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The “Politically Correct” Strawman

The blogosphere’s an interesting place.  Really.  Anyone can gain a measure of legitimacy by setting up a blog or posting reviews on Amazon or making comments on websites.  In an age of ever-opening information and access, everyman can be his own historian, as Carl Becker once put it … and everywoman as well.

Indeed, blogs are one way to challenge the supposed boundaries between professional and amateur, scholar and buff.  People who would not have gotten a hearing twenty years ago are now players in an ever-broadening discussion about the history of the Civil War era.  I count many of these people among my friends, even if they rooted for the wrong team in this past fall classic.

But with access comes responsibility.  If one enters the conversation and wishes to be taken seriously, then one must not run away when one is taken seriously and has one’s arguments subjected to scrutiny.  Here’s one example.

I don’t care much for the phrase “politically correct.”  All too often it’s simply a signpost that the author has decided that whatever he/she finds disagreeable can be dismissed simply by calling it “politically correct.”  It’s a neat way of sidestepping the issue of whether something is historically accurate, and it carries with it the assumption (an all-too-revealing one) that one’s perspective on historical events is hostage to one’s political beliefs.  Oddly enough, that characterization is often quite true when it comes to describing the very people who resort to this cant of “political correctness” as a substitute for sustained historical analysis.

Can anyone identify a scholar who subscribes to the set of beliefs outlined in this blog entry?  Does such a person exist?  Or is this to be taken as being more along the lines of a screed protesting uncomfortable truths by distorting them?

So, tell me, dear readers … can you name a historian who embraces the notion that the North was 100% right or the South 100% wrong?  I can’t, especially as “the North” is a rather diverse place, as is “the South,” and there was no single “Northern position” or “Southern position” (for example, black slaves in the South were southerners, too, as all those fans of black Confederates like to tell us).   Does any historian say that slavery was the only difference between North and South (especially as some slave states did remain in the Union)?  And what is this rant about black Confederates?  I don’t know of any historian who rejects the notion that the Confederacy employed slave labor (thus Butler’s contraband policy), or that a handful of people of African American ancestry served in Confederate ranks.  The debate is over what this means, as well as a demand that those who argue that there were tens of thousands of African Americans who voluntarily served in Confederate ranks produce a shred of evidence to support their contention (this is one place where the cry of “politically correct” comes across loudest, from people who would rather not submit their assertions to any sort of scrutiny).

Much the same can be said for some of the claims the author of this column makes about Reconstruction (the author’s own blog reminds us that he is also a “top 500 Amazon .com reviewer”).  And, of course, there are also some bizarre assumptions implied in the post.  Is someone going to argue seriously that Gone With the Wind (both the movie and the novel, but especially the novel) was not influenced by racist assumptions?  Its history of Reconstruction shows its dependence on a combination of the Dunning school, Thomas Dixon, and Claude Bowers.  The author is so angry about John Brown that he comes up not once, but twice, in the laundry list, but he has some kind words to say about the Ku Klux Klan as being somewhat misunderstood.

But here’s my favorite part of the rant:  “A defining trait of the PCM is the insistence that there is no such thing as the Politically Correct Myth of the American Civil War.  A second part of this argument is that there is no such thing as political correctness, just the truth.”  In short, to challenge this garbage is evidence that the author’s charges are true.

People who know me know I don’t suffer foolishness or stupidity gladly.  Sometimes the best way to deal with it is to circulate it for wider discussion in order to expose it for what it is.

Comments (15) to “The “Politically Correct” Strawman”

  1. Brooks, something is wrong with the link—it goes to a “file not found” message.

  2. Repaired and checked. :)

  3. You can click on the “front page” link that is provided on the 404 File not Found page, to navigate to the entry in question.

  4. In my experience, the charge “politically correct” is made to de-privilege an argument that the accuser is unable or unwilling to meet on its merits. IOW, it is an attempt to duck the issues.

  5. I don’t like the term “politically correct”, either. In my mind, starting out a statement with “I know its not the politically correct thing to say this, but . . . ” is usually the equivalent of saying, “I know only a real dick would say this, but . . . ” As in: “I know it is not politically correct to say this, but the South was right about slavery.” Or, “I know it is not politically correct to say this, but I would rather have people starve than pay higher taxes.”

    Besides, I thought the only thing everyone agreed on was that George McClellan was 100% wrong on everything.

  6. And of course, “I know it is not politically correct to root for the New York Yankees, but . . . ” :)

  7. It’s no coincidence that the people who levy charges about “political correctness” are generally also the people most likely to cast ANY thing in the light of their own personal politics. The neo-Confederate who rails on about the “real” causes of the Civil War sounds just like the neo-conservative who rails on about the “real” agenda of our socialist Kenyan president. They think they are courageously prounouncing a truth that everyone else is afraid to utter.

    In both cases it has nothing to do with “correctness.” Ironically, invoking “PC” is itself a transparent effort to distort the truth with a smokescreen of pure politics and emotion. All done in a calm, knowing tone (or in Glenn Beck’s case, with tearful blubbering).

  8. While I agree that not all answers are in the !00% range of an issue..all of the states that seceded stated in writing that they did so over the “economic issue” (did not want to lose their Slave labor).

