Judging from articles such as this, this and this, there is now almost a mania sweeping the land to remove every vestige of the Confederacy (Even TV Land got swept up in this by cancelling airing of old “Dukes of Hazzard” episodes) . Don’t get me wrong, I understand why so many people are incensed by Confederate flags and monuments on public lands. And although my ancestors on both the European (paternal) and American Indian (maternal) sides of my family tree lived in the CSA and in some instances served in its armed forces, I have never displayed a Confederate flag in any form anywhere at any time. Nor was the N-word ever uttered by my parents or any expression of religious, ethnic or racial bigotry or elitism. And as for my Civil War era forbearers, most were simple farmers and none owned slaves. As a boy I was told by various relatives that those who donned the grey in our family did so to repel Northern aggression and preserve the rights of individual states to chart their own destiny.
With this said many of my fellow Southerners — and some African-Americans as well — do have the Southern Cross (aka “Stars and Bars”) on display in various guises. And although various incarnations of the neo-Nazis and KKK and other white supremacist groups have waved the Confederate battle flag about for decades, I dare say most Southerners, especially those who had ancestors who served in the Confederate army or navy, are angered by this (At least those I grew up around in Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana felt this way).
But ask Southerners with Confederate ancestors whether slavery was one of the main reasons for Southern secession and many will say “no”. I’ve studied the writings they cite to support this point-of-view but do not find them convincing. History clearly shows that preserving slavery was part and parcel of the Confederate cause, although state’s rights and other issues also figured prominently as well. This is reflected in the lyrics of one of the CSA’s earliest marching songs, “The Bonnie Blue Flag” (1861), which opens with these lines:
Fighting for the property we gained by honest toil
And when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
For Southern rights, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
And just to drive home the fact slavery and “white privilege” figured in the new Confederate government, consider this except from a speech by CSA Vice President Alexander H. Stephens that was reported in the Savannah Republican on March 21, 1861:
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him 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. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.
I realize, of course, that some Southerners and others will continue to downplay or even deny that slavery was an integral part of the government of the Confederacy and its policies and vision. I have read more than a few lengthy articles and books by writers and authors who managed to weave incredibly elaborate arguments that pretty much shove slavery to the backmost burner on the proverbial historical stove. How is this possible? Are these men and women evil, delusional, bigoted, ignorant or just plain stupid? Most are none of these in my opinion. Consider how murder case plays out in court: Both the prosecutor and defense attorney or attorneys posses the same facts and information, but basically filter, weave and pitch them differently (One to leave no doubt of guilt in the minds of jurors, and the other to create doubts about this). When this all too human approach to analyzing and presenting historic chapters and events plays out in books, articles, movies, plays and such, the end result is invariably skewed one way or the other (Some come closer to capturing what transpired while others deviate to varying degrees from this).
There is also the all too human propensity to spin tales and myths that cast darker chapters in history and current events as well in a favorable light. So long as this sort of thing does not marginalize, ostracize, condemn or otherwise inflict harm on people or incite others to do such reprehensible things to others, it can and often does serve as a sort of collective coping mechanism and a means of preserving a shared conviction and some sense of the honor or dignity attached to it and its proponents or champions.
Think we Americans do not have our own sacred myths or make objects of honor (heroes) out of people unworthy of this? If so, you do not know American history.
To my way of thinking there is little doubt but that Confederate ancestors should be honored by their descendants for having the courage of their convictions. This doesn’t mean endorsing all they stood for or believed, only those aspects of them that were honorable and decent. For some this includes hanging a Confederate flag outside their homes or in their cars or trucks, or wearing clothing articles emblazoned with the “stars and bars” or tattoos bearing this or the like.
Now the argument has been raised in some quarters that the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Waffen SS who fought for Hitler had the courage of their convictions and if “sons and daughters of the Confederacy” can honor their ancestor’s for this, so descendants of those who served under the crooked cross should. Before I touch on this, I simply must point out that when it comes to honoring ancestors who fought for a losing and even vile cause, the waters get very muddy indeed. For instance, in Japan, where I lived and worked for more than four years, honoring ones ancestors includes an annual visit to the Yasukuni Shrine by the Prime Minister where the cremains of 1,068 war criminals including 14 Class-A war criminals are interred. The same rising sun flag that flew over Imperial troops sailors and pilots in WWII flies in various guises today over Japanese defense forces.
After WWII the German government, of course, outlawed displays of the swastika as well as use of the straight-armed Nazi salute and for good cause. The sheer magnitude of intentional, calculated evil committed in Hitler’s Third Reich and by its many puppets and willing supporters made permitting public displays of the swastika (outside of museums, documentaries, movies and special exhibits) or the giving of the Nazi salute anathema.
