Regions of Mind
Self-assured but self-questioning.
Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a husband, a father, a son. And always
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Monday, December 9
The three posts today are all on the same theme: looking at the social prejudices of historical figures. Those posts all flow from a long analysis posted here on Sunday about Trent Lott and the Dixiecrat matter. Other topics since Friday: the debate over conservative domination of the press; South Florida; and a Good Samaritan.
Topics in the pipeline: French economic policy; judging the "racism" of previous generations; morality and foreign policy; a tangent relating to German history in the mid-20th century; a U.N.-related matter; and some leftover Confederate battle flag aspects.
Racial prejudice in the 1940s
The Lincoln Plawg’s set of posts on the Dixiecrat issue, linked by InstaPundit, vividly provides historical context about how many politicians of the 1940s (FDR, Harry Truman, Claude Pepper, among others) were hardly fervent champions of civil rights in some instances. John Smith ably explains at Plawg that by today’s standards, the parameters for accepted discourse in the 1940s, even in the North, often allowed remarkably harsh statements about minorities and often channeled the policy conversation into narrow limits.
In 1943, for instance, researchers at Fisk University decided to launch a new journal titled A Monthly Summary of Events and Trends in Race Relations. The academicians had been prompted to start the journal by a major urban race riot that year -- not in a Deep South city but in Detroit.
The journal later reported that for a 10-month period in 1943, 242 “major incidents involving Negro-white conflict” had occurred in 47 cities. Forty-six percent of the incidents were in the South, 42 percent in the North and 12 percent in the West.
One issue of the journal referred to what it called “interminority conflicts involving, particularly, Negroes and Poles and Irish Catholics in such Northern cities as Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and Buffalo.”
In his 1998 book “Whiteness of a Different Color,” Matthew Frye Jacobson wrote in regard to the journal:
In his posts, John Smith notes that Alabama Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom, among several Southern political leaders, wasn’t regarded as a race-baiter. That follows from everything I’ve read about him -- not that he was progressive on civil rights, either. When the Dixiecrats held their convention in Birmingham, Ala., in July 1948, Folsom, as a Democratic governor, tried to straddle the fence. He made a brief, pro forma appearance at the convention but otherwise made no effort to tie his political fate with that of Thurmond & Co. In contrast, Mississippi’s governor was Thurmond’s Dixiecrat running mate.
Anti-semitism in that era
In discussing social prejudices in the 1940s, it is relevant to note how anti-Semitism was expressed openly in this country during that time, even in Congress. I talked about that point in a post in October, describing a Terry Gross interview with historian Michael Beschloss:
Truman, to his credit, desegregated the nation’s armed forces and established a national civil rights commission intended to push the nation toward progress in regard to race relations. At the same time, however, John Smith at The Lincoln Plawg cites a quote by Truman, from his Senate days in the late 1930s, in which he said he didn’t personally support a federal anti-lynching although he would feel politically obligated to vote for it.
One last note regarding prejudice and historical figures:
William Kristol, to his credit, unhesitatingly criticized Lott’s remarks concerning the Dixiecrat issue. "It's ludicrous,” Kristol said in the Washington Post. “He should remember it's the party of Lincoln.”
In light of that statement, it’s a bit ironic that Kristol’s magazine, The Weekly Standard, goes to such lengths to heap praise on Theodore Roosevelt. TR, after all, didn’t hesitate to express contempt toward non-whites.
The new edition of Cato Policy Report, for example, has an essay that is ferociously hostile to Roosevelt. (It’s over the top, really -- a modern, industrial society is going to need government regulation, and it’s no sin that TR recognized that fact. Of course, he did move steadily to the political left so that by the time of his 1912 presidential campaign, his views had veered into outright radicalism.)
The Cato essay includes several atrocious Roosevelt quotes on the topic of race. To cite only one example: “A perfectly stupid race can never rise to a very high place; the Negro, for instance, has been kept down as much by lack of intellectual development as by anything else.”
Roosevelt, the essay notes, called on white Americans to be “good breeders” to prevent “race suicide.” TR, in line with many elite intellectuals of the day, routinely employed racially chauvinistic language, praising whites as innately superior over other races. The essay quotes historian Diane Paul, who wrote that Roosevelt “probably did more than any other individual to bring the views of academic race theorists to ordinary Americans.”
Such a discussion raises the point about how far one should go in judging past generations by current moral standards. I intend to address that in a post later this week.
Sunday, December 8
Double-speak catches up with Trent Lott
W.J. Cash observed in “The Mind of the South” that old-time Southern traditionalists had a “tendency toward unreality.” Their mental “world-construction,” he argued, was “mainly a product of fantasy.” Cash’s point would seem to apply to Trent Lott’s egregious public praise for the Dixiecrat movement of 1948.
