I say there is a wide gulf between enslavement of Africans and the attempted extermination of the Jews. Both are evil, but are they equally evil?[/li][/QUOTE]

You left out the part about the Confederates failure to make plans for a “master race” by exterminating most of the people (including gays and Gypsies, in the Nazi’s case) who they didn’t want in the gene pool (not to say Confederates weren’t racists; hunt me down more than a few non-racists for both sides from that period). You also left out the part about the Confederates failure to attempt to build an empire by conquest of their neighbor’s territory (most would say they fought to preserve slavery, but to do so, we’ll agree, they fought to secede, not to take over, the North). I, for one, agree with you spoke-; not comparable to the Nazis.

[li]Is there some deep psychological need to make Confederates seem more one-dimensionally evil than they actually were, or, conversely, were Confederates truly Satan’s minions?[/li][/quote]

I see your point, especially based on replies to prior threads. I’ll make a sweeping generalization, based on human nature: it’s better to be wearing the “white hat” when the day is over. Of course, if you get to write the history books, that’s easier to do.

[li]Is anyone who sticks up for their Confederate ancestors a crypto-racist?[/li][/quote]

Depends on what you mean by “sticks up for.” If you mean totally absolving them of all responsibility for their misguided action in attempting to prolong the horrors of slavery, possibly (one could, conceivably do so without being racist). If they do so, purposefully and willfully, knowing their action offends African Americans today, most definitely. If, on the other hand, it means to point out areas in the historical record where Confederates have been unjustly maligned, (and the “Yankees” unreasonably absolved of their own failings) definitely no.

[li]Should all monuments to Confederate leaders be torn down? (I have a feeling that this is going to become a big issue just as soon as the Confederate flag gets removed from all of the state capitols.)[/li][/quote]

All? No. Some? Certainly. Those of you in or near Raleigh, NC, might want to visit the old NC State House downtown on Hillsborough Street. There are about half a dozen monuments to to the C.W. on its grounds; the lone African American represented in the total statuary there is a gravely wounded man being carried by his white comrades as part of the Viet Nam war memorial. It’s enough to turn your stomach. There’s currently debate here in New Orleans (a city with a 58% black population) about taking all Confederate monuments (and there are MANY) and moving them to some of the cemeteries around town. That plan has practical and symbolic merit, IMHO.[/list]

I don’t really see it as a left-right issue at all. More of a North-South issue.

Heck, I’m a bit of a lefty myself, but I think that the demonization of all things Confederate has gone way overboard.

Yes. They were wrong.

I should modify my last post. There are of course many black Southerners who are strongly antipathetic to all things Confederate.

[ol][li]Does the comparison between Nazis and Confederates hold? …Both are evil, but are they equally evil?[/li]
To the extent that the Confederate political leadership clearly understood the evil institution they were defending, and justified that institution in terms of economics and power rather than morality, then I say Yes, the comparison is valid. To the extent that the average Confederate soldier could be compared to the average Nazi stormtrooper rather than the average German soldier in WWII then, No the comparison doesn’t hold.

Regardless of the particular political motivations for secession, most Confederate troopers saw themselves as participating in a rebellion against tyranny, a tradition they probably felt particularly patriotic. Many of their grandfathers and greatgrandfathers had fought in the Revolution. While war was probably inevitable, considering how deeply dependent the economy of the South was on slavery, the basic issue of the right to secede was the one which supplied more motivation to the common soldier.

[li]Is there some deep psychological need to make Confederates seem more one-dimensionally evil than they actually were,[/li]
Seems like it, doesn’t it? Since Reconstruction, the deep South has been commonly portrayed in literature as backward, unsophisticated and oppressive.

or, conversely, were Confederates truly Satan’s minions?

Mmm, no; that would be the French… :wink:
[li]Is anyone who sticks up for their Confederate ancestors a crypto-racist?[/li]
Well, that makes it much easier to disregard what they say, doesn’t it?

