Sunday 11 February 2018

John Kelly's troubling views and why I back the South in the U.S. Civil War

The Guardian is very disappointed that retired General John Kelly, Donald Trump's Chief of Staff, is not 'restraining' the president, which they see as his duty. And he does not have approved views on the Civil War.
John Kelly expressed some troubling views of his own. He described Robert E Lee as “an honorable man” and blamed the conflict on “the lack of an ability to compromise” rather than slavery. ....Pressure grows on him to resign.
I remember my supervisor in my first term at university telling me that the Civil War was fought over the Union not about slavery. I replied 'Of course. No other reason would possibly have been justifiable'. She seemed a little surprised.

Here are my reasons, again, for backing the South in the U.S. Civil War. 

In 1864, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne said that  if the South lost,
It means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy. That our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by all of the influences of History and Education to regard our gallant debt as traitors and our maimed veterans as fit subjects for derision.
Of course this is what has happened, especially since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

The Second Iraq War, however, I hope has cast new light on the U.S. Civil War. There are many parallels between Lincoln and Bush. Both launched unnecessary and from a legal point of view probably unjust wars that overturned the elites and social structures of the conquered peoples, with disastrous long-term consequences. The Civil War was a terrible tragedy and could have been avoided, by statesmanship on both sides, but Lincoln could have allowed the South to secede. One therefore has to blame him mostly for this unnecessary and unjust war.

Half a million people died because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lincoln is responsible for a war in which 800,000 died. It was followed by a settlement which led to a hundred years of racial disharmony in the South and a race problem that has still not been solved. I hope the evil consequences of overthrowing Saddam do not last a hundred years or more. I suspect they will.

I have always unreservedly supported the Southern States in the Civil War and find it hard to understand how any informed fair-minded person can do otherwise. This is not because  particularly like the South or think their slave society was pleasant but because they had the legal and moral right to leave the Union. Reader, if you doubt this, imagine that the Scottish parliament were to vote to secede from the UK and the UK were to fight a bloody war for four years to prevent them doing so.

Gladstone, the great British Liberal, called the Confederacy

'a nation rightly struggling to be free'.
Lancashire mill girls, unemployed because of the Northern blockade of the South and consequent Cotton Famine, supported the North, but though poor people are usually wiser than rich ones Gladstone was right and the mill girls wrong.

The war by the north was not fought to free the slaves but to preserve the Union. By the South it was not fought to preserve slavery, which they could have preserved while remaining in the USA, but to gain independence. Supporting the Confederacy does not mean supporting slavery.

Had Lincoln let the South secede In time the South would have emancipated the slaves, though not, we can be sure, given them the vote. (Lincoln only came round to thinking some blacks should have the vote towards the end of the war, in gratitude for their military service.) The South might have had something like apartheid, which in fact is what they did have - after huge numbers of deaths [during and after the war] and years of conflict and misery. 

Stalin is supposed to have said 
'One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic.' 
I very much doubt he said it but it is true that every single death is a tragedy. From what I can find perhaps 388,000 slaves were brought direct from Africa to North America, of whom between ten and twenty percent (but it's a guess) perished horribly in the voyage. Thousands more died shortly after landing. The numbers of slaves killed in coming to America, the unspeakable conditions in which they came and the numbers who died on arrival seem to have been the worst aspects of American slavery, whether measured in terms of loss of life or in terms of horror and suffering. In terms of deaths, the Civil War which killed 600,000 was therefore the worst consequence of slavery. In addition to those 600,000 very many former slaves died of hunger after emancipation. 

What certainly perished in this dreadful war was the idea of the original USA with a weak central government, strong states, diffused power and social cohesion. I suppose Switzerland is the one country that lives up to some extent to republican ideals. The South did exactly what the American rebels had done in 1776 and Lincoln reacted to secession exactly as King George III did. The difference is that Lincoln, unlike George III, won. But by the time Lincoln did so the USA had changed in its essence. It was no longer a republic but an empire under the form of a republic. The same thing happened with Rome.

Lincoln was the USA's Cavour or Bismarck. I regret his success as I regret theirs. Lincoln's war cost far more lives than theirs and left scars that still haven't healed.


  1. An interesting explanation of the Stalin quote here:

  2. Hear hear; let alone the loss of the only noble class that America has known, just like Russia has lost it's noble men 100 year ago.
    All this talk about slavery is just humbug, pure propaganda. Slavery hasn't started nor did it end with American slaves, many of which were actually white. I don't understand why black activists don't see that this never ending whining makes one wonder why other races of slaves could overcome and leave behind the memory of slavery, and they cannot?
    The same has happened in Iraq, it's true.

  3. No you misunderstood me I certainly do not doubt the horrors of slavery, though slavery differed with different owners. Some owners were benign, others very malign, but slavery itself was a dreadful institution.

    When I studied American slavery I found that the idea that slave owners were a sort of landed gentry with the civilised paternalism and culture of the English gentry was a complete myth.

    1. My post was quite misunderstood; no one in his right mind, in the 21st century and the technological environment we live in, would doubt in any way the cruelty and horrors of slavery, as well as the utter baseness of the idea itself. I can image though, a time and conditions so desperate when some people would prefer slavery, out of pure survival reasons.
      However constant reference back to slavery with the shame game and victim-hood game involved, serves neither blacks in this country, nor Americans in general. On the contrary it leads to aberrations of the type 'the whiteness disease'. This was the idea I wanted to convey.

    2. Please leave a name if you want readers or me to engage with you

  4. I too wish lo the south had seceded. It is full of ignorant people who obsess overt the most backward passages in the Bible, barely earn a living, have terrible health problems, and leach tax money from higher earners in the north and west. Too bad indeed the south did not go away.