The war being waged by cultural Marxists against objective history has stepped up a notch. President Trump was right to condemn extremists of both Left and Right for the appalling violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, after the city authorities removed the statue of the Confederate General, Robert E Lee.
On both sides of the Atlantic the illiberal Left have been seeking to ‘cleanse’ from history any figures or events that do not accord with their crude, politically ‘correct’ narratives. They have been willing to resort to violence and intimidation to achieve those ends. In Britain, we have seen the ‘safe spacers’ of Oxford University demanding the removal of Cecil Rhodes’ statue. Now we’re hearing demands from the loony left that Nelson’s Column be removed, or maybe even replaced with one of Nelson Mandela.
These are not merely symbolic struggles. As George Orwell wrote in ‘1984‘; ’Who controls the present controls the past; who controls the past, controls the future’. Once we allow the cultural Marxists to dictate revisionist history as a struggle between ‘oppressor’ and ‘victim’ groups, only to be ‘corrected’ by an ‘enlightened’ leftist elite in the interests of ‘social justice‘, then truly objective history will be lost to future generations. Where will it end ? Destroy all our Norman castles as symbols of an alien feudal oppression of the socialistic Anglo-Saxons ? Ancient Britons v Romans anybody ?
The disturbances in the US are troubling because they indicate that some Americans do not understand their country’s history. The abolition of slavery was a consequence of the Civil War, but it was not its direct cause. The conflict had been brewing for over 40 years because the South’s agrarian economy (which depended on slavery and the export of raw materials), was fundamentally different to the North’s growing industrial economy, which was based on capital and industry. Both halves of the US had diametrically opposed interests when it came to settling national questions of trade and economic policy. The South needed free trade; the North needed protective tariffs. Because the Senate (the US Upper Chamber) gave all states equal representation and the Southern slave-owning states were roughly equal in number to the North, slave owning interests could block any legislation that was needed for the Northern states to grow economically. The resultant logjam gave rise to huge political tensions, and the formation in 1854 of the Republican Party. The Republicans were almost entirely a ‘Northern’ party dedicated to fundamental constitutional reform; to transform the US into a Unionist, federal state controlled from a central government in Washington, in place of a Confederation of states each having a wide degree of autonomy. The Republican program meant the end of the Southern states influence over the US government; in effect the end of the ‘southern’ way of life. Many in the Southern states saw their cause as fighting to preserve the US constitution and the legislative powers of all the individual US states. Abraham Lincoln‘s election as the first Republican US President (1860) led directly to the secession of the Southern states and the outbreak of civil war in April 1861.
Prior to the war, Lincoln was no abolitionist and sought only to prevent the spread of slavery into the newly formed states of the American West. As late as August 1862, after the war had been waging for more than a year, he remarked in New York Tribune: ‘My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would do that also ….‘ It was only in November that year that Lincoln moved to an explicitly abolitionist platform, thereby turning the war into a moral, as well as military struggle. This was prompted in part by the need to shore up public opinion in the North, which was starting to question the human cost of the war. There was also a danger that Britain (which had abolished slavery in 1834), was on the verge of giving diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy, one of its main suppliers of raw cotton. Throughout the war, Lincoln’s priority was to preserve the Union at all costs and all other principles would be sacrificed to achieve this end.
It is sad that Lee should become the flash point for so much bigotry and hatred. Although he owned a handful of slaves, Lee was an apologist rather than an enthusiast for slavery. Above all else though, Lee was an honorable soldier and working with incredibly slender resources, probably the finest military tactician of his day. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln considered offering him the command of the Unionist army. Lee however saw his duty as being to serve his beloved home state of Virginia, which had declared for the Confederacy. After Lee surrendered the last Confederate army at Appomattox in 1865, his Unionist opponent General Grant wrote that he felt ‘sad and depressed at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and so valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause, even though that cause was I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought’..
In ‘The Divided Union – The Concise History of the American Civil War’ (Tempus 1999), Peter Batty and Peter J Parrish give this assessment: ‘Lee ended his part in the war as he had performed it throughout, with dignity, honour and considerable courage. His conduct in defeat, along with his redoubtable reputation as a warrior, earned him a place in the pantheon of American national heroes …’