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Tuesday, 25 August 2009 02:48

Dr. J.'s Commentary: How the South Won the Civil War

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In his BuzzFlash Editor's Blog of August 15, our Editor/Publisher Mark Karlin had this to say about the Civil War:

"[I]t may have been won by the North, but in truth the South never emotionally conceded. The Town Hall mobs, the birthers, the teabaggers, are all part of that long line of 'coded' agitators for the notions of white entitlement and 'conservative values.' Of course, this conservative viewpoint values cheap labor and unabated use of natural resources over technological and economic innovation. It also – and this is its hot molten core – fundamentally believes that white people are born with a divine advantage over people of other skin colors, and are chosen by God to lead the heathen hordes. . . Of course, when you start stirring the pot of race -- in order to preserve the status quo of entrenched power and wealth – you emerge with a stew of hate boiling over and ready to explode into full-fledged violence. . . The America that Hannity, Beck and Limbaugh so nostalgically yearn for is a bait and switch: what they want is the 'old-fashioned' white entitlement values of the Confederacy and the short-lived Constitution of the Confederate states."

But did the North really win the Civil War? Did those values ever really go away? Or put another way, did the South really lose? Well, yes, the North did win on the battlefield, with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, the subsequent surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina, and then the capture of Jefferson Davis, who was trying to flee to Mexico. But I would argue that in terms of its original war aims, except for just one of them, the South won the Civil War and then some, right down to this very day. Consider the following war aims.

1. The preservation of the institution of African and African-American slavery (and through the activities of the slave-owners and the slave-masters from the time of the arrival of the first Africans destined for slavery in 1620, there were already many of the latter), and its uninhibited expansion into the Territories of the Plains, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Southwest. (California had already been established as a free state by the Compromise of 1850.)

2. The acceptance by the whole United States of the Theory of White Supremacy on which the institution of slavery was established. Alexander Stephens was Vice-President of the Confederate States of America (CSA) and following the death of John C. Calhoun in 1850, its principal theoretician. At the beginning of the Civil War, Stephens said this about Southern slavery: "Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. 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 condition." Thus slavery as a general institution was immoral, according to Stephens. But for "Negroes" it was permitted, because they are inferior beings.

3. It was the South that strongly believed in the establishment and prosecution of American Imperialism. Before the Civil War, much of the leadership for U.S. imperial expansion, first on the North American continent came from Southerners. It happens that Thomas Jefferson, for example, who made the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 that enabled the major westward expansion, was also one of the first to advocate the annexation of Cuba, a position later taken up by Jefferson Davis when he was Secretary of War in the Pierce Administration. President James Polk, a North Carolinian slave owner, prosecuted the War on Mexico (1846-48) with a claim that Mexico had attacked Americans on U.S. soil in Texas. The result of that war lead to a huge further expansion of U.S. territory. His claim that "Mexico started it" apparently had as much legitimacy as the claim that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was challenged by a little-known Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln, but that challenge got nowhere and he lost his bid for re-election in 1848 largely because of it.

4. The South strongly supported the theory of "States Rights." One of its outcomes was to provide for the control of the Congress, through the control of the Senate by a minority of the national population. (There are many other outcomes of the theory, which we do not have space to cover here.)

5. The South strongly supported low tariffs on foreign manufactured goods while the North wanted high tariffs to protect domestic industrial development.

6. A major element of Southern politics was the use of the Big Lie Technique. First that Africans and African-Americans were inferior beings, not "human." Second that the Civil War, initiated in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, was about "Southern Freedom." Jeff Davis would make this claim right to the very end. At the same time that the CSA was fighting so bitterly and for so long primarily to defend the institution of slavery, it was able to get several hundred thousand white farmers and laborers to give their lives in the cause, using the Theory of White Supremacy to convince them they were fighting for "freedom."

So, where does that leave us? Well, yes, slavery was banned by the 13th Amendment, but in functional socio-economic terms in the South, it existed on a certain level well into the last century. The theory of white supremacy has come to dominate the national political stage since that time, waxing and waning in importance as it becomes of greater or lesser use to certain political powers over time. As Mark points out, it is now being used to a fare-thee-well by the national Republican Party in their battle-royal to bring down Obama, and sooner rather than later. North American Continental Imperialism ended with the accession to statehood by Arizona in 1912. However, expansion beyond the boundaries of North America began with the annexation of Hawaii (1898). While the U.S. did not actually annex Cuba as a result of the Spanish-American War of the same year (it did annex Puerto Rico), it effectively controlled Cuba until the 1959 Revolution and did annex the Philippines as a result of that war. That is very well-known as to the subsequent history of American Imperialism.

The fact is that through the "states rights" basis of allotting seats in the United States Senate right now a small minority of the population is controlling the direction of so-called "health care system reform." As for low tariffs, while U.S. industry, except for a few politically favored ones such as sugar beets, no longer needs them, it is so-called "free trade" (e.g., NAFTA and the WTO) that has lead to the free export of capital from our nation and its subsequent de-industrialization. Finally, of course, the Big Lie Technique in American politics never died and now is in the forefront of GOP tactics and strategy.

So who won the Civil War over the long haul? Where I stand on that one is quite obvious.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano's Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.