This article was published on Saturday, and as I write this, there are 102 comments.
The article bashes reenactors, especially the Confederate reenactors. LaFantasie ridicules their title "living historians," and the efforts that reenactors make in trying to physically recall the life of the soldier of 1861-65. Because the actual war was so much more harsh, reenacting cannot be the appropriate way to commemorate the War.
Reenacting may lack the pain of an amputated limb without anesthesia. It may just be a few thousand bucks in specialty custom clothing and gear, blisters from stiff hobnailed boots, smelling of the eating and sleeping rough, and wondering why the heck you're wearing wool in 97 degree heat.
It is without the equivalent sacrifice, surely, but an honest attempt at commemoration nonetheless. Silly and unfortunate of LaFantasie to scorn the passion of late generations of Americans because it falls short of the actual reality.
Do we need to see and smell the results of double canister on thirty men to commemorate properly?
Do we need to fire the Fort Sumter mortar at 4:30 am on April 12th 2011 for historical accuracy, and wake up blissfully unaware residents of Charleston with the sound of gunfire at a time that this "nation" is engaged in multiple wars?
Do we need to make sure that every explosion is just as loud as the original, even though the increased powder might represent a danger to spectators? These are some of the issues that the author of the article decided to deride.
I think the reenactors, especially the hard-core reenactors, are acutely aware of the inadequacy of their effort to recreate the true experience.
After dissuading the reader from reenacting, the author then guides the reader to the more proper ways to commemorate the War. Generously, LaFantasie acts the professor and guides the reader to many worthy books on the "Civil War" written by court historians towing the Union line.
In order to set the proper mindset to commemorate the War, Professor LaFantasie insists the reader review both the Gettysburg address and the Declaration of Independence.
I will spare you the effort to find the text of the Gettysburg address:
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The true history of the War Between the States is complex, and even a scholar will never personally read more than a small fraction of original sources. Some of these sources will be tainted with the spin or perspective of the person who lived at the time; therefore how much can even a scholar understand with certainty about the War, let alone a mere mundane who takes the scholar's conclusions on faith?
If you read the comments section, you'd be surprised at how many of LaFantasie's readers are certain they know the "Truth" with a capital "T" about the causes of the War. For example, I was shocked when I read in someone's comment that the South formed an army to invade the North. (Yikes! What books have you been smoking?)
In the comments section, as seen following many other typical court historian articles, including other salon.com articles by LaFantasie, again and again I discover that the Confederates were wrong, they were traitors, they lost but they dont seem to get that they lost, and that a myth, the Myth of the Lost Cause, grew up after the Civil War, popularized by Jefferson Davis' Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. (Yawn. If y'all are so sure of yourselves, why even bother to comment--y'all doth protest too much, methinks... )
For me, the key question to understand the motivation of the Confederate soldiers always boiled down to this: If 90% of Lee's Army were not slave owners, why did they fight so long and so tenaciously, against amazing odds, if the sole reason they fought was for "slavery"?
Because they were racist? White supremacists? Stupid, ignorant, and inbred? Evil? Traitors, rebels, and bushwackers?
Uhh, let me see, ...no.
Try this: They were moral honorable men who left wives and children at home and risked everything they had to fight against what they rightfully believed to be a tyrannical power intent on stamping out their culture. Their worst fears came true.
Of my 6 great great great grandfathers who served in the Confederate States' Army, none were slave owners. I know (as I know anything that seems "true" in life) they didn't fight to keep slaves, or so that rich men that lived far away from their Western Appalachia could keep slaves. These men thought locally.
Why did they fight? Only a few explanations ring true to me, "Lost Cause" myth or not:
They fought because the North invaded the South to force fellow Southern states back into a "nation." (The war was fought to prevent secession)
They fought because the Yankees were "down here." (to defend hearth and home)
They fought because they believed the original country was a voluntary gathering of independent States, and some of these States again wanted to be sovereign and independent, not subject to the whim of a remote executive operating outside the bounds of the Constitution. (fought for the idea of self determination, same as their great-grandparents in the Revolution)
|Flag of the free mind|
For each of the six men, there might be six or more reasons; I can never know because they left no explanation of their motivation at the time. I can only tell you what I believe to be true.
To Professor LaFantasie: There were many reasons why Northerners and Southerners fought, but you seem to think that only one holds any legitimacy, the other, none at all. As a historian, do you not do injustice to history by delegitimizing and marginalizing the motivation of the Southern patriot?
In my view of history, what is important is to recreate for the reader the context of the times, and understand why different perspectives existed, and to then make it more difficult for the reader to know what they would have done if they lived at the time.
To write polemics is fine and dandy in academia, when one wants to make himself taller by rhetorically cutting off the head of the adjacent scholar. However, polemical writing is illegitimate in writing pure history, that is, history intended to teach rather than indoctrinate.
Here is the rest of the article.