Lott’s statement, wistfully delivered at a Thurmond birthday party and captured on C-SPAN, straightforwardly commended the Dixiecrat movement:
Perhaps Lott felt obligated by some diehard sense of state pride, given that Thurmond’s Dixiecrat running mate in 1948 was a Mississippian -- Fielding Wright, the state’s governor. Perhaps Lott was trying to be polite and in the process forgot to apply the circumspection that politicians normally feel obligated to use when referring back to the checkered political career of Thurmond, a one-time arch-segregationist.
Most likely, though, Lott was tripped up by the long tradition, among certain Southerners in certain eras, of using double-talk, obfuscation and cynicism in excusing certain things: Describing slavery, at the time, as paternalism. Or lynching, in the 1890s, as justice. Apologists rationalized the disenfranchisement of blacks as essential to social order. They touted underfunded blacks-only public schools, with a straight face, as “equal” to those for whites. They justified opposition to federal anti-lynching legislation as an innocuous safeguarding of constitutional principles.
And they held up Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign in 1948 as a mere defense of states’ rights.
Lott's praise for the Dixiecrat movement certainly moves the Republican Senate leader's post a long way from the days of Everett Dirksen, who encouraged his party in 1964 to vote for Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act -- a sterling moment in congressional history. (And a sterling moment for the Supreme Court would come two years later, when its South Carolina vs. Katzenbach decision rejected the states’-rights argument and at long last revivified the federal powers, first enunciated in the Civil War amendments, to enforce the civil rights of all Americans.)
Other birthday pronouncements for Thurmond sidestepped, out of politeness, the unpleasant parts of his career in public life. Lott’s ill-considered statements serve a useful purpose, though, by drawing attention to what the Dixiecrat movement was actually about. (Kudos to blogger Atrios, in particular, for pointing out the naked racism of that crusade.)
The Dixiecrat movement began to come together in 1948 when segregationist-minded dissidents walked out of the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia. A leader of the walkout was “Bull” Connor, the Birmingham, Ala., police commissioner whose fascistic tactics in attacking civil rights demonstrators would shock the nation in the 1960s.
Birmingham, in fact, was the site of the Dixiecrat’s convention, held in July 1948. A scattering of delegates attended from several non-Southern states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois and California.
Thurmond, as the movement's presidential nominee, easily adopted the time-honored double-speak of Southern white supremacy. As described by John Egerton in his book “Speak Now Against the Day,” Thurmond’s strategy
The night that Thurmond’s nomination was approved by the convention, a group of revelers in Birmingham produced a stuffed dummy, labeled it Harry Truman, put a noose around its neck and conducted a mock lynching. Someone attached a scrawled message to its coat: “TRUMAN KILLED BY CIVIL-RIGHT.”
Thurmond’s pretense that Dixiecratism was devoid of racist sentiment was hard to square with the South Carolinian’s own stated racism. The national press noted, for instance, an incident involving Thurmond and William H. Hastie, appointed by Truman as governor of the Virgin Islands.
Thurmond invited Hastie for a visit to the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia, and Hastie responded appreciatively, extending an invitation for Thurmond to visit the Virgin Islands.
But when Thurmond learned that Hastie was black, matters abruptly soured.
“I would not have written him if I knew he was a Negro,” Thurmond thundered. “Of course, it would have been ridiculous to invite him.”
How refreshing: No double-talk, just the ugly truth.
An online bulletin board included a discussion Friday night on the subject, “Florida vs. New York,” meaning which was the most desirable place to live. A lot of the comments focused on the nature of South Florida. I can’t vouch for one writer’s claims, but I found them interesting:
Another writer offered a dissent:
By the way: The second writer made this meteorological observation:
Saturday, December 7
I don't claim that this anecdote proves anything cosmic about people as far as class or race. But it's a true story, and it happened early this afternoon.
I went to a mall here in central Omaha to pick up a Christmas present. The parking lots, not surprisingly, were packed. I had park far away. When I finally got to the crosswalk, I waited and waited for cars to let me cross. (Maybe I should have tried to assert the pedestrian right-of-way, but I wasn't eager to step out in front of cars that were showing no indication of slowing down.)
Finally, a car stopped to let me cross. The vehicle was a scruffy old car with three middle-aged black people in it. I gave a wave of thanks, which was reciprocated by the driver. I couldn't help noticing that the Good Samaritan's car was quite a contrast to the parade of shiny SUVs and minivans that had failed to let me cross.
Friday, December 6
Service in the Senate
Strom Thurmond isn't the only U.S. senator from South Carolina to enjoy an extraordinary longevity in Congress. In 1944, Sen. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith of South Carolina died after serving in the U.S. Senate since 1909. At the time of his death, he had served longer in that body that any prior member.
Here are the top dozen members for longevity in the Senate, with length of service for current members as of last January:
A list of the top 20 is here.