[li]Should all monuments to Confederate leaders be torn down?[/li]
Maybe we should just put a big disclaimer under the carving on Stone Mountain: “This monument to Confederate heroes should not be taken as an endorsement of slavery and does not reflect the opinions of the management of the State of Georgia.”[/ol]

The Second American Revolution had very little to do with slavery from a Southern viewpoint. It was strictly a States Rights vs. Federal Rights issue. When the South decided to Secede, they did so over the fact that the U.S. Congress and the Federal government was exceeding it’s Constitutional mandate. The slavery issue was only brought up by the Feds after it became obvious that most Americans, North and South, cared very little about the partioning of the nation. The Federal government needed a way to instill a sense of rightousness and moral outrage in the Northern States to gain any sort of support for prosecuting the war. The loathesome institution of slavery provided just such a catalyst. If the South had Emancipated the slaves prior to Seccesion, there never would have been a war, or at least a war on such a grand and horrific scale. They would never have been able to drum up the support from the Northern States in men and material.

Most of the boys who joined up to fight and die for the Confederacy were too poor to own any slaves. Owning another human being is quite a hefty investment as well as the ability to maintain he/she in a way that allows them to produce. No, the boys who fought for the South were not fighting to keep their slaves, they were fighting for their right to make decisions in their communities that superceded any that might be made by a group of strangers hundreds of miles and dozens of hours away.

And the Northern boys fought for a completely different reason, to stop the terrible institution of slavery.

See, Hiro, when people rail against Confederate apologists, this is the kind of revisionist history they’re talking about. Please study up a bit. I also recommend reading some previous threads on the subject, particularly The South seceded to protect states’ rights from…?.

As a right-wing Yankee living in a left-wing town in an otherwise Deep South, ultra-conservative state, I tend to wind up on EVERYBODY’s bad side, when I offer opinions on subject like this. But that never stopped me before so…

Here in the South, it seems as if EVERY state has A Jefferson Davis (or “Jeff Davis”) county, EVERY town has a Robert E. Lee High School, and EVERY other high school’s football team is called “the Rebels,” which means the band invariably plays “Dixie” and the students wave the Stars and Bars after every touchdown.

This has always baffled me! For Pete’s sake, I’m from the North… we WON the Civil War, remember? We WON! And yet, there’s no William Tecumseh Sherman County in New York or Massachusetts! We don’t have hundreds of “Ulysses S. Grant High Schools” in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. We don’t have any colleges that play the Battle Hymn of the Republic after a field goal. WE WON, but you don’t see us putting up George Meade statues all over the place, or writing songs like “The North’s Gonna Do It Again”!

Whatever faults we Yankees have, at least we know that the Civil War was a tragedy, and we prefer not to glorify it or trivialize it.

Now, were the Confederates the moral equivalent of the Nazis? Of course not. I can think of dozens of crucial differences. But let’s face facts: the differences must seem MIGHTY slim to the black men and women who were slaves. In the same way, England’s oppression of my Irish ancestors was NOWHERE near as bad as Hitler’s oppression of the Jews, but that doesn’t mean a lot of Irishmen can’t or shouldn’t hate the Union Jack.

Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were NOT Hitler or Stalin, but what they represent is STILL pretty repulsive to black Americans, and you CAN’T tell me with a straight face that you don’t understand why! What’s more, many (probably most) SOutherners who fly the Stars and Bars KNOW how hurtful that is to blacks, and that’s precisely WHY they do it!

Georgia and Mississippi didn’t fly the Stars and Bars continuously since 1861- they ADDED the Stars and BArs to their state flags relatively recently, for NO OTHER REASON than to tick off black citizens, and (in effect) flip the bird to dadgum liberal Yankees. Thus, the argument that the Stars and Bars just represent “tradition” holds no water at all.