But does this mean that, say, a German today whose grandfather, great grandfather or other relative served honorably in the Wehrmacht (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force), Kriegsmarine (Navy) or Volkssturm is amiss in honoring their individual courage or valor? Is not the courage and valor shown by those German servicemen who had no part in any atrocities or other evils and were not members of organization that did such as the SS and Waffen SS, any different than that of allied servicemen who fought bravely and brought down their malignant empire?
You may be tempted to say that even honorable souls who served a failed, dishonorable and especially evil cause must be utterly renounced or at least never mentioned. In-a-sense, bury the past except in museum displays and politically correct books, movies, plays and such. “Tear down those flags and statues and erase every trace of these people and their cause”.
If you are inclined to say “amen” to this, I am now going to show you how its application to flags and heroes many, many Americans admire would require their purging from American culture.
Consider this: If we are going to remove all CSA symbols, flags and statues and such from public lands, then why not go one step forward and tear down Custer tributes (such as Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument) and others associated with the genocidal treatment of my American Indian ancestors and their brothers and sisters by the US government, the US military and many of its Presidents, especially Andrew Jackson?
After all, many of these so-called sacred icons and symbols are a painful reminder to we American Indians of the forced marches, reservations, massacres and others forms of calculated murder including attrition by intentional introduction of diseases such as smallpox, that were visited upon American Indian peoples by “fine American patriots” who felt God (“manifest destiny”) and being “racially superior” entitled them to do whatever it took to make America a white dominated empire that stretched from “sea to shining sea”. And just to underscore how profoundly evil all this was, no less than the patron saint of evil, Adolf Hitler, drew inspiration from abominable racist US genocidal policies and the reservation system it spawned in crafting his own version of hell on earth (Click to read more).
Should not the flags, statues, historic markers and such associated with these evils be tossed into the fire?
My question to you then is this: If we should elect to cleanse our land of the reminders of its darker chapters and failed experiments, what will be left? And isn’t forgetting the lessons of history not one of the surer ways to insure we repeat them?
Anthony G. Payne, whose American Indian name is “Summer Cloud”, is a native born Texan and an American Indian (Bureau of Indian Affairs CDIB card holder) and member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Despite having grown up in the “reddest parts” of North Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana, he is a political liberal who embraced democratic socialism in the 1980s. He is also a religious and moral conservative but no friend of fundamentalism/creationism or those pet beliefs of evangelical Christians that run contrary to what the Rabbi from Nazareth advocated and lived (Click to access Summer Cloud’s spiritual watering hole website).
In addition to having ancestors who fought in the armed forces of the Confederacy, one of Dr. Payne’s maternal line was an army officer (Lieutenant) in the Revolutionary War who fought British forces in South Carolina.
Additional Reading on various subjects touched on in this op-ed piece
Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.
©2015 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.
At the tail end of Stanley Kubrick’s satirical and brilliant 1964 anti-Cold War movie “Dr. Strangelove” the wheelchair bound German scientist (played by Peter Sellers) manages to stand up and take a step or two forward and then excitedly proclaim, “Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!” (This was reportedly an unscripted improvisation on the part of actor Peter Sellers) People in the throes of extreme excitement, passion or even religious ecstasy sometimes yell out to God, their mate or, in the case of Dr. Strangelove, to his leader (The American President whom he not infrequently calls “Mein Fuhrer” during the course of Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece).
I suspect Sellers added the dramatic final touch not as an expression of the neurologic malady which landed his character in a wheelchair but, rather, as an upwelling of Dr. Strangelove’s impossible to suppress fascist sentiments and loyalty to Hitler.
In addition, I would offer a slightly different take on Dr. Strangelove’s outburst: I believe it was meant to represent the transcendent march of evil across time. That is, Seller’s was acting out the fact that evil, like death, haunts humankind and is impossible to totally suppress, manage or banish. Of course, we all know that those who do not resist and oppose evil not infrequently find their lives overshadowed by it.
The late writer-director-producer Rod Serling actually captured this theme very adroitly in a 1963 episode of the Twilight Zone titled “He’s Alive” (“He” being Hitler) that focuses on a “bush league Fuhrer” named Peter Vollmer.
Of course, we all are cognizant of the fact that evil permeates the human experience and has countless modern day incarnations. It is certainly one wheel that gets reinvented without ever showing much wear or loss of perpetrators and victims. Sometimes, though, the expressions are so continuous across time they appear to come out of some kind of historical-cosmic Xerox® machine. Click these links and reflect for a moment:
OK, so evil is perennial. What we can do about it? Laugh at and ponder comic portrayals such as Seller’s, yes, but never make the mistake of viewing evil people as clowns or easy to control (A mistake many German pre-Nazi leaders made with respect to Hitler and his cronies). But above all learn everything we can about the nature of evil and its subtlest expressions and then work to expose and oppose them.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen
Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.