One of my most vivid memories from living in Washington, D.C., in the early '80s was the morning I was walking north along the street that runs in front of the Supreme Court building, on my way to one of the congressional office buildings. I happened to look down to see an elderly, fragile man in a suit being pushed in a wheelchair, coming in my direction. My eyes met his, and, in that fleeting moment, the old fellow gave off a sense of deep weariness and eroding physical strength. It was John Stennis.
There's a twist, though: My impression wasn't entirely correct. Stennis retained enough strength to win re-election in 1982. He served out that full term, retiring in 1989. He died in 1995. That was more than a decade since I'd seen him on that sidewalk in downtown D.C.
Racial friendliness, or closet racism?
Check out this unusual site, please, and see if you can decide what it is:
My view is that it's intended as lighthearted satire. But can we really be sure?
Update: Here's another weird one to check out.
It was widely reported this week that the Pew survey of global opinion indicated deep strains of opposition abroad to the Bush administration’s foreign policy. The poll results from Canada weren’t as bad, though they did indicate that Canadians retain a wariness about U.S. influence in their country. From a Globe and Mail article:
'Bowling for Columbine'
I don't know if it's been mentioned at other sites, but the blog world's least favorite current movie, Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," has won the best documentary award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The National Board of Review is made up of teachers, writers, actors and movie production workers.
If you fly an American flag, it should be at half-staff on Saturday, to salute those who died at Pearl Harbor, according to a presidential proclamation. Our household added a flag pole and flag several months ago. It's become a nice part of our lives.
Democracy and Islam: the Bush view
Richard N. Haass, director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (who headed Middle East policymaking in the first Bush White House) gave a speech this week titled “Towards Greater Democracy in the Muslim World.” He framed things in a good news/bad news format. Some of what he told the Council on Foreign Relations:
Forty percent of Muslims live as minorities in countries such as India, France and South Africa, Haass noted.
The bad news Haass described is pretty familiar in the blog world. He wasn’t sparing in describing the democracy gap in the Arab-Muslim world:
Defer to the politicians, eh
John Rosenberg, at his blog Discriminations, has fun tweaking the Washington Post (here and here), saying the paper’s argument on affirmative action -- well, I’m cite his own phrasing:
John also mischievously takes the text of the Southern Manifesto (a 1956 statement of principle against federally mandated school desegregation signed by a large group of Southern members of Congress) and substitutes "racial preferences" or "diversity" for "segregation" or related terms.
By the way: One of the signers of the manifesto was a then-Democratic senator named Strom Thurmond. Among the others: Sam Ervin and J. William Fulbright.
I was a bit surprised to see that another signer was Sen. W. Kerr Scott, a populist-minded farmer who had outwitted Democratic Party barons in North Carolina to win that state’s gubernatorial election in 1948. In 1949, Scott stunned political observers by naming liberal Frank Porter Graham (president of the University of North Carolina, who had served on Harry Truman’s civil rights commission) to fill a U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of the incumbent.
Graham was an enormously dedicated and decent-minded public servant, although his views often tended toward dreamy idealism. He was ousted in the 1950 Democratic primary, in which the topic of race relations was a key factor. He later served as a U.N. mediator between India and Pakistan in regard to Kashmir. After he had left service with the U.N., Graham said he was sure the problem could have been resolved had the two sides only agreed to carry out his plan for reconciliation. He found it hard to believe that sweet reason would be so forcefully rebuffed.
Stonewalling in Russia
My friend Fred Ray said it well when he sent me the URL for a most unusual site the other day. “Okay,” Fred wrote, “now I have seen it all.”
Here is what he’s talking about: a Web site saluting Stonewall Jackson -- based in Russia.
The site is in English and by all appearances offers a serious-minded examination of some of the general’s campaigns.
And don’t forget the guestbook, with notes from France, England and the American South (or, as one Alabama sorehead churlishly put it in his message, “an occupied, conquered nation formerly known as the Confederate States of America.”)
And what language is that one message in -- Greek?
Thursday, December 5
A lesson from ‘Albion’s Seed’
Jim Bennett, UPI foreign policy columnist, sent me some thoughtful observations in response to the mentioning of “redneck” (by me) and of “hillbilly” and “Toby” (by blogger Chris Scott). Jim writes:
Just as people viewing the world “from the comfort of suburban Tennessee” no doubt bridle at Euro-snobbery directed at them.
Agents of destruction
I read Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic Leadership Council from the other day to see what language he had used in urging his party, rightly, to pay more attention to national security issues.
An odd phrase in the speech leaped out at me: “destruction machine.”
Clinton used it to characterize the conservative activists, commentators, politicians and reporters who, by his description, gang up relentlessly on Democratic leaders. It’s an updated version of Hillary Clinton’s reference to a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” From his speech:
Republicans, Clinton said, “have an increasingly right-wing and bellicose conservative press,” while “we (Democrats) have an increasingly docile establishment press, to be fair, partly because of the enormous trauma of September 11th and its aftermath.”
