Should We Ignore the Flaggers?

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.

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14 comments

  1. I too hold Prof Gallagher in the highest esteem, but you’re right, Al. In science, we have the same problem with creationists (now “cleverly” disguised as “Intelligent Design”). You’ll almost never change a creationist’s mind, but confronting them at least exposes their fraudulent pseudoscience for what it is to less knowledgeable folks who haven’t fully made up their minds.

    In a related example that is pretty stunning (at least to me) – my brother is a pretty smart guy who teaches middle school history. He is to be forgiven for this since his area of study was not American history. But he had accepted some of the Lost Cause stuff until we had a conversation about that a few years back. I think that was because there might not have been enough rebuttal of that stuff when he was forming his opinions back in school and his first few years teaching. Of course, Gallagher’s “Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten” is a great counterweight against that stuff nowadays. 😉

    1. Thanks, Bert. I agree completely.

  2. I agree with you that the flaggers should be engaged to some degree, for the very fact that some of their views may confuse some less educated. Just think of that text book in Virginia a few years ago– the author took information from a website ran by a heritage group.

  3. Mike Rogers · · Reply

    Al – I agree completely with your binary vs. spectrum analogy. I have conversations with folks, who while not familiar the Flaggers, understand the CW in the Lost Cause view. The more all of us can direct folks to the historical record the sooner the Flaggers will just go away.

  4. Thanks for the good work you do here Al in countering the various manifestations of white supremacist action. You are consistent in your exposure of these folks in a variety of forums. Your work is appreciated.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Pat.

  5. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    “Should we ignore the Flaggers?” Yes. Yes. Yes. Brooks and Kevin (and now you and Andy) give them a degree of legitimacy by engaging them. They do not want to talk about history, they do not want to discuss what really happened. They are a bunch of dimwitted racists still living in the 19th century. They are not worth five minutes of my time. And I question whether they are worth your attention either.

    1. You’re free to ignore them all you want. Personally, I’ll continue to oppose false information with true information. Perhaps you and others might not think it’s important, but there are students and other folks out there who learn by searching the internet, and I’ll do all I can to see to it that they have a chance of finding out why the flaggers are wrong. The target isn’t the flaggers. They’re fundamentalists who wouldn’t see the truth if it slammed them across the eyes with a 2×4. The target is the person out there searching the internet for information.

  6. Al, I agree with you. If a flagger’s comments go unchallenged there is the risk that some poor student might mistake their fantasy for fact. I successfully got a pro Thomas DiLorezo post off a Google+ site by asking her to look up “Not Honest About Abe” and The Clairmont college review of “The Real Lincoln”. I notice I’m not seeing any flaggers on this site.

  7. Here is the “Not Honest About Abe” post I was referring to.
    http://www.claremont.org/article/dishonest-about-abe/#.VM29FzWtvbU

  8. What do you know about Arthur Hirsch of the “Baltimore Sun” ?

    To me he looked like a flagger trying to pass himself off as a legitimate historian.

    1. I don’t know anything about him other than he’s a journalist.

  9. Hirsch wrote, “The War wasn’t about slavery, it was about secession.” Wasn’t secession because of slavery? Please see http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-07-06/news/bs-ed-gettysburg-20130706_1_slavery-constitutional-convention-secession

    1. That looks more like a letter in response to an article from Hirsch.

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