In 1864, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne proved himself a minor prophet when he wrote: “Surrender means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written off by the enemy, that our youths will be taught by Northern school teachers; learn from Northern school books their version of the war.”
Cleburne’s crystal ball must have been exceptionally clear on the day he penned this warning. There is only one version of the Civil War taught today, and it’s the one that turns the Union into heroic freedom fighters and the Confederacy into a spiritual precursor to the Nazis. Slavery, under this umbrella, was the sole reason for the war. The South’s leaders were virulent racists, willing to sacrifice thousands of lives if it meant keeping Africans in chains.
And all the while, the ultimate symbol of hate – the Confederate Flag – flew high above this treasonous rebellion. It was only through the brave, tireless work of the Man-God Lincoln that our country was restored and the evil institution of slavery was finally abolished.
It is, of course, as ridiculous as any other fairy tale. If the Civil War had happened ten years ago, this liberalized narrative would be regarded with the same skeptical disdain as “No blood for oil.” It is a story only a child could believe.
But that’s the thing about stories taught to us as children. These tall tales get into our heads from such an early age that we never think to question them. And when it comes to the Civil War, there are powerful political forces at work trying to make sure that we never do.
Today, the fairy tale of the Civil War is so entrenched that people regard you as a fool or a racist if you start talking about state’s rights. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read or how deep your expertise goes. It doesn’t matter if the person arguing with you can’t tell the difference between Appomattox and Bass-O-Matic. All that matters is that you are breaking ranks with the official narrative. You might as well throw a white sheet over your head and burn a cross in your neighbor’s front yard.
This year, of course, the flames are hotter than ever. Thanks to a psychopath named Dylann Roof, the Confederate Flag has come under intense scrutiny. Once liberals saw that picture of Roof posing with the flag, the game was up. Within a month, South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, ordered the flag to be taken off the Statehouse grounds.
That wasn’t enough.
In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe smelled an opportunity. The former DNC Chairman signed a ban on the state’s Confederate license plates, ordering drivers to return them for a replacement by October 4. After that date, anyone still displaying the tags would be subject to misdemeanor charges.
Now Maryland is following suit. Unlike Virginia and South Carolina, Maryland has been down this road before. They tried to get the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates off the road in 1997, but the courts told them to take a hike. This year, though, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that license plates represented government speech – not speech of the people – and were therefore not protected by the First Amendment. A judge used this ruling to clear the way for Maryland’s recall.
“I look forward to the day when these plates are no longer on the road,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frost said. “This flag is a painful symbol that divides us, conjuring images of hate and subjugation. It has no place in any contemporary government use.”
Maryland’s lawmakers may be ready to yank the plates from a legal standpoint, but they are going to find that a court victory is only half the battle. In Virginia, the recall has been stymied by almost universal noncompliance. Of the 1,600 SCV plates the state banned, less than 200 have been turned in for replacement.
Speaking to WAVY in Virginia, one member of the organization said he would not abide by the decision unless forced to. Kevin Collier said, “I can’t fight on the battlefield like they did, but I can fight however I can in modern times and I will not give them plates up.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans aren’t the only people sticking up for the Stars and Bars, but they are among the few Americans who refuse to buy into the fairy tale. Made up of members who can trace their ancestry back to brave soldiers who fought for the South, they preach a version of the Civil War that would astound anyone who settled for the slavery myth.
“The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution,” it says on their website. “The tenacity with which Confederate soldiers fought underscored their belief in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”
But if you’re stubbornly attached to the simple, easy-to-digest story of the Civil War taught in school, you don’t give this alternative viewpoint the slightest respect.
“The sole object of this war is to restore the Union,” said one man in 1862. “Should I be convinced it has any other object, or that the government designs using its soldiers to execute the wishes of the abolitionists, I pledge to you my honor as a man and a soldier I would resign my commission and carry my sword to the other side.”
Those words, written by none other than Union General Ulysses S. Grant.
But hey, this angry dude on MSNBC says it was all about slavery. This Black Lives Matter organizer says the Confederate flag is all about hate. And golly, I get a headache when I read too much, so let’s just go with popular opinion and be done with it, kay?
It takes effort to deconstruct a lie. Too much effort, apparently.