Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bonus blog just because

Wow, yesterday I watched, for the first time in many weeks, MSNBC for news. The incitement to resent the South and for blacks to add up everything that ever was done wrong to them was the strongest message from the Chris Hayes' hour. I didn't watch Fox but am guessing the same thing in reverse is going on there. And, we wonder why we are polarized! How you see any of this likely will be much impacted by where you get your news.

Hayes had on a guest professor who had been infuriated when a woman caller to his radio show had said she believed the Confederate flag should come down, but that she was still proud of her ancestors. He tore into her and compared her to a German today saying they were proud of their Nazi ancestors-- as if every soldier who fought for the German military in WWII was a Nazi and a perpetrator of the Holocaust. All guilty by being German during those years.

I felt frustrated watching this man as he was presented as learned, and Hayes chose to have him on for that reason and because he'd attacked that woman for defending her own relatives. 

The thing is, from what I have read (and I am a Northerner and never would want to own slaves), there was more to the Civil War than slavery. Only about 10% of Southerners, at that time, owned slaves. Even big plantations didn't all use slave labor. But that doesn't suit the current agenda of those who want us once again into a race war or at least a time of intense resentment of one race, group or the other. When such things happen, I always wonder who benefits from such divisions.

Civil War historians agree (the ones I've read) that there is complexity to what got this nation into that war. The South seceded over the probability that the North would eventually declare their slavery laws were illegal. Yes, pressure was building, but it wasn't yet a fact when the South seceded. I am sure many soldiers in the North, those not conscripted, went to war over slavery as it's the emotional hook you also find at the onset to many wars-- Remember the Maine. Tales of horror had been told by escaping slaves. Newspapers were raging against the practice. Most famously, the tragic, but fictional, Uncle Tom's Cabin convinced many in the North that violence was the only alternative to end this 'evil' practice. 

Emotional though it might have been to many, slavery wasn't the only issue that led Lincoln to fight the war. He most strongly did not want the Union to be broken. With more future states still territories, it's not hard to see his concern went beyond the South of the time. He took the view that the southern states did not have the right to secede-- hence this was a rebellion. 
While many still debate the ultimate causes of the Civil War, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson writes that, "The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states. When Abraham Lincoln won election in 1860 as the first Republican president on a platform pledging to keep slavery out of the territories, seven slave states in the deep South seceded and formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America. The incoming Lincoln administration and most of the Northern people refused to recognize the legitimacy of secession. They feared that it would discredit democracy and create a fatal precedent that would eventually fragment the no-longer United States into several small, squabbling countries." from Causes of Civil War
The oldest book I have in my library is History of the Administration of President Lincoln: including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. It was compiled by Henry J. Raymond and published in 1864 while the war was still ongoing. In this book, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued September 22, 1862 to take effect January 1, 1863 which hence freed all slaves in the rebel states-- nearly two years after the war had officially begun in April 1961. 

For economic reasons, it is believed by many that the South would have also eventually given up slavery, with so few actual slave owners. Keep in mind that it was legal in the North until it proved unprofitable. Do we also get rid of all mention of Northerners who owned slaves like Washington or Jefferson? Jefferson even amazingly had a black woman as his mistress and mother of some of his children, who he also did not free in his will. Some hero.

The Civil War (or War of Northern Aggression as you see it called, if you are in Southern bookstores) was a brutal time in our country where over 600,000 men were killed (from injuries and illnesses) and many more maimed. The war was fought by just over 2 million on the Northern side and 1 million on the Southern. It and its aftermath bitterly divided our country for many years to come, and the resentments on both sides are still easily stirred up. Some believe if Lincoln had not been assassinated, the aftermath might've gone better as the weakness of his successor, Andrew Johnson, and Northern carpetbaggers and sharecropping systems did little to help the country truly heal-- not to mention unfair laws in Northern states, like Oregon's, which was adamantly pro-North and yet passed laws where no black was allowed to own property. That one lasted in my state until 1912. Hypocrisy, thy name is too often man.

Some are not satisfied with the Confederate flag being removed from public buildings (where it seems it should have never been), but they want the film 'Gone with the Wind' unavailable to see because it promotes the idea the war was not about slavery but about state's rights. It also gives stereotypes of black life under slavery. 

Because of such censorship, for years, you have not been able to see a Disney film, 'Song of the South,' and the Uncle Remus tales became equally hard to find based on censorship. That film inspired anger from the moment it came out in 1946. I had seen it as a small child. We took our children when they were small to what was likely its last such public viewing. It was an old black man telling these folk stories of the animals, and their tricks on each other. Viewing it didn't convince me or my children that life in the South was all beautiful then or now. It was a lovely film but a fantasy-- one of Disney's first to have real people mixed with cartoons to tell Uncle Remus' stories. You aren't going to buy a DVD of it on Amazon or in any store. It long ago was censored out of existence.

