The power of III

Summum ius summa iniuria--More law, less justice

09 May 2011

Yankee historian: Re-enactors are fools

It is an interesting, if depressing, intellectual exercise to read any article by Professor Glenn LaFantasie of Western Kentucky University, and then to peruse the comments section afterward.  Don't ask me why I keep doing it.

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:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

["...all men are created equal":  Meaning all free men are equal under the law, nothing more;  it has been extrapolated and then later assumed to refer to the equality of white and black men.  

Is it doubted that whites of the North and the South, in great majorities, would have considered racial equality an alien concept? 

Whites of the North and the South believed blacks inferior, even those who advocated abolition.  But in the context of the Gettysburg address, it is a moot point.  "Our forefathers" referenced by Mr. Lincoln, in stating "all men are created equal", referred specifically to free Americans and free Englishmen being equal to royals and nobles--equal in Natural Rights, and equal before blind Justice.  This is nothing new, just a reiteration of a Judeo-Christian biblical precept.]

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.

[As for the famous..."of the people, by the people, for the people..." I will let H.L. Mencken reply for me: 

"The Gettysburg speech was at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history...the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous. But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves."

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 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, 

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.


  1. I saw that earlier. What a dorkhead.

  2. Mr. Lafantasie is a Unionist and a person who wants to teach Southern Kentucky people lies about thier background and thier history. Hes a obvious Unionist by look at this Western Kentucky University profile. I hate that this man is in my state teaching lies. I believe he also once said if people use Secession they should "pay". I can also tell you, chances are he is not from Kentucky and if he is, he is probably a Yankee who moved down here and his acestors stold land off people from here during the war.

    1. I do not know him directly,although he is my husbands relative. His family is from the east coast. Before that they came from Canada. Im not sure where he was born but his dad was from the east coast for sure as he was my husbands fathers uncle.

    2. I do not know him directly,although he is my husbands relative. His family is from the east coast. Before that they came from Canada. Im not sure where he was born but his dad was from the east coast for sure as he was my husbands fathers uncle.

  3. I read Mr.Lafantasie's article and what was immediately clear was this man is burnt out and hates his job. He teaches American Civil War history and has written at least one book on it,and he has no passion for the subject, and no understanding of anyone who does! It's really kind of sad. He even takes vacations to get away from the subject completely. The Civil War to him has become work,even drudgery.He doesn't appear to even like his students or other authors of Civil war books.

  4. The guy is a Yankee through and through. The Western Kentucky U. position is his first south of the Mason Dixon Line:

    Adjunct Instructor, History, Providence College, 1978-1979
    Editor of Publications, R.I. Historical Society, 1979-1986
    Adjunct Instructor, History, University of Rhode Island, 1984-1985
    Publications Director, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 1985-1986
    Editor and Director, The Papers of Albert Gallatin, Baruch College, 1986-1989
    Director, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1989-1991
    Deputy Historian, U.S. Department of State, 1991-1995
    Adjunct Instructor, History, Lord Fairfax Community College, 1997-2003
    Adjunct Instructor, History, Gettysburg College, 1997, 2003
    Director, Aldie Mill Historic Park, 2000-2003
    Adjunct Instructor, History, University of Rhode Island, 2004
    Adjunct Instructor, History, Community College of Rhode Island, 2004
    Teaching Assistant, History, Brown University, 2004-2005
    Assistant Professor (one-year appointment), History, University of Maine at Farmington, 2005-2006

    This guy is a certified Rhode Island New England Yankee carpetbagger.
    He is in his early 60s judging from getting his BA in 1971, and the WKU position is likely a pre retirement tenured position.

    One of his books is about Little Round Top, told through original accounts by three Union soldiers and three Confederates. Although I am curious to know how he commented on the Confederates, I cannot in good conscience spend the little free time I have reading another of his works. I have other priorities...

    Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate it.

  5. It never fails to amaze me how well our government controlled schools have inculcated the War Against Slavery meme. Any historian worth the name would want to understand what actually happened, not what he would like to believe happened.

    Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center Press? There is an impressive credential for you ;-) Still only a teaching assistant at Brown (hardly a hotbed of conservatism) in his late fifties, early sixties? And adjunct instructors aren't likely to be full time instructors, either. Probably (someone help me here) more like a substitute teacher? This man isn't even an amateur historian, for all that he may have taught his version of history to an unknown number of impressionable students, on a part-time basis.

    HM, your response is excellent. I was born in Houston (military brat), but my family is from French-Canadian stock that settled in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. I was taught in New York, mostly, although I had teachers that encouraged independent thought and study. Nonetheless, I was an adult before I discovered that the War of Northern Aggression was such an unConstitutional horror, before I learned what a tyrant Lincoln was to the citizens of both South _and_ North, although the South suffered the worst.

    I am still learning, thanks to Thomas DiLorenzo, as well as from people such as yourself. Keep putting the message out there. What you wrote is so logical, so sensible, that it ought to stir most anyone who is capable of listening, anyone who was misled as I was but who still possesses a mind that is open to the truth.

  6. @RegT "What you wrote is so logical, so sensible, that it ought to stir most anyone who is capable of listening, anyone who was misled as I was but who still possesses a mind that is open to the truth."

    Definitely one of the nicest compliments I've gotten since I started the blog...Thanks. Exactly the reason that I started writing here.

    (Besides leaving some record of my exit from the Matrix for my kids, still too young to understand any of this. My son is 12, and I'm working on many kids go to Washington DC and Gettysburg wearing a gray Deo Vindice rubber bracelet? :-))

    Any ideas on reaching more open minds out there, and boosting the readership of the blog? Thanks again.

  7. I arrived here via seeing you listed on other blogs, as well as finding some of your posts linked in other blogs. I will add to that, although I'm afraid I don't have much of a following on my pathetic attempt of a blog.

    One way you can disseminate material is through whatever mail lists you might be on. I use to offer links to good articles such as those by Lew Rockwell (DiLorenzo), from Jihad Watch, WRSA, Eternity Road, here, GoV, Ann Barnhardt, anywhere I ran across something special, something that furthered _my_ education and that I hoped would interest others.

    I would also post comments on center/center-left lists in a gentle fashion, so as not to be deemed a troll. I'm sure some thought that anyway, or merely ignored the post, but I do know a couple of folks who have credited me with their awakening from The Dark Side :-)

    A few folks from that list regularly check my blog (though it is mostly family and friends), and follow the links I post there. But the most action was from the mail list. If you suggest that folks check posts on your blog that link to a particularly good article by someone else, as I would with the writings of Thomas Sowell, Tom DiLorenzo, Garet Garrett, Hayek, etc., then they should naturally check your writings as well when they visit your site.