Nostalgia for Military Dictatorship

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Whenever I read about the latest craziness going on in our country I always think of Thomas Sowell’s comment: "Since the 1960s, we replaced what worked with what sounded good." The radical changes that have taken place in America since 1960 are not the result of a plebiscite, nor are they based on the wishes of the majority. They represent the covert efforts of an influential minority in politics, media, and entertainment. And they have deflected criticism by insisting that their remedies are necessary to promote egalitarianism and protect Civil Rights of minority groups.

Of course, this cultural makeover couldn’t have progressed as far as it has without the support of the mainstream media with its awesome power to mold opinions. Also, we must remember that we live in a multigenerational society that is usually classified as follows: Veterans (born prior to WWII), Boomers (born between 1945 and 1965), Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and Generation Nexters (born between 1980 and 2000). I frequently have to remind myself that Generation Xers didn’t reach maturity until after 1980 – after political correctness. Consequently, what they were taught in school and what they learned from the media is quite different from what Veterans or even Boomers learned. So what Veterans perceive as craziness may seem normal to Generation Xers.

Although South Carolina is a relatively small state, it is not exempt from the craziness. Senator Fritz Hollings, a "Liberal Democrat," and Representative Joe Wilson, a "Conservative Republican" have introduced similar bills in the Senate and the House requesting funding for a study of how best to illustrate the "beneficial effects" of Reconstruction in Beaufort. This is yet another illustration of the merging of philosophies of Democrats and Republicans as well as Liberals and Conservatives. Their rhetoric is slightly different but their political actions have become indistinguishable.

The project is known as the "Reconstruction Era Shrine." The dictionary defines shrine as a "place that is hallowed because of its special associations." Most newspapers throughout the State support the Shrine with their editorials as well as their reluctance to print letters opposing it. Some Beaufort area newspapers are salivating over the prospect of having the Reconstruction Era Shrine, and their editorials read like a benediction. They are also excited that the Shrine will be under the auspices of the National Park Service (NPS). And, of course, the NPS is eager to have another historical site to politicize.

But the story of Reconstruction had to be "cleaned up" before it could become a shrine. The sanitizing of Reconstruction involves combining the government’s social engineering fiasco with the voluntary efforts of private benevolent societies such as the Quakers; the American Missionary Society and the Gideonites. These charitable societies, that provided schools and other benevolent undertakings to South Carolina’s Sea Islands, were not connected with the Federal government. Their humanitarian services, provided by volunteers from the South as well as the North, were pragmatic and limited primarily to basic education, agricultural training, and health matters for freed slaves — those freed before, during, and after the War Between the States.

The voluntary efforts of these private benevolent societies began as early as 1861, long before the government implemented its official Reconstruction experiment in 1865. These charitable organizations continued their humanitarian work long after 1877, the year Federal Reconstruction ended. The Federal government’s Reconstruction efforts were an attempt to coerce a complete restructuring of Southern society at the point of a bayonet. That the government’s experiment was a failure is acknowledged by most historians. And, until fairly recently, most agreed that Reconstruction did more harm than good. So why should the successful efforts of private benevolent societies now be tainted by falsely associating them with the Federal imposed "Reconstruction," a term that has become a metaphor for corruption and tyranny?

Politicized history is also evident in the revamping of the museum at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. This is also a NPS project and in writing about the renovation, career bureaucrats with the NPS stated that it was a "great opportunity for expanding Civil War interpretation"…with "a more holistic approach"… "a more sweeping and inclusive story line"…and a "high priority was bringing the exhibit in line with current scholarship." Furthermore, they claimed that "the end product would satisfy diverse interests."

In order to help the NPS edit and rewrite the museum’s exhibits, the services of both a "military" and a "social" historian were sought. To insure that diverse interests were satisfied, a white historian was teamed with a black historian. The so-called military historian, Dr. Walter Edgar, teaches history at the University of South Carolina and has written books about the State as well as the Revolutionary War. His books and his radio show have made him a celebrity butterfly in the State. This is Edgar’s comment on the proposed Reconstruction Era Shrine: "I think it’s neat that all these national folks have looked everywhere in the country to determine where you can best capture Reconstruction and they choose Beaufort."

