Is Honoring the Confederacy Like Honoring Nazi Germany?

Allen Clifton says yes.  Mr. Clifton, who is apparently a lifelong Texan, says the confederate flag “not a ‘symbol for Southern pride’ – it’s a symbol for hate, barbaric cruelty, racism, murder, oppression, abuse and shame.”  To him, “honoring the Confederacy is like honoring Nazi Germany.”

He’s careful to say the two are not exactly the same, though, he says, “the ideologies of both groups (Nazis/slave owners) are similar in that they viewed a specific demographic of people like some sort of subhuman animals to be abused or slaughtered. While Nazi Germany was about genocide whereas the Confederacy was focused on slavery and basically treating people like farming equipment, it’s undeniable that both groups treated the people they abused/killed/enslaved like they weren’t human beings or equal to them in any aspect.”

Not only that, he says, “the Confederacy was essentially a treasonous group that declared war against the United States government.”  “Just think about that for just a moment, he tells us.  “The Confederacy attacked a United States fort. If something like that occurred today, those responsible would be labeled domestic terrorists – not honored by millions of Americans in the South.”

He says, “It never ceases to amaze me how people try to romanticize the Civil War by justifying their defense of a group of traitors who strongly opposed the ending of slavery by claiming they were just fighting against ‘government overreach’ and ‘trying to preserve freedom and liberty.’ Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? One group of people claiming to be fighting to preserve freedom… while trying to oppress, disenfranchise or discriminate against another group.”

Overall, I think he makes some good points when he points out that the confederacy was set up not to enhance freedom, as the SCV would have us believe, but instead to ensure the continued slavery of a race of people.  And it’s true the confederates met the constitutional and statutory definitions of treason against the United States.  And he does have a point, superficial though it is, that both the Nazis and the confederacy based their ideologies on the alleged inferiority of a group of people.

The late Harry Jaffa has this quotation in front of his book, A New Birth of Freedom:  Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War: “Since the Civil War, in which the Southern States were conquered, against all historical logic and sound sense, the American people have been in a condition of political and popular decay. In that war, it was not the Southern States, but the American people themselves who were conquered. … The beginnings of a great new social order, based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by that war, and with them also the embryo of a future truly great America that would not have been ruled by a corrupt caste of tradesmen, but by a real Herren-class that would have swept away all the falsities of liberty and equality.” [Adolf Hitler, quoted in Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction: Conversations With Hitler, 1940, pp. 68-69]

Additionally, a slave society would necessarily have the ability to apply a vast amount of repression not only against the oppressed ethnic group but also against those who would dissent from the proslavery ideology, which explains why Southerners who were abolitionists found it more conducive to their health to leave the South.

Having said all that, though, I think he goes way overboard when he claims that honoring those who fought for the confederacy is the same as honoring Nazi Germany.  People are neither all good nor all bad. A good number of men and women have admirable qualities worthy of honoring as well as not-so admirable qualities that can be deprecated. Additionally, those who fought for the confederacy did so out of a number of different motives.  Many of them were conscripted.  In sum, the situation of the confederacy’s soldiers was a very complex one that Mr. Clifton’s all-or-nothing approach simply does not take into account.  Purely and simply, he’s wrong about that.

I have three busts of Civil War figures on my desk.  One is Abraham Lincoln.  The second one is Ulysses S. Grant.  This is the third one:

Stonewall

I’m not going to get rid of it.

What do you think?

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19 comments

  1. I think Allen Clifton is in violation of Godwin’s Law.

    A few years ago the Huff Post ran an article entitled “Before You Compare Something to Hitler and the Nazis…Don’t.” I’ve seen numerous articles emerge recently that argue that same basic principle but the Huff Post article is the easiest to find on Google.

    His first comparison about the treatment of Blacks by the Confederacy and Jews by the Nazis, is neither unique or intuitive. The aspect of treating a class of citizens as subhuman or alienating their culture to make them seem “other” is not limited to Nazis and the Confederacy, even at the times in which they carried out their atrocities against those two particular classes. Jews have a history of being persecuted, subjugated, and attempted extermination. The Nazis are just a decade long segment in that unseemly history.

    both the Nazis and the confederacy based their ideologies on the alleged inferiority of a group of people.

    You mean sort of like U.S. nationalism? The spread of liberty via Manifest Destiny at the subjugation of Native Americans and Indians? Hell, we could throw in the Chinese to that mix as well. Manual labor for railroads only to be disenfranchised and excluded when the work was done.

    Having said all that, though, I think he goes way overboard when he claims that honoring those who fought for the confederacy is the same as honoring Nazi Germany.

    This I agree with, for the reasons you stated.

    My overall point is this, generalizing these two events does very little to progress the history and understanding of either. In my opinion, it hinders our understanding of both events. We end up with a trickle down effect where people who read his article, and believe in the correlations, begin retelling what can appear to be similarities between the two. Then we end up with an element of misunderstanding of the holocaust and U.S. slavery.

    1. All true, Rob. Like I said, the similarities are superficial. I think we can acknowledge the similarities while pointing out their superficiality and still disagree with his conclusion.

