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The American Civil War: The Confederacy

The WAIS history textbook project proposes to find a cause of war in the teaching of history. The same problem arises with regard to civil war. It would be interesting to compare the history textbooks put out in Spain by the Franco regime with those of the republican period. I had been looking for similar difference in the US, and it was with surprise that I posted a story on a convention of the League of the South, which presents a Confederate view of history. It turns out that this was a straw in a wind which may be gaining strength. When I traveled through the South in 1938 I visited many battlefields (most of them are located there) and was bored with all the accounts of the moves made by the two sides. That is the way the Civil War is often presented, as a series of battles fought by two equally valiant armies. The cause of the war was described (correctly) as the desire of the North to preserve the Union.That was the theme of the 1,279-page Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by defeated Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The problem with that is that George III wanted to preserve the union, as he pointed out.

There is a move in the North to change this and to present the Civil War as a fight against slavery. Politically this movement is led by Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., and academically by leftist Columbia history professor Eric Foner. Jackson has issued a directive to the National Park Service to stress the role of slavery in their exhibits on the Civil War. The trouble is that the Holocaust Museum in Washington,DC has been presented as a model. This suggests a comparison between the Old South and Nazi Germany. The focal point for this argument is the museum at Gettysburg, which is to be restored and updated. Naturally Southerners are upset, among them the Sons of Confederate Veterans, based in Tennessee.

It may well be that the activities of Representative Jackson are tied to the movement to get reparations for the defendants of slaves. This deliberate humiliation will alienate Southerners and possibly lead to a pro-South revision of the history textbooks in the Confederate states. Texas faces Ronald Hilton - 9/24/02