I’m not one for fanatical, Limbaugh-like deconstructions of every little turn of phrase used by Democrats, but Clinton did say that Democrats have the establishment media, meaning, as I interpret it, that Democrats generally have them on their side. I suppose it could be said he meant that Democrats “have” the establishment press as the last hope for objective reporting. But the parallel construction in the sentence indicated he meant the GOP has one media faction on its side and the Democratic Party has another on its.
Another move by Schroeder
Some may carp that I'm only piling on as far as the blog world's Germanophobic rhetoric, but it should be pointed out that Schroeder's government is announcing significant defense cuts this week. The Times of London sums them up as "big cuts in spending on key arms projects."
German criticism of U.S. military muscle and "unilateralism" is hard to take when German officials are unapologetically shortchanging their own country's military capabilities. The same goes for German complaints about the yawning gap between their country's military capability and that of the United States.
As the Times article points out, the German government's decision directly undercuts a recent pledge by NATO officials to reduce that technology gap.
Strom Thurmond and Pitchfork Ben Tillman
Wyeth Ruthven describes a 1909 episode from Thurmond's childhood involving the old-time South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman. Wyeth also links to a post of mine about Tillman -- many thanks.
By the way: Sorry for the lull in blogging here. Couldn't be helped. Much is in the pipeline, though.
Wednesday, December 4
Former White House aide John DiIulio has apologized for his comments in Esquire in which he blasted the Bush administration, which he said is being run by political opportunists he derided as “Mayberry Machiavellis.” Andrew Sullivan posted some thoughts on the matter Tuesday.
I grew up about a three hours’ drive southwest of the North Carolina town that served as the inspiration for Mayberry. A good friend of mine (who grew up about four hours to the southwest of the Ur-Mayberry) sent me a wonderful e-mail this week, inspired by DiIulio’s colorful phrase:
I suppose I could try to explain to Andrew Sullivan who Floyd and Barney are, but I'd probably only confuse him.
Update: In regard to the DiIulio matter itself, Esquire is disputing claims in DiIulio's apology by releasing a long letter he sent to interviewer Ron Suskind in October.
Cousins to 'redneck'
One of several e-mail acquaintances I’ve been especially pleased to make since starting this blog has been Chris Scott, a grad student in public history in South Carolina. Chris, who blogs at The Insecure Egotist in between exams, was spurred by my posts about “rednecks” to note two related terms from Southern cultural history: “hillbilly” and “Toby”:
Anyone interested in further exploring such aspects of Southern culture will find a terrific resource here, affiliated with my undergraduate alma mater.
Tuesday, December 3
Chris Patten vs. Richard Perle
The two made clear their differing perspectives in a transcript at FrontPage magazine.com. (The transcript is of a symposium discussion in Prague from October. The Trilateral Commission sponsored the event.)
Patten fervently made the case for multilateralism. And he bluntly criticized neoconservatives and U.S. “unilateralism.”
Perle’s point-by-point rebuttal of claims by Patten makes for a good read. After Patten said that Europeans are striving to be an ally but also to serve as a “counterweight” to American power, Perle responded that such an approach hardly seemed evidence of a European desire to be an ally of the United States.
Among Perle’s other comments:
Perle also made a useful distinction between multilateralism and "globalism." The latter he characterized pejoratively, saying it was the agenda of the Clinton administration and remains the guiding star strategically for the pro-ICC, pro-Kyoto band of diplomats and activists.
‘Our relationships with them are fundamentally changing ... ’
Peter Ross Range, editor of Blueprint (the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council) recently returned from a trip to Germany. In an article in the new edition of the magazine, he describes a growing gap between Germans and Americans in regard to foreign policy:
His description seems right on the mark. European naivete and prejudices continue to present huge complications for a realistic U.S. diplomacy.
Over the long term, though, the United States is going to need allies. The current America-as-hegemon environment isn’t likely to last; even the seemingly intractable Cold War conflict eventually evaporated. In coming decades, other centers of power will arise in the world. Sure, the United States is likely to remain the dominant power, and thankfully so. But over time it would hardly be a surprise if we saw slippage in our ability to convince or coerce other governments. And we could well face problems in exercising our sovereignty to use military force, given the way some NGOs and diplomats are working to reshape international law.
Range's article ends by saying it might take an attack of catastrophic terrorism on European soil before the Germans and other Continentals awaken to the geopolitical reality. Unfortunately, he's probably right about that too. And even then, many would probably find a way to put the blame on U.S. foreign policy.
Update: Porphyrogenitus ably pulls together observations on the Euro-American loggerheads topic, at Ranting Screeds.
Canada and the R-word
When I asked the other day whether Canada has rednecks, Canadian blogger Colby Cosh rolled his eyes at the very question. In a post he titled “Sheesh, did he really ask that?” he wrote:
I got the link to the radio documentary to work once. But in subsequent checks I found that the CBC kept redirecting me to another URL.