A social historian, as the term implies, is an historian who relies heavily upon the social sciences; sociology, psychology, and economics, for their interpretations of history. This field of history is heavily influenced by Karl Marx’s theories of the struggle between the exploiting and exploited classes. In this case, the social historian chosen was Dr. Bernard Powers, a professor at the College of Charleston who is also affiliated with the College’s African-American Studies Program. According to the news release from the museum, these two historians faced "The challenges of presenting public history, including multiple and conflicting viewpoints, and of fleshing out military history within a social and political context."

Like the revised NPS exhibits at other Civil War sites, the new exhibits at the Fort Sumter museum explain the origins of the Civil War by stating: "Underlying all the economic, social and political rhetoric was the volatile question of slavery. Because its economic life had long depended on enslaved labor, South Carolina was the first state to secede when this way of life was threatened."

The new pictorial graphics at the Fort Sumter National Museum present what the literature describes as a "multi-layered story," i.e., scenes of slavery are exhibited alongside battle scenes. There is already a slavery section in the Charleston Museum and the City’s Slave Mart Museum also focuses on slavery. In addition, Charleston has plans to construct a third slavery museum. When completed, this site will cover 10 acres of waterfront property and will be the largest slavery museum in the nation. The Fort Sumter National Museum’s slavery exhibits are a little different from those at the other three museums in that they are designed to help young school children understand the abolition movement and the horrors it opposed. The museum contains vivid descriptions and "haunting photographs" of slavery.

Also, the refurbished site contains a full-size replica of the United States flag that flew over Fort Sumter, yet no Confederate flags are exhibited. After acknowledging complaints about the obvious absence of the Confederate flag, the NPS bureaucrats wrote; "Memories are short and some visitors bring deep-seated belief systems with them." This is an interesting and revealing statement. In a museum commemorating a significant moment in a war, the banner of one side is displayed but the banner of the opposing side is not. This is political correctness run amok. Surely the NPS doesn’t think its transparent politicizing of Civil War battle sites goes unnoticed.

As annoying as these two projects are to many South Carolinians, some comedic relief is provided by the invasion of the State by Democratic presidential candidates vying for South Carolina’s primary votes. It appears that their campaign efforts are targeted solely at South Carolina’s 1.2 million black voters. From their comments and actions, the candidates have no doubt decided that black voters are more concerned about symbolic issues than substantive ones. But when South Carolina blacks were recently interviewed by newspapers, they focused heavily on practical issues such as jobs and economic opportunities; education, affordable housing, and healthcare.

Strangely, these Democratic candidates are oblivious to the current political climate in South Carolina. They don’t understand that there is a different world outside of the Beltway. I personally have never witnessed a group of candidates so oafish and inept as these Democratic presidential hopefuls. My wife maintains that they are at the lowest end of the food chain. They insist that the Confederate flag be closeted away along with Ten Commandment monuments. Some have even stated that the Confederate flag should not be displayed anywhere, at any time and for any reason.

It is truly laughable to see these Democrats fawn over Reverend Joe Darby, First Vice-President of the South Carolina NAACP. Reverend Darby is the organizer of the infamous economic boycott of the State that he claims will continue until the Confederate flag is removed from the Statehouse grounds. The candidates make the obligatory pilgrimage to Darby’s church in Charleston and genuflect to the Reverend; praying for the opportunity of a photo-op.

The candidates refused to debate in Longstreet Hall at the University of South Carolina because its namesake once owned slaves. Furman University was also rejected as a debate site because it is located in Greenville County; a county that had the political incorrectness to reject a Martin Luther King Holiday.

This current presidential campaign is quite different from the one that occurred in 1960. That was a time when there was regional pride in our Southern states and respect for Southern heritage in other states. When Senator John F. Kennedy brought his presidential campaign to South Carolina, he was formally presented with a Confederate flag by then Governor, Fritz Hollings. Senator Kennedy graciously accepted the flag as an emblem of the region he was visiting.

In the years following 1960, the mainstream media began portraying elements of Southern heritage as "symbols of hate." The media was able to convince a substantial segment of the population that comprehensive Civil Rights laws, Affirmative Action, set-asides and other racial preferences weren’t enough to help minorities overcome past inequities. Southern heritage also had to be eliminated. When this media campaign first started, I honestly didn’t believe they could pull it off. How could any rational person think that "Dixie," or any popular song for that matter, could hold anyone back? But within a decade or so, especially after the faint-hearted "me too" editors of Southern newspapers joined the campaign, the mainstream media was not only able to demonize Southern heritage but, by association, anyone who defends it.

Gail Jarvis [send him mail], a CPA living in Beaufort, SC, is an advocate of the voluntary union of states established by the founders.

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