Rabbis and Christian theologians down through the centuries have wrestled with biblical accounts of the Almighty in which He imposed punishments or sanctions, as well as direct military and civil action that flies in the face of what is deemed fair, just or decent in most cultures, past and present: http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html
Of course, contemporary religious experts tend to agree that a great many of these stories are fables or myths borrowed from ancient societies that predate the authors of the various books of the Bible. They also recognize the anthropocentric and ethnocentric biases and cultural filters of the writers and scribes who committed these biblical tales to parchment (as it were). But even with all these allowances and concessions, there remains a disturbing pattern of supposedly divinely ordered brutality towards and outright wholesale slaughter of foreign tribes and entire nations. These biblical “cleansing actions” and fiats have underlying premises and logic that appear to have informed some of the darker chapters of history, including the ideology and policies of the penultimate incarnation of evil, Adolf Hitler.
One writer who very adroitly goes into how Hitler’s beliefs and actions parallel and mirror Biblical morality and standards is Jim Walker whose writings are found on a website bearing the moniker “Hitler compared to God/Jesus/Christians” http://nobeliefs.com/hitlerchristian.htm. Here are but a few of Walker’s insightful notations (Excerpts pieced together):
|Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have,
and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling,
ox and sheep, camel and ass.
-I Samuel 15:3
Hitler attempted to utterly destroy the Jews and all that they had and had millions of men, women, and infants executed. As for animals, Hitler had far more compassion than the Biblical God; he felt kindness for animals.
(Note: In no sense do I mean that Hitler fulfilled any prophesy, mind you, but rather that Hitler’s actions remained consistent with the actions of the alleged God described in the Bible.)
|I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Hitler created peace when it suited him and created death and destruction when it fit his needs, which by Christian standards means “evil.” Hitler did all these things in similar God-like actions reported in the Bible.
Not only did Hitler’s atrocities remain consistent with God and Jesus’ actions in the Bible, but his intransigent attitude parallels many of the fanatical beliefs of Right-wing conservatives of today. Hitler even used his faith in the same way as many mainstream American Christians. It appears clear from the history of Christianity that Hitler brought nothing new to Christianity, albeit he brought its violent nature to new heights.”
This is not to say Hitler didn’t distort and infuse such standards with perverse beliefs of his own, but this alone does not permit one to dismiss logical contradictions, conundrums and catch twenty-two’s between Nazi philosophy and the murderous campaign against “impurity” (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissenters, etc.) it gave rise to—- nor ancient Israelite beliefs and their wholesale slaughter of peoples that were designated as “defilers” of their culture & community. Slaughter attributed to HaShem.
If you look closely and resist facing what history and scriptures plainly disclose and declare, you will come to see more clearly than ever before the vast array of incredibly discomforting parallels between the reasoning of the ancients and the Nazis (and all other perpetrators of genocide). And while abundant apologetics exist that try to distance Biblical accounts and actions from the moral malignancy of the Nazis, the arguments given can be recast easily & readily to support the Nazis (And they were – by the Nazis — creating a movement with all the trappings of messianic fervor and religiosity).
http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2000/4/004anti.html http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible3.htm, http://freethoughtfirefighters.org/a_wager_on_old_testament_atrocit.htm, http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html, http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godbible.html, http://www.biblicalnonsense.com/chapter10.html
So moral reasoning and logic alone cannot (to my way of thinking) explain, defend or justify the many dark episodes and pronouncements in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Scriptures, of course, reflect the human element — ideas, interpretations, contradictions http://home.freeuk.net/jesusmyth/page5.htm etc. – they serve human needs (Social coherence and personal wholeness, according to religion scholar Prof. Loyal Rue in his thought-provoking book, “Religion is Not About God”) – and reflect more about human nature than that of the Divine. It is said all scripture is Misnah – commentary – and not so much history and especially not science. I agree wholeheartedly with this. And, of course, regional values, myths and views intruded everywhere and suffused and informed what the various scribes and religionists believed and recorded. But be that as it may, there is a recurrent theme of almost cold-blooded malevolence in the Hebrew scriptures: God appears to invoke the very arguments for cleansing conquered lands and peoples, as well as punishing those who deviate from keeping the Law (Oral & written) that were used by pagan religions, kings and later genocidal dictators like Adolf Hitler to reinforce and perpetuate their ideologies (And some of these ideologies, like Nazism, had some aspects of their belief system and practices Biblical beliefs, laws and such).
Of course, according to scriptures the Almighty’s agenda is one that will redeem and reconcile humankind (in whole or part depending on whose spin you agree with) while evil men tend to enact laws and take actions that lead to a life that is at odds with the program and objectives He sanctioned (And by so doing estrange people from Him). Yet while the ends are presumably different, the means to them seem disturbingly similar and in many instances are virtually identical. Indeed, the methods, language and some elements of reasoning attributed to the Divine and that voiced by various evil personalities such as Hitler differ little in kind or degree.
