In his “Blue & Gray” column in the current issue [April 2015] issue of Civil War Times, Professor Gary Gallagher discusses the flagger phenomenon. He says he finds the flaggers and the response to the flaggers from “some serious students of the Civil War” “puzzling.” He tells us of the flagger claims, “These claims have provoked reactions from scholars and others who, in my view, bring a good deal of unwarranted attention to something that otherwise would be consigned to the irrelevant fringe of Civil War interests.” He tells us, “Long experience has convinced me that offering testimony such as [Alexander] Stephens’, [Jefferson] Davis’, and [Robert E.] Lee’s–or language from the Confederate Constitution–has no impact on those who argue that states’ rights or economic interests or something else, anything but slavery, fueled secession and the Confederate founding. The futility of trying to engage such people in a discussion about evidence prompts my inability to understand why any historians take flaggers seriously. This is not a debate that can be won on the merits, as historians who write and speak about the Civil War era know very well; indeed, because evidence means nothing to individuals who prefer their Confederacy cleansed of the taint of slavery, it cannot be won at all.” He says, “Just as logic and unimpeachable historical testimony will not sway flaggers, it is crucial to recognize that flaggers have almost no impact on anyone who knows anything about the Civil War.” He’s absolutely right about all those points. Flaggers as a group won’t be swayed by actual historical evidence. Their belief is akin to a religious belief. Also, those who know actual Civil War history aren’t swayed one bit by the nonsense promulgated by the flaggers.
Let me humbly suggest, though, and with the greatest respect, that Professor Gallagher doesn’t understand the situation. He’s looking at this as a binary condition, flaggers vs. those who know the Civil War. He isn’t considering the fact that there is a continuum of people, from those who have no knowledge or interest in the Civil War to those who are curious but have no knowledge, to those who are curious and have a little bit of knowledge, all the way to those who are experts in the field. And if this were prior to 1990, before the days of internet searches, he’d be right that the flaggers could be safely ignored. Today, though, most people research things they want to know on the internet, and if there is a dearth of information opposing the flaggers, many folks will assume what the flaggers put out has credibility when in fact it is nothing more than rubbish.
I maintain it’s up to serious students of the war to oppose the rubbish groups like the flaggers put out. Not because it will change the minds of the fundamentalist flaggers, but because it will highlight the fact that the flaggers put out nonsense to people who are looking for information. The vast majority of those folks will never see the inside of a Civil War History classroom or listen to one of Professor Gallagher’s lectures, but the more information opposing the lunacy the flaggers and their ilk spew, the more likely it is that someone searching on the internet will be able to discount that lunacy.
In order for the marketplace of ideas to work, the truth has to be given a prominent place in the marketplace so the shoppers will notice it and examine it.