Even through the medium of the printed word I can sense your doubt, Gentle Reader. Why is Jonah Begone interested in advancing the Southern point of view?
Because it has relevance.
Those who know me, know I am politically and socially conservative. The traditional Southern point of view - as described by the great majority of reenactors and Southern apologists - is one of political and social conservatism. I am for a restrained federal government, more political power given to the states, Second Amendment rights (good luck reenacting without them), an awareness and respect for heritage (whatever it may be) and the maintenance of the usual social customs and traditions. Racism, obviously, is not one of the customs I would endorse. (Itís always best to establish this early, donít you think?)
Regarding the current crisis about the flying of Confederate banners, I think, in general, you have the right to fly yours and I have the right to fly mine. Obviously, doing things like burning an American flag at a World War II vets dinner banquet, flying a Nazi flag outside of a synagogue or parading the Confederate battle flag around at an NAACP gathering is needlessly provocative. Intelligent people seeking an intelligent audience for their message wonít do such things.
For the record, I, personally, fly the Freak Flag that Jimi Hendrix mentioned in his 1967 song, "If 6 Was 9." But I digress.
What troubles me is that while the Southern point of view has relevance in the great national debate, it is rarely championed well by Southern reenactors. At least, not that I can see in the various pieces posted to the World Wide Web and in communications though Internet e-mail groups. There, preachy, poorly-written rants begin with the insulting, "You ought to read your history books..." or "If you knew anything about history you would know that..."
Would I be out of line if I suggested that aspiring Southern apologists study grammar with the same interest that they display in history? After all, if one is going to address weighty topics such as the constitutionality of secession, the legal rights of states and the federal government, and grassroots issues that deal with personal liberty, one ought to do it in such a way that will lend credibility to the cause.
Itís all the more important since the trailer-park-trash image is well-advanced in any one of the myriad TV productions featuring quarreling lovers (cross-dressing and otherwise), families and neighbors. And, like it or not, many Americans accept that the trailer-park-trash types are usually Southern. It is an extremely unfortunate stereotype, but it exists.
You may deride academia if you like, and I will be happy to help you. After all, a lot of nonsense comes out of major universities today, and while the students can be excused for being young and naive, the professors ought to know better. If ideas were free market commodities, there would be a lot of centers of higher learning filing bankruptcy. But, like it or not, the peer-reviewed, carefully-written, cautious style is more accepted than bombast, bile and unsupported opinion.
Another tactic sometimes used by Southern apologists has to do with appeals to sensitivity, to understand and accept that Southerners, historically, have suffered. Am I the only one here who thinks there is something unseemly about Rebs asking for sensitivity?
Real Confederates fought magnificently, were beaten, returned home and got on with life. Win or lose, life went on, and the toughness of returning vets is well-documented. And many celebrated the reunification of the states, and accepted the verdict of war. The Union vet who toured the postwar South carrying the Stars and Stripes to general acclaim pretty much illustrated the feeling of the people on that point. (I realize these days the "Lee Surrendered But I Didnít!" view is more fashionable, but is not truly authentic.)
Reconstruction was hard, but Southerners continued the battle in a way that could not be stamped out: in social rites, venerated memory, writing, and political activism. The Southern point of view was well-ingrained, but described with impressive politeness, conviction and an articulation that is missing today. Piteous calls for sensitivity sound too much like current thin-skinned minority/victim martyrology. My guess is that real Confederates wouldn't have embarrassed themselves so.
And while weíre discussing the Southern point of view, we might as well accept the fact that the South also has a big government, socially liberal message, too. After all, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Janet Reno are Southerners, disown them as you may try. (When I point this out, these are derided as "Scallywags," "Carpetbaggers" and "Unauthentic" by Southern reenactors. Good try, but the rest of the country doesnít believe you.)
So. The next time you prepare an article for publication on a Southern Rights website, or youíre composing an e-mail for hundreds of people on your Civil War Internet newsgroup, think carefully. Perhaps take a writing class. Assemble your sentences with logic and good grammar, and use wit, subtlety and perhaps even guile to get your point across. Your readership will increase and be more enthusiastic, and the great Southern statesmen and orators of the past will smile upon you. After all, theyíre probably a lot more interested in the continuation of what was good in their society than they are concerned about the reproduction uniform details of the people doing reenacting.
BEHIND THE BYLINE: Jonah Begone has been writing for the Camp Chase Gazette, off and on, since 1987. Heís not as bad as he seems.