We must, of course, allow for the limitations imposed by human language itself, culture, as well as our neurobiology. We must also do our best to wrestle underlying truths and subtle messages from hyperbole, corrupted text, myth and legend in the scriptures.
That the scriptures are filled with borrowed, fallible, contradictory, and corrupted myths, legends and fables should not disturb us. Consider what the Almighty had to work with, as it were: A tribal people who were steeped in regional myths and superstitions. Some in the fundamentalist or Orthodox camp actually believe God dictated scripture pretty much like a boss might to a secretary or executive administrative assistance; at least with respect to the Torah (Pentateuch). This is nonsense, for had this been the case He would have given humanity a document or set of documents immune from flaws, and by so doing handed down proof of his own existence. In short, no faith would be needed to believe in the Almighty or his stated agenda. A set of flawless, infallible scriptures impregnated with scientific and historical truths centuries ahead of those He was inspiring or speaking to would remove all doubt as to origins and make it impossible for doubt to exist about the reality of the Divine. Indeed, “No faith needed” would have been axiomatic and there would be no legitimate grounds for agnosticism or atheism.
A fallible set of scriptures is not so disturbing really. It makes us dig and work and argue to arrive at what God meant and how we should respond. What is disturbing is not the flawed image of the Almighty nor the presence of various distorted or mythic things attributed to Him, all having been rendered by flawed men and women, but the seeming reliance of God on violence, cruelty and outright “ethnic cleansing” to forge and maintain His hold on the hearts and minds of the Jewish people of antiquity.
Was He so seemingly bloodthirsty and quick to punish because fallible, almost primitive men and women left Him little to work with in an ancient setting but this? Or was this just how these ancient people’s interpreted things and acted accordingly? Or could it be that the Almighty was both learning and growing with His people, and had His hands tied in terms of available means to preserve the Jewish people from corruption and conquest? (Limited in that He would not override human free will and also utilized human nature and social mechanisms rather then supercede them?)
To invoke a crude analogy: Picture a group of trainee mechanics standing before a car – hood up – a limited set of tools sitting before him – parts scattered everywhere — their goal is to create a harmoniously running engine. There are two instructors present – “good mechanic” and an “evil mechanic” — standing on either side of the trainees. The good instructor wants to help the students create a smoothly functioning automobile. The evil mechanic wants to thwart the good instructor by influencing as many of the trainees as he can to mess things up by doing things like putting useless or ill fitted parts into the engine. The evil instructor’s machinations quite naturally force the good mechanic to get those trainees who follow his lead to take and use some of the tools in the same fashion as the evil mechanic, doing violence as it were to extricate ill-fitting or even dangerous parts from the engine so that they can get the right and proper ones installed. This tug-of-war goes back and forth seemingly endlessly.
Scriptures depict God’s ultimate goal as being one of harmonizing and reconciling as many people to Himself and His sanctioned ways as possible. But in order to pull this off, He must rely on a limited set of tools and options,….as limited as we are. It is, in a very real sense of the word, a pitched struggle that is part of an experiment in-progress; an experiment with a goal, of course.
Indeed, the Cosmos and humankind in particular are, in my opinion, expressions of a divinely initiated experiment (Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory) whose ultimate goal is harmonization with HaShem and his being (“Holiness”) for as many as will “walk the walk”. As such, those impulses and elements and actions that lead to good or conversely evil ends would seem to represent the variables in the ongoing experiment — the “drugs” if you will — that by act-of-will (choice) leads to genuine harmonization between subject & experimenter (HaShem) — while the other appears to do so, but degenerates into greater disharmony and the ultimate chaos unleased by unbridled selfishness (Estrangement from HaShem and what this entails in this world and the next). This aspect of the Divine experiment constitutes a sorting mechanism of sorts; the one referred to by various biblical writers as “sorting the wheat from the chaff”. It tests both men and women, revealing to us individually and collectively our inner nature and the consequences of our choices along the way.
Because the tools, methods and sometimes even the reasoning employed by good and evil people are virtually identical, discretion becomes paramount. This is where many religious and political systems fail utterly — trading that which reconciles people to each other and the Almighty for that which winds up accomplishing the opposite.
In the end, scriptures indicate the experiment will run its course and produce a final result: Harmony twixt humankind and HaShem for many. Many who die in sin/error/missteps get redeemed and participate in this harmonious world (material and incorporeal), while an unrepentantly evil, unredeemable few are separated from this redeemed plane of existence — presumably for eternity. Or until obliterated, which some Jewish sages considered their ultimate fate. This is certainly more merciful than what many Christian denominations fancy for the unredeemed/unredeemable — Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, etc. A mercy more characteristic of the Almighty that sages like Hillel knew and championed by virtue of their faith, teachings and deeds.
Pulvis et umbra sumus
by Jim Walker