Cosh also links to an article that talks about the promotional use of the term “redneck” in Alberta:
In 1999, Canadian commentator Judy Rebick used the term “redneck” as an epithet to insult Preston Manning, then-leader of the Progressive Conservatives. In an essay titled “The real Preston stood up,” Rebick wrote: “The United Alternative is dead. Long live bigotry and intolerance, Preston Manning seemed to be saying in his very long response to the Throne Speech. The real Preston Manning finally stood up. ... Manning demonstrated what the Progressive Conservative leadership has always known. Underneath that civil reserve lies a good old-fashioned Alberta redneck. As has been widely reported, Manning returned to what the media is calling "core Reform values." Anti-immigration, anti-Charter of Rights and Freedoms, anti-gay and lesbian families, and, most surprising, a call for ‘defining the rights of the unborn.’ ”
A Calgary resident responded to her column this way:
Another Calgary resident was pointed in rebuking Rebick’s use of “redneck”:
Rebick eventually felt compelled to try to mend fences. In a message addressed to her readers, she wrote:
When I first expressed puzzlement last week at the use of “redneck” in the Canadian context, I had no idea about the term’s familiar use north of the border. It feels good to have my ignorance reduced, even if by only a smidgen, given its overall magnitude.
By the way: Readers here in the Midlands might be interested in the results from Google searches for “Nebraska rednecks” and “Iowa rednecks.”
And: In a post below, I note that a good friend is chiding me for being too flippant in using the term “redneck,” given its frequent use as a slur against blue-collar Southerners. He has a point. I’ve been casual in using the term here and loosened up even further after reading the Colby Cosh post.
Monday, December 2
Genetics, monsters and patent law
I linked the other day to an article about how anti-technology radical Jeremy Rifkin and biologist Stuart Newman are hoping to block human cloning by trying to get a patent for a “chimera,” a part-animal/part-human monstrosity. Roger Sweeny did some digging and e-mailed me additional info for which I'm grateful. Roger writes:
“Regarding whether you can patent something you haven't actually done yet,” Roger writes, “the answer seems to be ‘maybe.’ ” From a link Roger provided to a June 1998 article in AgBiotechNet:
Roger also pointed out a detailed examination of the issue in Policy Review as well as a recent essay on the subject by Charles Colson.
Thanks much, Roger.
Thirteen female teachers from Afghanistan just left the Omaha area after visiting schools and other sites here for five weeks. A chart in the Omaha World-Herald, where I work, compared some of the conditions between schools here and schools in Afghanistan. None of the information will be surprising, but I wanted to mention it anyway:
An insulting term
A good friend, and a dedicated student of Southern history and culture, sent me an e-mail today:
As I told my friend in my response, I am well aware that the word is often used hurtfully and with precisely the type of condescension he described. So, on the one hand, it can be insensitive to casually toss about a term like "redneck" at a blog (especially at a site like this that carps about slurs against people because of the region they hail from). On the other hand, the "redneck" posts at this site began on a legitimate point. A Canadian professor attempted to slur foreign policy "realists" by saying they were displaying "red neckism." There was nothing untoward in my exploring that, not least since, in my ignorance, I'd never heard the topic mentioned before in the Canadian context.
By the way: I discovered over the weekend that the use of "redneck" as a slur during political debate sparked an outcry in Canada several years back. I intend to post on that late tonight.
Refining the meaning of 'whigger'
A well-written e-mail I quoted below, about the ubiquity of rednecks across U.S. regions, mentioned the word "whiggers" (a term I'd never heard before), saying it was equivalent to "white trash." Archie Waugh e-mailed me today saying that whiggers are not white trash, however, but instead are "white, usually middle-class, youths who emulate black 'gangsta' types. "
Other points made by Archie Waugh:
Great stuff. This is exactly why I started a blog site.
Not only have I been ignorant about "whiggers"; I have also been ignorant about Canadian rednecks. I got some interesting info on that topic over the weekend but my schedule was so scrambled I had no time to post on it or hardly anything else. I intend to post the Canadian redneck info tonight.
More on talk radio
From an e-mail today sounding a different reaction in regard to the talk radio debate:
Saturday, November 30
I can understand why the selection of Henry Kissinger to head the 9/11 investigative commission has come under some vehement criticism, especially from the political left. What’s curious to me, though, is that I well remember Kissinger’s appointment by Ronald Reagan in 1983 to head a bipartisan commission on Central American policy, and the response to Kissinger’s selection then wasn’t anywhere nearly as outraged as the blasts sounded against him this week.
In ’83, Reagan’s aides acknowledged upfront that the president had tapped Kissinger because he was the best-known foreign policy figure in the nation and it was felt that his name would lend the desired gravitas to the commission’s findings (which, as it turned out, endorsed the administration’s policy, even, after sharp internal debate, to the point of endorsing Reagan’s contra policy).
It seems likely that the Bush administration picked Kissinger for the new commission for a similar reason.