    2. Kristoffer · · Reply

      “His first comparison about the treatment of Blacks by the Confederacy and Jews by the Nazis, is neither unique or intuitive. The aspect of treating a class of citizens as subhuman or alienating their culture to make them seem “other” is not limited to Nazis and the Confederacy, even at the times in which they carried out their atrocities against those two particular classes. Jews have a history of being persecuted, subjugated, and attempted extermination. The Nazis are just a decade long segment in that unseemly history.”
      They were much worse than that. Victor Davis Hanson got it right in The Savior Generals pages 373-374: “The evil of the Nazi slave state thus eclipsed both ancient and modern slavery in conception and magnitude in a variety of areas. Like the Helots, the Jews were seen as an inferior race. Like the black slave, the non-Aryan was deemed worthy only to work for his master. Unlike both prior evils, in Hitler’s Germany it was agreed that there should be no economic curbs on killing the unfree, as had been true with both the Spartans and the Confederates. The Nazis were perfectly willing to incur financial hardship through the loss of valuable slave workers and in the use of precious rail and industrial resources to facilitate their mass murder.”

      “You mean sort of like U.S. nationalism? The spread of liberty via Manifest Destiny at the subjugation of Native Americans and Indians? Hell, we could throw in the Chinese to that mix as well. Manual labor for railroads only to be disenfranchised and excluded when the work was done.”
      Has it ever struck you that accidental introduction of disease killed more Native Americans than settlers? Not to mention the Native Americans were not noble themselves. Look up why Sacajawea was not with her tribe when Lewis and Clark met her. Look up the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Also, why are you distinguishing between Native Americans and Indians? Aren’t those one and the same?

      Manifest Destiny was about the potential for settlers to make a new future for themselves, with disregard for anyone else. The Chinese were the targets of xenophobia for being cheap labor, much like the Irish. Oh wait, the Irish shared your skin color, so what happened to them doesn’t count as an outrage in your eyes. What happened to people in the USA in the 19th century are an awfully long way from the Nazi ideology of securing lebensraum for their race, economic plundering of their conquests, and outright exterminating or enslaving the inferiors.

      1. Well, I guess someone’s feathers are ruffled for no reason.

        [Nazis] were much worse than that. Victor Davis Hanson got it right in The Savior Generals pages 373-374: “The evil of the Nazi slave state thus eclipsed both ancient and modern slavery in conception and magnitude in a variety of areas. Like the Helots, the Jews were seen as an inferior race. Like the black slave, the non-Aryan was deemed worthy only to work for his master. Unlike both prior evils, in Hitler’s Germany it was agreed that there should be no economic curbs on killing the unfree, as had been true with both the Spartans and the Confederates. The Nazis were perfectly willing to incur financial hardship through the loss of valuable slave workers and in the use of precious rail and industrial resources to facilitate their mass murder.”

        Thanks for using a source to make my point. The Nazis should not be compared to the Confederate quasi-government for numerous reasons as Victor Hanson illustrated. However, you must have misunderstood what I meant by the Nazis being a decade of that persecution. In context of my initial statement, Jewish people have been persecuted for centuries. The Nazis are another chapter in that persecution and one of the most horrid. However, the persecution is neither limited to them nor isolated in Germany. By contrast, American slavery based on race is somewhat unique in that regards.

        Has it ever struck you that accidental introduction of disease killed more Native Americans than settlers? Not to mention the Native Americans were not noble themselves. Look up why Sacajawea was not with her tribe when Lewis and Clark met her. Look up the Mountain Meadow Massacre.

        I know all to well the effects of European disease on the Native population. I also know that Europeans used those diseases to their advantage. Two examples of this are the use of small pox infested blankets knowingly traded to Native Americans; and the Puritans holding Natives hostage for medical care. I would recommend that you brush up on your historiography about Native American and European violence in war. Especially as to how the two cultures, somewhat ignorant of each other and each other’s method of warfare, led to tension and an escalation in violence. Allow me to suggest The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607–1814 by John Grenier and Barbarians and Brothers: Anglo-American Warfare, 1500-1865 by Wayne E. Lee.

        I’m not sure what you are getting at in regards to Sacajawea. The Lewis and Clark expedition occurred in 1804-05. The Mountain Meadow Massacre happened in the 1850s, years after Sacajawea’s death. Regardless, Sacajawea was pregnant with her first child with the Clark Expedition arrived in 1804. She had been taken wife by Toussaint Charbonneau when she was but thirteen years old. Regardless, this is a moot point contextually. You can’t argue counterpoints by pointing the finger at someone else.

        Also, why are you distinguishing between Native Americans and Indians? Aren’t those one and the same?

        Quite right. When I originally wrote the passage, it said “Mexicans and Indians.” I intended to edit out “Indians” and replace that with “Native Americans.” I copy-pasted the wrong part.

        Manifest Destiny was about the potential for settlers to make a new future for themselves, with disregard for anyone else.

        Yea, and that disregard came at the peril of a race of people.

        The Chinese were the targets of xenophobia for being cheap labor, much like the Irish. Oh wait, the Irish shared your skin color, so what happened to them doesn’t count as an outrage in your eyes.