Now, is it EVER appropriate to put up statues of slaveowners? Of course, when the slaveowners are worthy of honor for their accomplishments in other areas. When we erect a statue of Washington or Jefferson (slaveowners both), we are NOT honoring them for owning slaves, but for their accomplishments as American patriots and FOunding Fathers.

Is it ever appropriate to honor Confederate icons? Sure, sometimes. Robert E. Lee was the President of Washington and Lee University, so it makes PERFECT sense that there’d be statues/paintings of General Lee on campus, and buildings named after him. Or, hypothetically, if Jeffeerson Davis founded a school or hospital in Mississippi, it would be perfectly appropriate that the institution remain named after its founder. But… her in Austin TX, there’s a statue of Jefferson Davis on campus. WHY??? Mr. Davis did NOTHING for Texas or the University. To keep that statue up offends black students and employees, and for WHAT? To honor a man with NO connection to the state or the school.

I see no justification for that at all.

To offer an analogy, the swastika was NOT an anti-semitic emblem before the rise of Hitler. Indeed, MANY Greek Orthodox churches, and a few Catholic churches, used that symbol for centuries before Hitler was born. Well… even though those CHurches didn’t MEAN to offend Jews by putting up those symbols, the fact is, the swastika now IS a hateful symbol. So… if I were pastor of a church with such a symbol, I’d take it down IMMEDIATELY. Never mind that it wasn’t intended to be offensive! It IS offensive, and I know it. I’d have to be a heartless sadist not to see that, and to remove the symbol at once.

Failure to remove Confederate icons is equally indefensible.

Hiro Protagonist wrote:

Now that’s a new one on me.

So far, we have:[ul][li]The War Between the States[/li][li]The War for Southern Independence[/li][li]Lincoln’s War[/li][]The War of Northern Aggression[/ul]… and now, we can add:[ul][]The Second American Revolution[/ul]And here I thought “The Second American Revolution” was an MTV marketing slogan. :wink:

astorian wrote:

Just FTR, Robert E. Lee was opposed to secession. He only fought on the side of the Confederacy because of his unflagging loyalty to the State of Virginia.

Hiro Protaganist, I’m not that up on U.S. history in this area. Can you give me some specific examples of the ways that the Congress and federal government were exceeding their mandate, prior to the Civil War? That would help me follow your argument better.



No matter how you cut it, the South made the ghastly error of holding on to the dying institution of slavery. I get agitated when Northerners talk as if slavery were the only important issue in the Civil War, but I also get pretty exasperated when Southerners talk as if slavery were entirely unimportant and beside the point.

I suggest you look up some of the manifestoes that various Southern states drew up and published when they seceded. They’re available on line, though I don’t have any URL’s handy. (Somebody help me out here.) They all talk extensively about slavery, so quite clearly slavery was important to somebody down South.

As evil as Nazis? No. (Not much of a defense, is it? “Some of my ancestors owned, bought and sold other human beings–well, I don’t actually know that for sure, off the top of my head, but I do know that some of my ancestors fought and suffered for a nation founded for the preservation of the ownership of human beings. But, hey, at least they weren’t Nazis!”)

As Hiro Protagonist’s post shows, though, there’s a good reason why some of us get tired of the whole “Oh, it’s more complicated than that!” line of argument. Yeah, it’s “more complicated than that”. Everything is more complicated than that. But, some things aren’t as complicated as some people would like them to be.

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery…” –A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union

“We hold as undeniable truths…That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations…” – A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union

“The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically…Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.” – Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America

“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” – The Constitution of the Confederate States of America

Perhaps. However, this site has some interesting statistics on slave ownership in the Southern states immediately before the war; slave owners were a far from tiny minority:

The main motivation here is that the South has been living in a historical fantasyland ever since Reconstruction was sabotaged by racist white Southerners, and they need to wake the hell up already. The view “revisionist” historians are trying to “impose” is the one that has a basis in historical fact, not some daydream your history teacher has after they watch “Gone With the Wind” on Turner Classic Movies.