Kissinger is like the CIA in a curious respect: Both draw heated fire from both the foreign-policy left and the foreign-policy right. That was especially the case during the Cold War years. When the Reagan administration announced in ’83 that Kissinger would be heading the Central America commission, I can well remember the distaste and consternation sounded by Jesse Helms, who was heavily involved in policy in the region. The North Carolinian had long expressed deep distress over Kissinger’s policy of detente with the Soviets and thawing relations with the Chinese.
The passion with which various commentators denounced Kissinger this week reminded me of the sharp, even embittered, criticisms leveled at Richard Nixon by old-time liberals at the time of his death. I’m not at all minimizing the affronts to the Constitution done by Nixon and his henchmen as far as Watergate. My point, rather, is how some people seem to retain -- indeed, seem determined to hold onto -- a burning anger against a particular public figure (Alger Hiss, Joe McCarthy, Nixon, Kissinger) long after they have passed from positions of power in Washington.
Sure, anger over public policies can be warranted. But the sort of long-term personal loathing displayed toward Kissinger and the others can hardly be healthy. It's beyond me why some people don't understand that they can stay true to their political values without surrendering to bitterness.
Wednesday, November 27
Yes, Canada has rednecks; so do California and Minnesota and ...
I asked in a post this week, "Does Canada have rednecks?" I received a marvelous response from Kevin Trainor, of Minneapolis. He writes:
Well-conceived and well-said.
Jeremy Rifkin’s chimera
Jeremy Rifkin, the old New Leftist who has been preaching radical Luddite views for years now, is pursuing a plan to try to short-circuit the medical use of human cloning. His strategy: file a patent for a genetically engineered half-human, half-animal creation.
An article in Legal Affairs magazine, tells how Rifkin has teamed up with biologist Stuart Newman to propose the creation of a “chimera”:
Sounds a little too pat to me.
Blue-state blues; Lindsey’s wisdom; taxing the poor; African entrepreneurs
It’s the night before a holiday and my time is limited. Here are some short takes on various topics:
Brits display the flag
I’m just about out of time tonight, so I’ll have to wait till later in the week to write about additional aspects of the Confederate battle flag.
I will pass along a great flag-related anecdote that an old North Carolina friend e-mailed me on Tuesday:
Rules are OK, but remember the example of Charles Mingus
Posts by Eugene Volokh (here and here) have spurred useful discussion at his site about writing style. I’ll toss in a few observations of my own on the subject.
A distinction can be made between writing that is straightforward and to the point and writing has a sense of style, of elevation of technique. Either one of those can serve the purpose of communicating one’s ideas effectively. The latter, however, adds a vital element of playfulness that, in my view, should be the goal of an ambitious writer.
If the goal is the more practical one of (merely) eliminating poorly conceived writing, I would recommend a first principle given me by a mentor and close friend: Clear writing is possible only from clear thinking.
So, to straighten out a poor writing style requires first straightening out one’s thinking -- strengthening the way one makes connections of logic, for example, or the way one explains the context of a question. Unless that fundamental step is taken, all a writer’s studying of rules of grammar or copying of stylistic flourishes may accomplish little.
I generally shy away from recommending that effective writing, let alone eloquent writing, must follow certain rules of style. The jazz bassist Charles Mingus was once praised by a reviewer in Down Beat magazine, for example, for his genius in knowing when to play the wrong note. A skilled writer, similarly, will develop a sense about when it is appropriate to ignore certain stylistic “rules” in crafting individual sentences.
That said, I’ll mention some ideas that may be helpful to some people:
Once a writer gains a minimal level of competence, my main recommendation is simply to work on developing one’s voice, using whatever style one feels most comfortable with -- provided that that style amplifies, rather than muddles, one's message.
Tuesday, November 26
Does Canada have rednecks?
I saw two cheap shots against Southerners today.
First (as was pointed out by an e-mail correspondent of mine), Glenn Reynolds this morning quoted a Washington Post article by the father of a Marine describing the disapproval from other New England parents toward his son’s decision to go into the Marines:
“Terribly Southern” -- what is she trying to say? That the Southern mindset is reflexively uncouth, crude, backward, racist?
Sure, the U.S. military subculture reflects values of a certain Southern traditionalism, such as “honor,” duty and bare-fisted machismo. But do you really think that’s all the woman was referring to?
Then, this afternoon, I got a message from a diplomatic history listserv in which a Canadian slathered on the condescension in talking about neoconservatives. After defining what he claimed were the core principles of neoconservatives, he wrote:
First, it’s ironic to see a left-wing professor accusing people on the right of the very same sin Rush Limbaugh and countless bloggers claim is fundamental to liberals: that they let their hearts control their minds.
Second, it’s interesting to hear a Canadian use the word “redneck.” Through what cultural filtering, I wonder, does a Canadian come to know the term “redneck”?
