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.