Monday, June 11, 2007

The Straw Man

The last Confederate Jew to be killed, Joshua Lazarus Moses, of Sumter, S.C., the brother of Lewis Regenstein's great grandfather, killed in the battle of Fort Blakeley, Alabama a few hours after Lee surrendered. Irony abounds: just under one hundred years later, Northern Jews Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered, along with James Chaney, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, while attempting to secure civil rights for Southern blacks.

Union was no friend to American Jews

It is odd to see James Finkelstein’s letter, “Southern cause was no noble one,” praising the Union actions in the Civil War (“In My View”, 29 May), since he and his family would have been severely persecuted had they had the misfortune to find themselves in Union-captured territory during much of this time.

On Dec. 17, 1862, in the worst official act of anti- Semitism in American history, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11, expelling the Jews “as a class” from his conquered territories within 24 hours. Grant also issued orders on 9 and 10 November 1862 banning Jews from traveling southward on trains, and Gen. William T. Sherman was also known for his openly expressed hatred for Jews.

As a result of Grant’s expulsion order, Jewish families were forced out of their homes in Paducah, Ky.; Holly Springs and Oxford, Miss., and a few were sent to prison.

Other top Union officials supported and endorsed the Order, and it was not until 4 January 1863, that Lincoln had Grant’s odious order rescinded. But by then, Jewish families in the area had been expelled, humiliated, terrified, and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.

In addition, Jews in Union- occupied areas, such as New Orleans and Memphis, were singled out by Union forces for vicious abuse and vilification.

Meanwhile, in the South, Southern Jews were playing a prominent role in the Confederate government and armed forces, largely being treated as equals as they had become used to for a century-and-a- half.

Some 3,000 or more Jews fought for the South, practically every male of military age, including the Confederacy’s Secretary of War and later State Judah P. Benjamin, and over two dozen members of my extended maternal family, the Moses of Georgia and South Carolina.

We know first hand, from their letters, diaries, and memoirs, that they were not fighting for slavery, but rather to defend themselves and their fellow soldiers, their families, homes, and country from an invading army that was trying to kill them, burn their homes and cities, and destroy everything they had.

It was this same Union Army (led by many of the same Civil War generals) that engaged in virtual genocide against the Native Americans in what we euphemistically call “the Indian Wars,” often massacring harmless, defenseless old men, women, and children in their villages.

Grant’s little-remembered Nazi-like decree and his other atrocities should serve to remind us what the South was up against, and why many native Southernes revere their ancestors’ courage, and still take much pride in this heritage.


Dear Mr. Regenstein,

I am very cognizant of who I am and where I come from. But I don't see the world through a Jewish prism. With regard to your piece in
The Herald about odious anti-Semitism of Northern generals during the Civil War, my response is: so? what's your point? That the North contained bigots, racists, bullies, and anti-Semites? That the South had many decent human beings? Inductive reasoning can take you only so far, or you will end up rooting for the Soviets who replaced the ferociously anti-Semitic Czarist regime with a temporarily egalitarian government in which Jews were able to serve in the highest positions. Or you would prefer the Kaiser's German army, in which many Jews served nobly, to the anti-Semitic France which had condemned Dreyfuss in a trial so obviously a sham that it led Theodor Herzl to entertain the notion of an independent Jewish state in Palestine? If you use your Jewish prism to gauge history, you will have to cheer on the Arabs over the English, Spanish and French, because history tells us that the Moors welcomed Jews after they were expelled from those countries or fled the Inquisition.

Me- I try to see history more clearly. I don't recall praising Union actions, only the outcome of the war. The Civil War started in 1860 with over four million African blacks in bondage in the South. It's aftermath was complete freedom
for all those millions, capped on December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution - a document to which you once swore an oath to uphold and defend. Feel free to write another letter to the editor explaining why freedom for slaves was a bad thing- or why continued bondage of slaves in a successful Confederate States of America would have been a good thing. To me that's like arguing that the earth is flat, gravity makes objects fall upwards, and Bush is the bestest president ever.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Confederate Apologists and the Straw Man

Jefferson Davis defended slavery because it “elevated [African slaves] from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers” and he explained the Southern States decision to secede from the Union to insure the continuation of “the labor of African slaves”... “under the supervision of a superior race” which was “indispensable” to the “wants of civilized man.”

Recent letter writers to the Albany (Georgia) Herald, unable to dispute the facts in my commentary on the Confederacy- yes, there really were 462,198 slaves in Georgia out of a population of just over one million in the 1860 census; and over four million total in the Southern States- have resorted to debating a “straw man.” In rhetoric, a “straw man” argument means that the debater, unable to defeat the argument actually made by his opponent, will construct a man out of straw, an argument never made by the opponent, pretend that his opponent made that argument, then attempt to defeat it.

I never argued that slavery would have existed through 2007 if the Civil War had not occurred. I never argued that slave ship owners and captains were solely spawned by the Southern States. I never argued that many Southerners did not own slaves. My dispute is with those who, remarkably enough, want Southerners to study and celebrate the Confederacy and honor those who waged war against the United States, but do so without ever mentioning slavery and all that it entailed. Yes, there were slave ship captains and owners from the north. But here is the key difference: in the Northern States, you will look in vain for statues raised to honor them, holidays scheduled to celebrate them, or apologists who argue that they were noble men acting in a noble cause. The Northern slave ship owners and captains were despicable human beings, profiting from the misery and deaths of slaves. They deserve no honor, no statues, no holidays celebrating the “bicentennial” of their birth. They should be remembered as scoundrels and cowards, and their history should be studied in the same way we would study the dregs of humanity.

Calvin E. Johnson’s guest editorial about “American Hero” Jefferson Davis--“the unfaltering upholder of constitutional liberty” (as opposed to the kind of liberty where human beings were no longer bought, sold, owned, whipped, and raped by their masters?)--in hundreds of words, never once mentioned the words “slave” or “slavery.” Mr. Johnson edifies us with the information that Jefferson Davis’s “family” adopted “an abused black child” in 1864. Fine and good. Mr. Johnson did not mention that Jefferson Davis defended the institution of slavery and expressly stated that it was the basis for the Civil War in his speech in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 29, 1861. Here is a portion of his speech:

“Gentlemen of the Congress: It is my pleasing duty to announce to you that the Constitution framed for the establishment of a permanent Government for the Confederate States has been ratified by conventions in each of those States to which it was referred...

In the meantime, under the mild and genial climate of the Southern States and the increasing care and attention for the well-being and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South; the white population of the Southern slaveholding States had augmented form about 1,250,000 at the date of the adoption of the Constitution to more than 8,500,000 in 1860; and the productions of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man. With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced.”

There you have it. Jefferson Davis defended slavery because it “elevated [African slaves] from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers” and he explained the Southern States' decision to secede from the Union to insure the continuation of “the labor of African slaves”... “under the supervision of a superior race” which was “indispensable” to the “wants of civilized man.” Whoever chooses to honor Jefferson Davis and fondly remember the Confederacy needs to address those words and explain why that was a cause worth celebrating.