I once heard a co-worker who had lived in various places around the United States say that every American region has its rednecks, in a broad cultural sense. I’m not well-traveled enough to make a judgment on that claim, but I’ve long found it fascinating. Here in Nebraska, the killers of Teena Brandon, whose murder was depicted in the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” came from a gritty blue-collar subculture that could qualify as a prairie variant of redneckism.
By the way: To be fair, I also heard a conservative Republican take a cheap shot at the blue states this week. From a Washington Post article Tuesday:
Lott is talking as if the “two coasts” are relatively insignificant demographically and politically -- as if the areas along the Atlantic and Pacific had been magically reduced in population to 17th century levels. It's legitimate to criticize the left-leaning blue-state mentality on honest policy grounds. But it's silly to act as if opposition from "only" the two coasts can be blithely dismissed as of little consequence.
Monday, November 25
This week I’m posting a series of items about the Confederate battle flag, given that The New Republic has an article this week about the role that public agitation over the flag played in this year’s gubernatorial contest in Georgia. I’m looking at various historical aspects of the flag; the lead-off post is here. My personal view is that displays of the flag on public property should be banned -- the flag is too divisive a symbol, irredeemably tainted by its association with white racism.
That doesn’t mean, however, that study of the “Rebel flag,” and of the symbolic power of flags in general, is without value. As I noted in the lead-off post, for time in the 1950s, the Confederate battle flag was flown in many non-Southern states as an innocuous commercialized emblem, devoid of racist connotations.
In 1995, I put together a newspaper project on the Confederate battle flag. To provide context about the importance of the flag in the military subculture for everyday Confederate soldiers, I interviewed Mickey Black, a North Carolinian with an intense devotion to studying American history across all periods. Black, who is a student of Civil War banners, ably explained how the Confederate battle flag fit into the military cultural context of its day.
“In the middle of a battle you couldn’t hear,” Black said. “You could hear a drum. You could hear a fife. You probably couldn’t hear a man yell a command. But you could see the colors.”
He continued: "When you put a thousand men shoulder to shoulder in private ranks, you have to be able to tell where you are. The point of reference has to be something -- the flag. If the flag advanced, so did you. Day in and day out, you’d go where the flag was."
Each day commenced by lining up soldiers and parading the flag -- “the colors” -- before them. Each day ended with a repeat of the ritual.
The battle flag, Black said, “was the first thing they saw in the morning, and the last thing they saw at night. ... To soldiers, it was as revered as much as the cause they fought for.”
During the chaos and clamor of battle, few goals were more critical than maintaining control of the colors, and few were more exhilarating than capturing those of the enemy. The soldiers who were selected to hold the flag, the color guard, received a high honor -- and braved great danger.
On the first day of Gettysburg, Black noted, the 26th North Carolina Regiment locked in combat with the 24th Michigan Regiment. Before the fighting ended, the regimental colors for the North Carolinians had fallen 14 times. Each time, a Confederate stepped forward to pick up the banner and raise it aloft.
My father’s paternal grandfather was a private in Company E of the North Carolina 57th Regiment. In battle, I’ve read, Company E stood closest to the regimental colors.
The Confederate battle flag was known officially as the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) battle flag. Over the course of the war, it became the battle standard for most Confederate units.
John Coski, a historian with the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, has written, “Someone gazing down the line of a Confederate army during any battle of the war was likely to see a variety of battle flag patterns and national flags employed as battle flags, but all drowned in a sea of ANVs.”
Later this week: Confederate graves in Nebraska. Comments from Shelby Foote on Southerness. And the power of flag symbolism in countries around the globe.
Symbol of backwardness, or a symbol of pride
A consistently thoughtful e-mail correspondent of mine, responding to my Monday posts on the Confederate battle flag, noting the huge generational difference within his family as far as attitudes toward the flag:
When I put together a set of articles about the Confederate battle flag in 1995 for a North Carolina newspaper, I solicited reader comments to include in the project. Almost all the responses were generally favorable to the flag. This comment was one of the few critical ones, and also one of the most vivid:
Most of the reader comments were couched in terms of “Heritage, not hate,” a phrase frequently used by Southern Civil War antiquarians who attempt to distinguish between the flag’s symbolic connection to regional identity and its appropriation by racists as an emblem of white supremacy. Among those letters:
Pretty cushy job
Dahlia Lithwick, Slate’s catty Supreme Court reporter, claims that service on the nation’s high court isn’t so stressful:
The current court term involves such a bland set of cases, Lithwick argues, that it’s doubtful Rehnquist would retire this year. He would prefer to go out on a note of triumph, she says.
Robert Samuelson writes an op-ed column about the German economy. I write a post about it. Jim Bennett, a columnist for UPI, e-mails me some thoughts in response. I post them. Jim refines them and turns them into his column for this week.
This blogosphere thing can be quite interesting.
For those who haven’t seen the site since Friday, there is a ton of new stuff. Today I kick off a set of posts on the Confederate flag; the posts on that topic will continue for several days.
