Dear Civil War Times,
It took me a long time to get through the August 2010 issue of Civil War Times. I had a tough time slogging through parts of the issue. In particular “The Proclamation and the Peculiar Institution” gave me a hard time. I picked the magazine up and the ridiculous remarks would make me angry and I had to put it down. What is it about the rarified air academics breathe that makes them so damned ignorant? When I finally worked my way through that article I turned the page and was confronted with the story that compared Libby prison with the prisons at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. That might finally be enough to allow my subscription to lapse.
You see three of my grandparents were first generation Americans. However my father’s mother traced her roots back to Arkansas. My Great Grandfather and all five of his brothers fought for the Confederacy. Two of them died in the war. Since we believe that they were all enlisted men, they probably didn’t belong to the planter class. Therefore like the overwhelming majority of their Southern comrades they were not fighting to protect that “peculiar institution” just as the over whelming majority of the Northerners they faced had not left their homes to free slaves. So honoring the patriotism and sacrifice of my ancestors does not require me to confront the issue of slavery. Similarly the Virginia proclamation shouldn’t be required to mix honoring our Southern Heritage with bowing at the altar of regret over an institution that didn’t touch most of our families. I would suggest that anyone who doubts the courage or commitment of these men visit Gettysburg. When I’m there I like to walk from the Virginia monument to the “copse of trees” and imagine what was going on during “Pickett’s charge.” Should we honor those men? Certainly we must. Were they thinking about slavery that day? Certainly not. Governments and political entities fight wars for reasons that are not always the same as those that motivate the individuals who do the fighting. That fact should give all of Virginia’s critics a moment of clarity but I doubt it.
As for comparing prisons; Guantanamo Bay Cuba is perhaps the finest facility in which an enemy of any nation has ever been confined. The guards are well trained, disciplined, and held to the highest standard. Guantanamo isn’t “notorious” rather it exhibits to the world the tolerance and compassion with which we treat even the worst portions of humanity - terrorists. As for the aberration that was Abu Ghraib, it should be pointed out that when the temporary incident that made Abu Ghraib briefly “notorious” was discovered, those who made it so were punished quite severely. The embarrassment suffered by those prisoners in no way compares to the suffering of those in Libby prison. Neither of those modern prisons can be mentioned in the same sentence as Libby prison by any fair minded person. To make such a comparison is a vulgar and base insult to the American service men and women who labor there.
I think that academics who do not live in the real world should be required to affix disclaimers to their work. Perhaps something like “Academics only, no rational information provided” or “Dreamed this up by the fountain on campus.” Many of us can identify with those Southern soldiers, sailors, and Marines who fought for a variety of reasons that have always mystified academics. But they make perfect sense to those of us who still don a uniform. I think your editors should broaden their horizons in the search for “experts.”