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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: VI. “The Myth of the Myth of the Lost Cause” (continued)

Saturday, September 04, 2010

VI. “The Myth of the Myth of the Lost Cause” (continued)

The History Field Today….“Houston, we have a problem….”

By Bill Vallante

Yes, a very big problem indeed. I can’t say that I learned a whole lot of history itself when I majored in it as an undergraduate. Most of my historical knowledge came years later doing reading and research on my own. One thing I did learn in school however was that historians were seldom in agreement on anything. An event takes place, and for a decade or two, it falls into the category of a “current event.” As time goes on, it passes into the history books and its history and significance begin to be interpreted by those who call themselves historians. This interpretation itself is what constitutes the study of history, and human nature being what it is it should come as no surprise that the interpretations often vary.

However, in the case of the “Civil War” and its causes there seems to be little or no variation in opinion, at least not these days. It would appear that the vast majority of historians (save a handful of courageous souls who occasionally speak out and whose integrity comes under fire when they do), are in complete agreement on these issues. It sure is peaceful in the history field these days - it is peace of the dead. Where has the variety in interpretation gone? Where has the debate gone? The lack of diverse opinions and the lack of debate on these issues should raise eyebrows, but they fail to. I would conclude that - “Houston, we have a problem….”

In the case of Reconstruction for example, our contemporary experts claim that it was a wonderful experiment in social progress that was sabotaged by white supremacists. They claim that the “Dunning School,” a school of thought on the subject headed by historian William Archibald Dunning which maintained that Reconstruction was a terrible time in America’s history, has been officially “debunked.” Of course, nowhere do I see them offering up any facts to justify their claims. Dunning cites facts such as those which I cited and no contemporary historian has been able to prove that Dunning made those things up. If you don’t see a problem with the facts that I cited, (and they are facts), or, if you choose to ignore them, as our contemporary experts seem to be doing, well then, I’d have to say that - “Houston, we have a problem…..”

In the case of the Sesquicentennial, most of the planners on the various state committees are those same contemporary experts - our “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists.” Some events have already been held and I could not help notice that the ones that have already taken place didn’t draw very big crowds. Events held in the Richmond area recently are indicative, I believe, of the lack of interest that the stories told by such experts hold for most of us, even if few of us are willing to say such things aloud. The highly touted Tredegar museum in Richmond, for example, a museum which touts slavery as a cause of the war and which was designed and run by “Myth of the Lost Cause Mythologists” draws an average of 50 visitors/day. [47] I’ve seen more activity than that in a cemetery. If the states are hoping that museums like Tredegar, or events like “The Future of Richmond’s Past” are going to draw in tourist dollars, think again. Northerners aren’t going to drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to see a “diversity” dog and pony show. They can stay home, save the money, and attend such shows where they live, because such shows are a dime a dozen these days. I have no doubt that as the Sesquicentennial progresses and states begin to see that the tourist dollars are not materializing, we are going to hear those states crying - “Houston, we have a problem…”

Of even greater concern is what may be called a lack of academic freedom within academia itself. The expression of free thought and honest discussion seem to have gone right out the window.

During the 2000 South Carolina flag controversy, about 100 academics from various fields and disciplines, led by a professor whose field of expertise was “African American folklore”, issued a very public statement which proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, that slavery was the cause of the “civil war,” that there should be no arguments to the contrary, and that there was nothing honorable about “the Confederate flag.” A short time later, a smaller group of academics issued a contradictory public statement which took strong issue with the first group’s contentions. So what’s the problem here? There are two:

First, while the press thoroughly covered the first group’s press release, it was noticeably absent for the second group’s release, and -

Second, the people who gathered the signatures for the second group’s press release reported that a number of people expressed a desire to sign the petition but declined due to “fear of future professional reprisals.” Further, some signatures of younger, untenured professors who did volunteer to sign were not used for exactly that very reason – possible future professional reprisals. [48]

“Houston, we do indeed have a problem….”

When academics and self-proclaimed experts announce themselves to be “Professors of Memory Studies” and then hijack America’s historical memory, and no one questions the lunacy of such statements or says, “Hey! You can’t do that!”…..we have a problem.

When academics proudly proclaim they are busting myths and that their myth busting constitutes historical study, but at the same time they tip toe around other potential myths out of fear, ignorance or something else….. we have a problem.

When nearly the whole of academia stops arguing both sides of an issue, and when those few who would like to provide another side to that issue stay silent for fear of “reprisals”….we most assuredly have a problem.

When Congress, at the urging of a race-baiting demagogue who most fear to publicly label as such, deigns itself fit to pass legislative mandates using taxpayer monies in order to promote an official version of an important event in America’s history, an event which, until the last 20 or 30 years was a story that had two sides….we have a problem.

Most of all, when the American public sits silently on its haunches and says nothing about these things, we most certainly have a problem. Maybe we have reached the point that Bruce Catton mentioned – the point where the American people no longer “care to remember anything about the American past.”



[47] (The Richmond Times Dispatch on 4.28/10 reported that the museum received 21000 visitors in 2009)

[48] “The Southern Partisan,” Volume XX Second Quarter, 2000, pp. 17=21


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