Among other topics addressed here over the weekend: tax cuts, asbestos litigation, two recent books I highly recommend, and Michael Jackson’s “children.”
The surprising Confederate flag
During the U.S. assault on Okinawa in the spring of 1945, American forces struggled for 30 days to dislodge the Japanese from Shuri Castle, a centuries-old stronghold on the island. When the castle finally fell in May, a U.S. Marines regiment rushed forward to mark the victory -- by raising the blazing red banner of the Confederate battle flag.
The flag incident received considerable attention. The Marine captain in charge was later reprimanded. Not that the episode was unique during the war. During World War II, Southern communities sometimes sent Rebel flags to soldiers overseas.
In 1948, Congress authorized National Guard units whose ancestor units had fought for the Confederacy to fly the Confederate flag above their regimental colors. Displays of the Confederate flag were also reported during the Korean War.
In short, the Confederate battle flag -- the familiar, 13-starred blue cross on a red field -- has made appearances in several surprising venues -- on foreign battlefields, in European countries as a symbol of secession or just of rebellion in general, even for a time in the 1950s in many non-Southern states as part of a “flag fad” in which the banner was displayed as an innocuous commercialized emblem.
I mention this historical side note in light of a new article in The New Republic about how the Confederate flag flap contributed to the defeat of the incumbent Democratic governor in Georgia. As I said in a post below, the Confederate battle flag, in my view, is now far too divisive a symbol to warrant inclusion in a state flag.
The familiar “Rebel flag” I’m talking about here is officially known as the Army of Northern Virginia (AVN) battle flag. It was never the national flag of the Confederacy, nor was it called the “Stars and Bars.” The Confederacy had three national flags over the course of its existence. The first was jettisoned because it resembled the Stars and Stripes in several ways. The second was junked because it included such a large white field it gave the impression it was a flag of surrender. The third, adopted in March 1865 (only a few weeks before Lee’s surrender), featured the AVN flag symbol on a white field with a vertical red bar.
The Confederate battle flag became associated with white supremacy during the civil rights battles of the 1950s and ’60s. As noted by a well-curated and critically praised exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond in the mid-1990s, “the flag was waved in the face of blacks at almost every major incident of the civil rights struggle.”
One of the photos at the exhibit showed Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights protest in Selma, Ala., in February 1965. Standing beside him was a deputy sheriff with a Confederate flag emblem on his helmet.
That historical exhibit was fittingly titled “Embattled Emblem.” After reading a review of the exhibit by historian Edward Ayers of the University of Virginia in 1995, I drove to Richmond to put together a newspaper project on the flag. (I was then working at a North Carolina newspaper.)
Curiously, the flag was not always associated with such repulsive connotations. Consider this observation from the New York Times Magazine in October 1951:
Interest in the Confederate battle flag as a pop culture symbol began in 1947 in connection with a college football game. Fans of the University of Virginia football team had displayed the flag in large numbers during a home game against Harvard in which UVA triumphed by a score of 47-0. The next month, when the Virginia squad traveled north for a game against Penn, the ubiquitous appearance of the flag among the visiting UVA fans piqued the curiosity of the national press, and the flag fad soon took on a life of its own.
The flag fad died out in the late 50s, as the intensity of Southern resistance to desegregation was making itself clear. Curiously, the fad had arisen despite the fact that the Dixiecrats had displayed the Confederate flag prominently in 1948 in nominating Strom Thurmond on a state’s rights/segregationist platform.
The embrace of the Confederate symbol during the '50s flag fad was in marked contrast to the experience in 1997, when New York Gov. George Pataki, at the urging of two black state legislators, had the Georgia state flag removed from the State Capitol because it incorporated the Confederate battle flag. The flags of the states, including Georgia, that had been the 13 original colonies had been displayed in a Capitol corridor since the late 1970s.
As for European interest in the flag, John Coski, the curator who oversaw the “Embattled Emblem” exhibit, explained it to me this way: “There’s the chic. It’s the popularity of things American as much as it is the Confederacy. It’s seen abroad as essentially American.”
Irredentism is a part of life in much of the world, Coski added, so it’s understandable that people in parts of Europe and other areas affected by separatist movements would take an interest in the experience of the Confederacy as well as its symbols.
The American Civil War, he said, was the kind of event “that nations of any age, in all eras, have gone through or are presently going through. Wars over secession and disputes over what is a nation are a continuing part of history.”
A few years later after I interviewed Coski, the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was marked, in 1998. The Civil War re-enactors who participated in the event included more than just Americans. Some of the re-enactors had flown over from Europe -- from France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden.
By the way: In looking through my files on things Southern, I came across a lot of noteworthy items about the Confederate flag -- items, such as the info above, that stand apart from the familiar debate in recent years over the display of the flag on public property. I plan to portion the items out over the course of this week. I’ll mention two more nuggets in the posts that immediately follow, then save the rest for later.