        Anti-Catholicism certainly played a part in respect to Irish persecution, yes. Many Americans, especially ones of Anglo dissent, did see the Irish as an inferior people. The aforementioned book Barbarians and Brothers does an excellent job of explaining that. However, bringing up the Irish still adds nothing to the argument about comparing the Nazis to the Confederacy.

        What happened to people in the USA in the 19th century are an awfully long way from the Nazi ideology of securing lebensraum for their race, economic plundering of their conquests, and outright exterminating or enslaving the inferiors.

        I never made that assertion. You’re basically getting mad over nothing as you seem to actually agree with my original statement. No one is absolved from the sin of racism or xenophobia. However, we as a society tend to target Nazi ideology and circumstance as a universal evil that we are far removed from. The reality is definitely more complicated. By generalizing and suggesting these commonalities exist between events renders little insight into either. This is the point I made in the original comment, this is the point I continue to make. The Nazis and the Confederacy are not the same. In all reality, U.S. policy towards the natives is closer, but still in no way the same. As far as Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum, I suggest you read up on Friedrich Ratzel.

        1. There is apparently documentation that Lord Jeffrey Amherst was involved with giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans during Pontiac’s War.

          There have also been allegations of blankets from smallpox victims being distributed by the US Army to Native Americans. That is one of the frauds perpetrated by Ward Churchill.

          http://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/plag/5240451.0001.009/–did-the-us-army-distribute-smallpox-blankets-to-indians?rgn=main;view=fulltext

          In any event, it’s likely that blankets would not have been able to transmit the disease, since it dies very quickly outside a human host.

          1. Correct, Pontiac’s war was the one I was referring to. Simeon Ecuyer used the same tactic in the same conflict. It’s more likely the humans who transferred the blankets from person to person probably transferred the disease from person to person in the process of getting the blankets to the natives. Europeans were very aware of the effects the disease had on the Native population and they attempted to use that. It’s estimated four to five hundred thousand indians died from the disease during the Conflict. What it demonstrates, is the intent.

          2. Much like the yellow fever plot perpetrated by Luke Blackburn during the Civil War.

          3. had to look that one up.

          4. It’s one of those little-talked-about stories.

  2. Pat Young · · Reply

    I never comment on another man’s bust.

  3. I agree with your discussion of this. At the time, slavery was legal, even if repulsive to all but those indoctrinated in the “positive good” of the institution. While I’d like to agree with him, that is kind of no comparison to genocide. Might have to go back to Assyrians or early Romans to find a time and place when genocide was considered an acceptable solution.

    I do think his better point is this one: “…the Confederacy was essentially a treasonous group that declared war against the United States government…. The Confederacy attacked a United States fort. If something like that occurred today, those responsible would be labeled domestic terrorists – not honored by millions of Americans in the South.”

    But even there, the comparison to terrorists is a little weak. Terrorists don’t raise armies to fight other armies.

    1. Agreed, Burt, but let’s look at ISIS as an example of a terrorist movement that raised an army.

      1. Perhaps we should stop dismissing groups as “terrorists” and recognize them as they are, radical political groups who engage in acts we consider terror.

        1. I fail to see the difference between a terrorist group and a radical political group that engages in terror.

          1. Well, for starters, Nelson Mandella was labeled a terrorist at one time. Had the “Reign of Terror” come about before 1776 and the English had a word for what we know today as “terrorist,” it is highly likely the Founding Fathers would have been labeled as terrorists. Wasn’t it Reagan that said that the Contas were “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers?” The point being that “terrorist” is a pretty subjective term. One people’s terrorist is another people’s freedom fighter. Labeling groups as such dismisses them which hinders any attempt to understand them.

            What’s the difference between a terrorist group and a government that engages in terror tactics?

          2. There are labels, and then there are labels. Sometimes there are labels applied with no justification. Sometimes there is justification. There is no such thing as “terror tactics” unique to terrorist groups. Terrorism by definition is an unlawful act of violence against people or property with the purpose of coercion of a government or a population in pursuit of a political goal. See here: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/terrorism/terrorism-definition

              If

            Nelson Mandela engaged in unlawful violence to coerce a government in pursuit of a political goal, then he was a terrorist. If he didn’t, then he wasn’t.

            While the strict definition of terrorism doesn’t preclude a uniformed armed force from being within the definition, normally a uniformed armed force that engages in violence in pursuit of political goals isn’t considered a terrorist group, with ISIS being a prime exception to the rule. They would normally be considered revolutionary groups if they are seeking to change the government, again with ISIS being a prime exception. With that in mind, Reagan was more right than wrong. I have to reject the notion the label inhibits any attempt to understand them. We have many, many people studying these groups and seeking understanding of them.

          3. …the U.S. gov. is currently engaged in a “War on Terror,” you don’t think our definition of “terrorist” might be a little biased?

          4. No.

            I should expand on that. Our definition predates the war on terror.

  4. The Confederate · · Reply

    Honoring the Confederacy is like honoring Imperial Japan, celebrating Confederate “Heritage” is like celebrating Imperial “Heritage”, saying that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern pride and heritage is like saying that the Rising Sun Flag is a symbol of Japanese pride and heritage.

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