The Lost Cause Myth
Voting rights and Medicaid expansion are presently the most urgent matters in our state, but running beneath those problems is a much deeper one--a problem of the mind and heart. The time has come to de-program those Americans who still cling to the Lost Cause mythology about the Civil War that they were spoon-fed from childhood.
"You can't reason someone out of something they weren't reasoned into in the first place."
There is much truth in Swift's statement. For how else can people cling to long-disproved narratives of history and angrily defend them as fact? For those unfamiliar with the Lost Cause concept, I had hoped to go into some detail on this page. However, intensive research for Southern Man left me insufficient time to do that. Luckily, a powerful breakdown of all the issues therein can be found in Edward Bonekemper's The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won.) For simplicity's sake, Bonekemper lists the seven main points of the Lost Cause Myth. You may have learned some of these in school, but each is a long-proven lie.
What exactly are the primary components of the full-blown Myth of the Lost Cause? Broadly speaking, the Myth consists of the following contentions:
Slavery was a benevolent institution for all involved but was dying by 1861. There was therefore no need to abolish slavery suddenly, especially by war.
States’ rights, not slavery, was the cause of secession and the establishment of the Confederacy and thus of the Civil War.
The Confederacy had no chance of winning the Civil War and did the best it could with the limited resources it had.
Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederates to a near-victory, was one of the greatest generals in history.
James Longstreet caused Lee to lose the Battle of Gettysburg and thus the Civil War.
Ulysses S. Grant was an incompetent “butcher” who won the war only by brute force and superior numbers.
The Union won the war by waging unprecedented and precedent-setting “total war.”
Bonekemper, Edward H. The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won.
For those who care, I am descended from Confederate veterans on both sides of my family, a Louisiana cavalryman and a South Carolina infantryman. I've spent my whole life in the Deep South. I understand the complex emotions that exist in families who have revered the battlefield bravery of an ancestor. But bravery alone does not hallow a cause. German soldiers in World War Two were some of the bravest soldiers who ever lived, but they fought in an obscene cause. Many "average Wehrmacht soldiers" believed they were fighting for home and country, yet they served the Nazi war machine, including Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, and the rest. Again: courage and sacrifice do not hallow every cause.
While America goes through its present reckoning over race, we will experience a powerful backlash on the part of whites who want to defend and preserve the history they were raised to believe. This reckoning has been coming for a long time, and it will be far from easy. Writers, musicians, and filmmakers have an important part to play in this re-organization of America's thoughts about itself.
Finally, don't think for a moment that only Southerners believe the carefully cultivated narrative of Lost Cause history. Many Hollywood films starring some of my favorite actors like John Wayne and Erroll Flynn perpetuate classic Lost Cause tropes as part of mainstream American (white American) culture. I hope you will read Bonekemper's excellent book, as well as Southern Man.
If you are a Lost Cause conspiracy nut and want to threaten me, simply email the FBI directly. It will save me the trouble.