When something horrible happens, as it did in Charleston, we seem always as a people to react to it with extreme measures, often not hitting on the real issue, but almost always spewing hate. Hate is like a boomerang for how what you send out comes back. The Charleston murders came during a time where racial resentments were already being stirred up-- not saying without good reason. A lot has been going on of which many of us were not aware until the last year. It had been building though.

If these vicious murders had come in a vacuum, this renewed attack on the Secession or Rebellion (depending on who you are and how you see it) might not be the cultural issue it now is. We've had shootings in churches and killers like this one; but this time, it happened in the midst of a massive swelling of rage and upset. Did the latest killings have anything at all to do with the Civil War, Confederate flag, Gone with the Wind, or reenactments of Civil War battles? Who cares-- it's a cause!

Here comes true-confession time. On a personal level, I'm particularly concerned regarding this because of the censorship element. Shockingly to me, it has erupted prior to my bringing out in September my third Oregon historical, which takes some of this on-- without thinking it'd be something so controversial in our times. 

Three years or so ago, when I wrote the third one, I knew the history of the Civil War and what that meant in Oregon culturally. Going Home begins in 1865 just as the war had ended. It got into the political climate in Oregon and the extreme resentment toward anyone who had fought for the South, all while Oregon voted in place laws that were very unfair to minorities.

Add to it that Going Home has a mix of ethnic and cultural characters. There are those who will resent that I wrote black, Chinese, Jewish, and Native Americans as secondary characters as well as a hero who actually fought for the South. Horrors! The argument goes that writers have no right to cover other ethnicities when they aren't one of them (incidentally, I also had nobody who fought for the South in my ancestry). 

Well, all the time, I write about women I am not, don't want to be. With the men I write about-- I not only am not a man, have never been one, don't want to be married to those guys, but to add to it, I never wanted to be a man. I like being female way too much. Writing characters comes from looking around, gathering information, and using imagination!

Admittedly, I am seeing this all as a writer and one who likes to read books where history has not been sugarcoated to please one group or another. That's getting harder to do. Yes, I see the danger in using literature as a way to get political points across or to block them. But censorship has its own dangers.

Finally, be real careful where you get your news and be aware what it's doing when stirring up more angst and resentment. To be fair, I thought Maddow was more balanced,  but I only saw her first half... She had one very powerful segment though where she discussed how the Supreme Court decision regarding housing had surprised her and how important it was.
Here's the thing (and I agree with her and the Supremes regarding this)-- the more we segregate ourselves by one method or another, the more it is possible for groups to turn us against the 'other'. When we know the other, they prove not nearly so scary or evil. So that court decision might help-- but not right away. 

Even when it's your pet issue, do you really want censorship when you've raged against it in the past? It's censorship whether it's what you wanted not seen or what someone else wanted not seen. Same end result-- ideas are suppressed because they threaten or even worse, might make someone think beyond the approved message!


Ingineer66 said...

Hey you doubled Chris Hayes ratings. :-)
I am with you on censorship. The flag should be removed from the statehouse, but not museums. The left on this issue is starting to look like Nazi Germany when they were burning books that they did not agree with. Rewriting history does not really change it and the uppity northerners forget that the largest riots in the history of this nation were the NYC draft riots during the Civil War.

Rain Trueax said...

It's always easier to blame someone else for something than to look at ourselves.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I do want the flags to come down, but they have a place in museums. A person has to drive past them every day, and see that symbol of opression. It's not OK.

But Gone With the Wind? Banning that is like pretending that racism and slavery are not real. And that's not OK either. We need to have these reminders of the way things were. I've seen that Huckleberry Finn is often forbidden because it uses the word Nigger. It's an ugly word, but real in the time and place of the book. We mustn't forget, we're too close to it still.

And I loved "Song of the South". It never made me think slavery was OK. When I saw it (in the 70s probably), I don't think I even realized the man telling the stories was supposed to be a slave.

Rain Trueax said...

That was the same way I felt about it J. :) I have wondered with Song of the South if it ever made the point he was a slave. I don't remember. Not all blacks in the Southw ere.

I think a lot of us agree that flag doesn't belong on government buildings. I don't know why anybody would want to fly it on their home either, but the issues behind that shooting go much deeper to gun regulations, hate talk, and segregating ourselves into comfortable niches