How the South Won the War

I know the South lost the Civil War — the war fought on bloody battlefields that cost this nation 645,000 lives. But the South won the propaganda war. It did so by making a blatant appeal to America’s basest instincts: antiblack racism. Racism enabled the South to rise again and then claim victory over the public square and public consciousness. And this great feat was accomplished without firing a shot (except of course at civil rights activists who could be slaughtered with impunity).

From the establishment of the American Apartheid system known as Jim Crow (which was erected in the wake of the passage of the 13th Amendment), to “Birth of a Nation” (a celluloid orgy of racist fantasies and antiblack stereotypes that also bears the distinction of being the first film shown in the White House), to the emergence of the neo-confederate Republican Tea Party (the current political platform for racists, fascists, and their neo-minstrel enablers), the South and its minions have marched this nation proudly backward into the future bearing a Bible in one hand and a flaming cross in the other, and using the fiction of white superiority/black inferiority as their clarion call to arms. The so-called “New South” therefore is merely the Old South dressed up in church robes instead of white sheets. And its borders now encompass the entire United States, from south to north, east to west.

One need only to look to popular culture and the mass media for evidence of the success of the “Southern Strategy.” The so-called “Southern Rebel” (notice the Orwellian control of the language and the romanticizing of figures who should be called “traitors”) has become a celebrated and heroic figure. Countless films, novels, and television shows have been devoted to portraying the Sons of the Confederacy as victims of “Northern aggression” rather than as perpetrators of a brutally efficient system of racial slavery and exploitation. Thus those who dehumanized others are remade as the iconic folk heroes of “American” humanity, perseverance, and courage.

Now let me pause here to note that my view does not exempt or exonerate the North in any way from its role in creating and maintaining the American slaveocracy. On the contrary, the complicity of the North in reifying “race” and deploying it as a social system of control and exploitation helped to facilitate the Southern takeover and domination of the public square. With “white” privilege at stake, Northerners did not have to be warned by the Southern Borg Collective that “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. Instead they quickly closed ranks and joined the effort to maintain the status quo from which they had benefited since the first enslaved Africans arrived in the 17th century. And so the tide rolls on sweeping all opposition from its path. Not even a “black” man in the White House has dented the onslaught. In fact his presence has proved a potent rallying cry to bring bigots out of the closet and into the mainstream once again. Even Obama’s defiance of his African American critics to continue the tradition started by Woodrow Wilson of sending a wreath to the Confederate Monument at Arlington Cemetery in observance of Memorial Day did nothing to mitigate or blunt their avowed hatred of him.

All the above is offered simply as preamble to the illuminating article by James C. Cobbs linked below. Cobbs, from a decidedly less polemical perspective than mine, looks at the canonization of Confederate General Robert E. Lee as a salient example of how the Southern view of the nation and its history has become the dominant view.

HUMANITIES Magazine: July/August 2011

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