Stone Mountain is an interesting example, if you want to symbolize the heart of the Confederacy. You mean the Stone Mountain in Atlanta, Georgia, right? The place where the KKK was reborn in 1915, because they considered it the most sacred place in the world to their cause? The mountain with the sculpture which was commissioned by Helen Plane, who asked that it depict mounted klansmen, because in her own words they “saved us from negro domination and carpetbagger rule?” Is that the Stone Mountain you mean?

Funny how the official Stone Mountain website fails to mention any of this basic and essential history. Who again is imposing their historically inaccurate and heavily biased views on who again?

Saying nothing when you know something terrible happened is just as bad as making stuff up to justify your behavior, possibly worse. If there is a comparison to Nazis (I wouldn’t go there), maybe it could begin with this. It only takes a generation or two to go from keeping quiet about it from shame to your descendents not believing that stuff ever happened at all. And then all of a sudden it’s a freaking theme park. I give you Stone Mountain.

Comparing Confederates to Nazis doesn’t get you anywhere enlightening, because “Nazi” is shorthand for unspeakable evil, especially online. It ends meaningful debate almost instantly.

Before you can make any comparisons between Confederates and other groups of people, you first must have historically accurate knowledge of what exactly went on back then. Thanks to atrocious history textbooks and a total reluctance on the part of the people living in places where history happened to associate anything negative with where they live or their ancestors, almost none of us do. This is probably where we should concentrate our energies.

We’re only too eager to demand that Germany turn their concentration camps into historical monuments, but ask any east Texas town to post a historical marker in the village square about how for a long time it was an infamous “sundown town,” and you get a shitstorm of controversy about how nobody living there today is responsible for any of that, and it’s just too unpleasant to be reminded about and I hate those liberal revisionist whackos, etc etc etc.


*Originally posted by spoke- *
**[list=1][li]Does the comparison between Nazis and Confederates hold? **[/li][/quote]

No. I’ve made my feelings on this point abundantly clear elsewhere, but suffice it to say that people who invoke Nazism to damn everything they don’t like a) don’t understand history, b) show disrespect toward Nazism’s victims by trivializing this outstanding example of evil, and c) poison debate.
However, taking a few extremist opponents and implying that their tactics are favored by all anti-Confederates or skeptics on the subject of Confederate historical revisionism is not defensible.**


[li]Is anyone who sticks up for their Confederate ancestors a crypto-racist?**[/li][/quote]

It’s all in the definition of “sticks up”. Should you take an interest in one of your forebears who served in the CSA, speak proudly of his military service and decorate his grave? Sure. Should you visit battlefields, collect artifacts, display the Confederate battle flag at your home? No problem. Should you study history, and point out that some Northern prison camps were almost as bad as Andersonville? Sure.
Should you join in the annual celebration of the memory of Henry Wirz, Andersonville camp commandant? Not so fast…
I don’t mind bringing relevant facts to light, if it’s done with careful, documented scholarship, even if it conflicts with the history books. What I’ve had a belly full of are those who peddle distortions and/or outright lies (Slavery wasn’t the crucial reason behind secession; the North started the war by attacking the South; Lee freed his slaves before the war, etc. etc.) I see this stuff in op-ed pieces and letters to the editor all the time.
This latter sort are the apologists in my book, and must not be allowed to obscure the truth. **


[li]Should all monuments to Confederate leaders be torn down?**[/li][/quote]

I don’t see why. But times change and heroes crumble. (An interesting parallel case is the story of the largely black housing project in Selma, Alabama, which for years was known as the Bedford Forrest Homes. Many white locals were offended at the thought of this project undergoing a name change, but it just recently took place (and the world still revolves on its axis). I also have a feeling our local black residents are happier being patients at L.B.J. General Hospital than they would be at the former Jefferson Davis Hospital.