Another Perspective

Leftist Race Baiting in Virginia

Gov. McDonnell was right to honor Confederate soldiers, and slavery had nothing to do with it. Just ask Democratic Senator James Webb.

By 4.8.10

The Left's unconscionable and shameful race baiting continues, and for rankly partisan political purposes.

First there was the attempt to depict the Tea Party movement as racist. The lack of absolutely any evidence whatsoever to support this noxious charge didn't deter the rabid Left, of course. After all, why worry about things such as honor, fairness and truth when your goal is to smear and destroy your political opponents?

Now, there is the outrageous attempt by the legacy media to depict Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell as somehow playing the race card because he issued a proclamation honoring Confederate soldiers.

Why is this controversial? Because of slavery, we are lectured. The Civil War was about slavery, and the Confederacy defended slavery.

This line of thought, in turn, has invited all sorts of vitriolic demagoguery and historical slander by leftist race baiters whose only claim to fame seems to be their historical ignorance.

CNN "political contributor" Roland S. Martin, for instance, last night compared Confederate soldiers to "Nazis."

"These folks committed treason by taking up arms against the United States. You celebrate that? They were domestic terrorists."

Has Mr. Martin no sense of decency? Has he no sense of honor and shame? Of course we don't celebrate the Confederates' "treason against the United States." And of course we don't celebrate slavery.

In fact, anyone who knows anything about American history knows that for most Southerners, and for most Confederate soldiers, the Civil War (or War Between the States) was absolutely not about slavery. It was about resisting Yankee aggression, and defending their liberty, their honor and their homeland.

The Confederate soldiers, moreover, were quite courageous and valiant in battle. And it is their courage and valor, and their implacable commitment to family and community, that we honor and celebrate.

The idea that Confederate History Month is about slavery is simply and verifiably false and historically inaccurate. And leftist racist baiters like Roland Martin know this. They know that no one (obviously) defends, let alone honors, slavery. Slavery was (obviously) wrong.

Yet Martin and other leftist race baiters continue to demagogue this issue because they want to score cheap and unearned political points. They want to smear their political opponents so they can win illicit and shameful political and legislative victories.

Today, after all, there are few things worse to be called than a racist or even racially insensitive. Indeed, the stigma of these charges burns deeply in the American soul and psyche, and not without reason, given our nation's historical missteps and mistakes.

However, it is equally true that the Left has a shameful history of viciously and falsely crying racism to smear its political opponents; and that this is happening now with alarming frequency. The latest case in point: Bob McDonnell.

Now, it so happens that the Civil War turned out to be very much about slavery. But again, it must be emphasized, that's not what motivated most Southerners to fight.

But don't take my word for it. There's a certain Democratic Senator from Virginia named James Webb who's written eloquently and persuasively about this very issue. Indeed, here are excerpts from a speech Webb gave in 1990 at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

I am not here to apologize for why they [Confederate soldiers] fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery.

In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity [emphasis added].

Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war -- just as overt patriotism is today -- but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered.

Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede.

Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable.

And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that "the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves." 

Fourteen years later, Webb wrote a book, Born Fighting, in which he again examined what motivated Southern soldiers to fight on behalf of the Confederacy:

[W]hat most historians miss -- and what those who react so strongly to seeing Confederate battle flags on car bumpers and in the yards of descendants of Confederate veterans do not understand -- is that slavery was emphatically not the reason that most individual Southerners fought so long and so hard, and at such overwhelming cost.

Slavery may have been the catalytic issue from a governmental perspective, and its moral dimensions may have motivated many Northerners, but other factors, some cultural and some historical, brought most of the Confederate soldiers to the battlefield…

It is impossible to believe that such men would have continued to fight against unnatural odds -- and take casualties beyond the level of virtually any other modern army -- simply so that the 5 percent of their population who owned slaves could keep them, or because they held to a form of racism so virulent that they would rather die than allow the slaves to leave the plantation. Something deeper was motivating them, something that appealed to their self-interest as well.

Yet, leftist race baiters like CNN's Roland Martin refuse to acknowledge, let alone try and understand, this history; and, in Born Fighting, Webb explains why:

Recent years, however, have seen a new kind of nastiness emerge in these disputes. Even the venerable Robert E. Lee has taken some vicious hits, as dishonest or misinformed advocates among political interest groups and in academia attempt to twist yesterday's America into a fantasy that might better serve the political issues of today.

The greatest disservice on this count has been the attempt by these revisionist politicians and academics to defame the entire Confederate Army in a move that can only be termed the Nazification of the Confederacy [emphasis added].

Often cloaked in the argument over the public display of the Confederate battle flag, the syllogism goes something like this. Slavery was evil. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought for a system that wished to preserve it. Therefore they were evil as well, and any attempt to honor their service is a veiled effort to glorify the cause of slavery.

This blatant use of the "race card" in order to inflame their political and academic constituencies is a tired, seemingly endless game that is itself perhaps the greatest legacy of the Civil War's aftermath. But in this case it dishonors hundreds of thousands of men who can defend themselves only through the voices of their descendants [emphasis added].

It goes without saying -- but unfortunately it must be said -- that morality and decency were traits shared by both sides in this war, to an extent that was uncommon in almost any other war America has fought [emphasis added].

Webb then goes on to describe the South's military and martial valor which have long inspired the deep respect and admiration of any serious student of military history:

At bottom the Northern army was driven from the top like a machine -- plodding, systematic, drawing from a far larger manpower pool and bleeding out the South in a brutal and unending war of attrition.

By contrast, the southern army was a living thing emanating from the spirit of its soldiers -- daring, frequently impatient, always outnumbered, often innovative, relying on the unexpected and counting on the boldness of its leaders and the personal loyalties of those who followed.

The Northern army was most often run like a business, solving a problem. The Southern army was run like a family confronting a human crisis.

Is it asking too much of the media to insist that it study this history -- our history, American history -- before indulging its most extreme, most politically partisan, most historically ignorant, and most intellectually dishonest voices?

John R. Guardiano is an ethnic Yankee who was born and raised in Rockland County, New York. His ancestors in 1860 were impoverished in Sicily and Ireland and thus had nothing whatsoever to do with American slavery. Yet, he loves America, including the South, and he loves the African American descendants of slaves.


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  John R. Guardiano blogs at, and you can follow him on Twitter: @ResCon1.