The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
As Eugene already noted, on Commentary's website, Max boot offers his take on the Confederate battle flag controversy:
But there is a big distinction to be made between remembering the past—something that, as a historian, I'm all in favor of—and honoring those who did bad things in the past. Remembrance does not require public displays of the Confederate flag, nor streets with names such as Jefferson Davis Highway—a road that always rankles me to drive down in Northern Virginia. Such gestures are designed to honor leaders of the Confederacy, who were responsible for the costliest war in American history—men who were traitors to this country, inveterate racists, and champions of slavery.
In this regard, honoring Jefferson Davis is particularly egregious, or, for that matter, Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. But I believe even honoring the nobler Robert E. Lee is inappropriate. True, he was a brave and skilled soldier, but he fought in a bad cause. Modern Germany does not have statues to Erwin Rommel even though he—unlike Lee—turned at the end of the day against the monstrous regime in whose cause he fought so skillfully. Thus, I don't believe it is appropriate to have statues of Lee, or schools named after him, although I admit in his case it's a closer call than with Jefferson Davis.
This is not "rewriting" history; it's getting history right. The rewriting was done by Lost Cause mythologists who created pro-Confederate propaganda (such as Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind) to convince their countrymen that the South was actually in the right even as it imposed slavery and then segregation. This required impugning those Northerners who went south after the Civil War to try to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. They were labeled "carpetbaggers," and their memory was tarnished while the actions of the white supremacists they opposed were glorified.
Boot is exactly right. I wasn't kidding when I said before that I am glad to see Nikki Haley get the Stars and Bars removed from government buildings. Eric Foner and other historians like James Oakes and Richard Sewell are to be credited with correcting the historical record from the pro-Confederate revisionism that is still accepted by all-too-many on the right. Where the "Lost Cause" fable might once have been justified as a useful fiction to unify the country, lying about the Civil War and Reconstruction now only serves those who wish to sully the reputation of those who opposed slavery and promoted the civil rights of blacks when doing so took real courage (as it did for the civil rights activists of the '50s and '60s). In this way, like the Southerners of old, they can claim that there is a moral equivalence between North and South, between the USA and the CSA.
MORE HERE: I highly recommend the books I link to above about the men who opposed the pro-slavery reading of the Constitution before the Civil War, and who established the Republican Party to see their vision of the Constitution affirmed in its text. You can also read my articles on antislavery constitutionalism here and here. The more I learn about the history that has been concealed by pro-Confederate revisionism, the more I find to admire in our past.
Cross posted on Instapundit