Sunday, April 11, 2010

Confederate Soldiers as Terrorists

When I go to the CNN homepage and I see plastered on the front page a picture of Confederate soldiers with a headline reading, "Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists?", I am a happy man. Not only is Roland Martin launching a crusade against romanticizing the Confederacy, CNN is giving him prime space to do so. The overwhelming response against Bob McDonnell's trivializing of slavery has put neo-Confederates on the defensive. The old romantic view of the Confederacy is increasingly being pushed to the edges of acceptable discourse. Not only that, but the last week has arguably seen the most serious discussion of the Civil War's impact since the Civil Rights Movement.

While directly defending the Confederacy has become harder in the past few decades, low-level Confederate romanticization has exploded. We can particularly see this with the rise of Civil War reenactors. As Tony Horwitz points out in his excellent book, Confederates in the Attic, most of these reenactors want to "fight" for the Confederates. Many of those men directly connect the Confederacy with the anti-government and veiled racist rhetoric of the conservative movement and the present-day Republican Party. Bob McDonnell responded to that with his pro-Confederate declaration. But a lot of Americans will no longer put up with these ideas as part of respectable political discourse, including Roland Martin and myself.

Martin refers to Confederate soldiers as terrorists. He particularly attacks those who responded negatively to an earlier article attacking McDonnell, comparing their rhetoric to apologists for Islamic terrorism:

If you take all of these comments, don't they sound eerily similar to what we hear today from Muslim extremists who have pledged their lives to defend the honor of Allah and to defeat the infidels in the West?
When you make the argument that the South was angry with the North for "invading" its "homeland," Osama bin Laden has said the same about U.S. soldiers being on Arab soil. He has objected to our bases in Saudi Arabia, and that's one of the reasons he has launched his jihad against us. Is there really that much of a difference between him and the Confederates? Same language; same cause; same effect.

If a Confederate soldier was merely doing his job in defending his homeland, honor and heritage, what are we to say about young Muslim radicals who say the exact same thing as their rationale for strapping bombs on their bodies and blowing up cafes and buildings?

If the Sons of Confederate Veterans use as a talking point the vicious manner in which people in the South were treated by the North, doesn't that sound exactly like the Taliban saying they want to kill Americans for the slaughter of innocent people in Afghanistan?

Defenders of the Confederacy say that innocent people were killed in the Civil War; hasn't the same argument been presented by Muslim radicals in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places where the U.S. has tangled with terrorists?
Well, maybe. I actually don't overly care for this line of argument. Were Confederate soldiers terrorists?  Not really. There were terrorist raids and such, but in general, I don't think Confederates qualify under a realistic definition of terrorism. That's hardly placing me on the side of those committed treason to defend slavery. But I like careful definition of words--and Martin is using terrorism very loosely.

Now, did slaveholders commit terrorism against their slaves? Absolutely. And did they continue these actions for a century after the war ended?  Yes indeed. I'd just prefer Martin make this distinction.