  9. This is one of the risks involved with engagement online, is that anyone can have a voice. The key is to respectfully impart knowledge and correct mistakes while avoiding the perception of “elitist academics”, which will cause the public to put up a wall to prevent us from sharing what we have learned through our historical training.

  10. I’m glad Brooks decided to weigh in on this issue, because coincidentally I’ve been weighing in on it elsewhere, specifically with regard to the use of the term in connection with the Fort Hood shootings, as a way to chastise those who were indisposed to leap to the conclusion that Hasan was a jihadist terrorist and proof that you can’t trust Muslims, even when they condemn terrorism, because they’re all closet terrorists at heart.

    Brooks is exactly right. “Political correctness” is not a term designed to open or sustain dialogue. It is power play designed to shut down dialogue, a label designed to instantly invalidate the opinion of anybody with whom one disagrees. Other terms I despise are “ivory tower” and “real world”–as in, you don’t live in the “real world,” but I do. These terms are generally applied to those on the Left and those in academe, but there are equivalent labels applied to invalidate those on the Right. Either way, labels have no place in a society that draws strength from open dialogue. We lose by this. Everyone knows the quote from Platoon in which Charlie Taylor says, voiceover, “Someone once said, ‘Hell is the impossibility of reason.’ That’s what this place feels like.” And that’s what “arguments” that throw around terms like this feel like.

    The weird thing is, “political correctness” first came into common usage on the Left as a term of self-criticism about Leftist viewpoints that descended into dogma. In fact when I first encountered it during my graduate studies, that was the only context in which I heard it used.

    It’s interesting that it’s been taken over by the Right as a means to flagellate the Left, because in and of itself, the term can usefully be applied to any instance in which political convictions have distorted viewpoints into dogma. In this sense, the post Brooks has highlighted is itself an instance of political correctness.

  11. Mark you wrote, “Hasan was a jihadist terrorist and proof that you can’t trust Muslims,” what source is this from?

    “Can’t trust Muslims”?? Who is saying this? Who is making this absurd connection!? This statement by you is what people are afraid of being connected with if they dare question that Hasan might have been a radical jihadist?

    People are concerned as to why our country wants to call such terrorist acts as “man made disasters” and not call it as they see it. This person could have been acting as not an individual for his own sake, but as someone seeking to make a statement in the name of his ideology. To instill fear and establish a message of fear, which we know is what terrorism seeks to do.
    Were some military personnel hesitant to call out Hasan (who potentially was a Radical Islamic Fundamentalist) for fear of being “labeled” as someone who was discriminating (as you said, as calling out all of Islam) based on religious grounds. Would that not warrant the title of being fearful of this so-called “political correctness?” I am not saying this was the case, it is speculation at this point.

    I have a question, do all of you feel there is no such thing as a politically motivated/accepted way to speak and engage in conversation, and if that proper language is not met there could be consequences? Whether it is by the Left or Right!?

    As long as we all have a different political viewpoint, we all see things as either politically correct or not. This is the wrong conversation to have here.

    The correct conversation involves the state of our country where we can, perhaps, allow someone to become a member of our military who clearly should never have been allowed to do so. What allowed this to happen, I ask you?


  12. Hi Chris,

    Ralph Peters, in columns for the New York Post, was one of the first to assert that Hasan was a terrorist and that political correctness was at fault for not culling him out of the armed forces long before Fort Hood. This column provoked a good deal of discussion net of national security experts, during the course of which it became clear that some respondents considered all Muslims suspect. I saw references to suspending enlistment into the armed forces of Muslims and, in instances where Muslim organizations condemned the shootings, saw those condemnations dismissed as disingenuous. As these were part of email exchanges not intended to be made public, I can’t give you a more specific source than that. I would imagine, though, that a few minutes poking around the web would produce comments of a similar sort.

    Is it possible that someone hesitated to take action re Hasan out of fear of being labeled? Certainly. Will we ever know for sure? Probably not — because they plainly assumed an environment of political correctness and were afraid to test their assumption. So the problem may not have stemmed from political correctness but rather from an environment in which the Right has made “political correctness” a giant bogey man.

    As I keep trying to say, the trouble with the term political correctness is that it is an accusation. To my knowledge, no one says, “I’m doing such and such because it’s the politically correct thing to do.” So as with any accusation, one is then obliged to substantiate the accusation with evidence.

    Bottom line: I completely agree with you that there is such a thing, in some circles, “as a politically motivated/accepted way to speak and engage in conversation, and if that proper language is not met there could be consequences? Whether it is by the Left or Right!?” because I have had at times experienced it firsthand — by members of both the Left and Right. To me it’s all part of the basic problem of erecting barriers to dialogue, and I think the label of PC is used so elastically that it constitutes a barrier to dialogue.

    You conclude: “The correct conversation involves the state of our country where we can, perhaps, allow someone to become a member of our military who clearly should never have been allowed to do so. What allowed this to happen, I ask you?” Don’t ask me. Ask the Criminal Investigations Division — but first, give it time to do its work.


    Yet another Durney-like expression along this score, this time from a blog whose owner’s politics are no secret. Isn’t it ironic … :)

  14. Mark sorry for my delayed response, as a public high school teacher I don’t get a lot of time to check my blog.

    I agree with your follow-up for the most part and do not disagree enough to continue here. Thanks for responding!

    I hope all is well.


  15. Actually, instead of wider distribution, stupidity may best be left in the garbage heap.