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Glover proclamation useful for both sides of history debate

Last year at this time, Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover formally commenced his run for that office. In the ensuing year, his biggest controversy has been ... a proclamation?

Believe it or not ... controversy broke over the declaration of April as Confederate History Month, with both white Republican Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker and black Democrat Glover proclaiming as such (along with the Louisiana and eight other states, one being Massachusetts – which has a black Democrat governor). Glover caught particular criticism for doing so, and this demonstrated precisely why Glover thought it was important to have a period set aside to study the history of the conflict.

One the one hand, self-appointed and largely-ignored monitors for what they consider black identity excoriated Glover for his support of the idea, that the “city's first black mayor would align himself with the Sons of Confederate Veterans” (the organization that promotes the event), meaning that Glover “sanctioned the celebration.” This constipated view implies that Glover insults blacks because he endorses something that potentially gives permission to celebrate certain aspects of the Confederacy.

But the proclamation only encourages “all citizens to study the history of the conflict and events in the years from 1861 to 1865 and to contemplate the actions of the citizens of Shreveport during that era.” Since when has “study” become equated with “advocacy?” It’s this confusion that, for example, has caused many Germans to be almost ignorant about the history surrounding the Holocaust.

Guilt has played a role in German case of non-study as well, which obviously is not a factor among those who go beyond study and celebrate aspects of the Confederacy. And just as those like Glover’s critics who bend over backwards to inject race into every issue to satisfy their political agenda, on the other hand perhaps those who laud the Confederacy do too much to try to separate it from the conflict.

Two schools of thought are called upon to try to cleanse the Confederacy of its immoral embrace of slavery to make it appear to behave as a laudable enterprise. One argues that the vast majority of those who fought for the CSA were not slaveholders (indeed, some were black) and thus had no stake in fighting a war over slavery. Instead, it’s advanced, they fought for the right of political self-determination, encapsulated in their resistance to a federal government that did not permit their states to secede to escape “tyranny.”

But this view obviously confuses the issue, both on fact and philosophically. As legions of historians have demonstrated, armed with reams of primary source documents leading up to and through the Civil War, simply there would have been no secession attempt and war without slavery existing in America. States rights, self-determination, and those kinds of issues never would have sparked controversy without southern states wanting to perpetuate the power to hold human beings in bondage.

What many forget is, at a philosophical level, the ends may justify the means, but not the reverse. For example, if in Germany the Gestapo had come asking you whether you knew where Jews were hiding and you said you didn’t know of any when in fact you did, that even though you committed an act (deception) that in isolation is immoral, that it leads to a moral outcome (protection of innocent lives) removes the act’s immorality.

However, the opposite case does not hold: moral acts by themselves (such as fighting for self-determination assuming it is to escape oppression – which itself is hardly the case that the federal government was “oppressing” the South; see below) that knowingly lead to immoral outcomes never can be evaluated in isolation to that outcome. Any serious study of the Lost Cause must acknowledge that, whatever the motive of these acts, they contributed to the continuance of unjustifiable misery and suffering.

(And many non-slaveholders knew that they really fought for slavery: for example, as Gen. William T. Sherman scorched his way through the South, his forces liberated thousands of slaves – only in his wake to have a couple of thousand of them rounded up by CSA Gen. Joe Wheeler’s cavalry. Why did Wheeler’s soldiers, if they were not fighting for slavery and were against it, follow these orders?)

The other argument is that, indeed, the South was being “oppressed,” usually argued on the basis of economics. Suffice to say, despite the incredible gymnastics and selective use of information to say the war came about mainly because of economic reasons that had nothing to do with willing acceptance of slavery in the South, almost all historians who study the question reject the assertion that slavery was not the overwhelmingly primary reason behind all issues related to the outbreak of the war.

Confederate History Month should be a time for reflection upon this period in American and local history, and a government role to acknowledge this is proper (and, as a bonus for him, perhaps politically convenient in Glover’s case). But to justify it by ignoring the basic immorality for which the South fought is like pulling a strand from a quilted whole that reduces it all to a pile of meaningless string. Likewise, to focus obsessively on that one strand of race prevents its intertwining into all of the others that make up today’s American culture and society.

Which is why the proclamation’s exhortation is especially relevant, meaning Glover passed this test. Hopefully, more successes are to follow.

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