It being the holiday set aside for Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harvey Weinstein being in the news for his plan to make a movie that will destroy the NRA, I decided to celebrate the holiday by watching his film designed to destroy the South.

It's kind of an interesting film.

What strikes me is how they got some parts of the history so very right, and other parts wildly wrong. Unfortunately the "wildly wrong" parts are serious enough that the counterfactual America can't be taken seriously. Had the CSA won the Civil War, they had neither the desire nor the intention to annex the North. The reason they fought on defense for so long was that they really weren't competing for leadership of the American project or command of Washington, D.C. The basic assumption that guides the movie is therefore flawed.

Likewise, the movie fails to understand the way the South conceived of Jews in the antebellum period. This leads the film to suggest that the South would have sided with Hitler and expelled Jews from America. In fact, as historian Kenneth S. Greenberg points out, the South accepted Jews as full social equals of Christians, so much so that Christian gentlemen would fight duels with Jews. The duel, because it gives your opponent a fair and equal opportunity to kill you, is a radical statement of equality. Antisemitism wasn't 'mild' in the South (nor were Jews accidentally part of the Confederate government); rather, Jews were integral parts of Southern society.

For that matter, with a divided America at the time of the first World War, it may well be that there would have been no fertile ground for Hitler after that war. It was the American entry into the war, and subsequent creation of a decisive victory for the British and French, that resulted in German defeat and the punitive peace that gave rise to a Germany that would accept Hitler.

Still, the movie has some interesting bits. It does correctly describe the Southern attitude toward secession, complete with the reasoning behind the great seal of the Confederacy with George Washington depicted; and the aspirations for a larger 'tropical' empire that could expand into the Caribbean. The best part are the ads -- the movie's conceit is that it is a documentary about the CSA, and so the televised documentary is broken up by fake ads for products. It turns out that these ads carry a substantial part of the weight of the movie's hidden message, which is that the whole American project has been a fundamentally racist one. To realize why, though, you have to watch to the end.

You have to suspend a lot of disbelief, and let your enemy have his say. If you can, though, it may be interesting to hear what he really thinks. Maybe it's worth doing that on MLK day: a day of self-criticism and reflection.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Chesterton's view of WWI was that the Germans had not been defeated enough. Their arrogance that they were a superior society, which he traced back to Frederick and Fichte, he believed was unresolved by the incomplete victory of WWI. We charged them money, not shame, because we wanted to be kind and just. GKC predicted we would have to fight it all over again. It was an eye-opener to me to read Chesterton On War And Peace, and I wrote about it a few times almost 4 years ago.




As for the antisemitism, you avoid one oversimplification by falling into its opposite. That Jews were an integral part of Southern society is not false. Yet they were an integral part of German, Hungarian, and French societies as well, which didn't seem to help them much. There was in fact a great deal of Jew-hatred in the south. Was there more than in the north? That duels are evidence of honor and respect is merely a curiosity, not evidence.

Certainly, Leo Frank's lynching and all the rhetoric by prominent Georgians around that issue are pretty solid evidence.

Grim said...

Well, steady on, now. Leo Frank was killed in 1915 -- fifty years after the Civil War destroyed antebellum Southern culture. It's no surprise that the antisemitism common to the north and Europe came to be more important in the South as well, given that its own cultural stays were destroyed.

(As for the difference between Northern and Southern culture on the issue of Jews, Dr. Greenberg's book is really very good. In fact, it's really very good no matter what aspect of the question you might be interested in -- baseball, for example. The title is Honor & Slavery. The subtitle is very long, and worth looking up.)

Chesterton was generally right about things, but I suspect the second war could have been avoided if the British hadn't won, too. More particularly if the French hadn't won. However the British may have felt about it, the French were interested -- for solid historical reasons that permeate the 19th century -- in crippling the German state. They went either too far, or not far enough.

Ymar Sakar said...

Waste of time in that movie. The "enemy" is only obeying the Democrat propaganda. They couldn't tell the difference anyways.

The South voted Democrat right up until economic conditions began to improve. This is how the Democrat party treats run a way slaves from their plantation.

Anonymous said...

There's a fascinating cookbook/cultural history entitled "Matzoh Ball Gumbo" about the Jews in the South. It's a fun read, with some very interesting recipes.

There was a preview showing of "C.S.A." at Flat-State University. Some of my students went, and the trouble was they missed about half the references. Flat State public schools don't teach much Southern and early American history, apparently.


raven said...

What are some good books on the War from the southern viewpoint?

Grim said...

That's a hard question. The really good histories can't be from either viewpoint. What I look for in a good history is an analysis that isn't sympathetic, particularly, with either side.

If you want to read a full-throated endorsement of the South, weighted in every way towards it being a glorious and righteous fight, try The South Was Right by the Kennedy brothers. It's a contemporary work in the "Lost Cause" tradition of Southern histories.

But a far better historian is William C. Davis, author of "A Government of Our Own" and many other books. He tends to be unsympathetic to legends, and in his lack of sympathy tends to get to what seems to me to be believable pictures of the truth. He's also a very good historian in putting the details of the facts in the forefront, which leads to interesting insights.

Gringo said...

Likewise, the movie fails to understand the way the South conceived of Jews in the antebellum period. This leads the film to suggest that the South would have sided with Hitler and expelled Jews from America.

Excellent point. From Wiki: List of Jewish political milestones in the United States:

First Jewish governor of a U.S. state: David Emanuel (1801) of Georgia. As President of the Georgia Senate, he became Governor when Governor James Jackson resigned to become a US Senator. He did not later run for election.

First Jewish member of the United States Senate: David Levy Yulee (1845) of Florida. The second Jewish member of the US Senate was Judah Benjamin, who was David Levy Yulee's secon d cousin. Judah Benjamin later became Secretary of State for the Confederacy.

Coincidentally, I had looked this up several weeks ago.

Eric Blair said...

Not bothering to watch the clip, (because like, I hate to waste time), there are several counterfactuals that could be got from a "What if the South had won the Civil War".

1. Likelyhood that the USA and CSA would go to war again. (Harry Turtledove has a whole series based on this)

2. What side(s) does a USA and CSA end up on if WWI still occurs? (Maybe they don't end up on either side--And, the Allies then don't get massive loans from the USA. Oh and the munitions either. There's an argument to be made that a strictly neutral USA and CSA contribute nothing to the Allies, and the War ends in 1916 or 1917 with French, Russian (and maybe) British bankruptcy.

3. You think race relations are bad now? Imagine if there was another century or even half century of slavery.

But one has to be very, very careful with such musings, because once you get off the path that was taken, there really is no telling where the new path will go.

raven said...

Thanks for the book recommendations!