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The Sin of Confederate Hero Worship

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Why do Americans stand for Southerners idolizing the Confederacy, despite the evils of slavery and treason at its heart?

This week, I took my family to Virginia in pursuit of one of my favorite summertime activities, visiting Civil War battlefields. We traveled to the four great battlefields around Fredericksburg, where more than 100,000 soldiers died in the course of the war. I also fulfilled my lifelong dream of visiting Appomattox Courthouse where on April 9, 1865, Lee famously surrendered to Grant, in effect ending the war.

What consistently baffles me in making these visits is the romanticization of the Confederacy that continues 140 years after the war's end. Wherever you go in the South, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, and the other Confederate leaders are venerated as heroes. In the course of my travels, I have driven on Robert E. Lee Drive and Jefferson Davis Highway. I've seen myriad monuments to Stonewall Jackson, and I've seen the Confederate flag flying from cars and homes.

As an American who loves his country, I am appalled by the persistence of Confederate hero worship in the South 140 years after the Civil War's end. After all, the South fought for a truly evil cause. While there were other factors that led to the Civil War, no serious, objective historian would deny that the principal cause of the war was the institution of slavery, and that the South fought to preserve its "peculiar institution."

Whether or not the soldiers of the Confederacy personally believed in slavery, they still fought to preserve the hideous, reprehensible practice of buying and selling human beings--each and every one created in the image of G-d--like animals. Babies were torn away from their mothers' breasts; men, women, and children were whipped like beasts. This was the essential, defining institution that the Confederacy struggled to keep.

Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery. But his personal feelings about the institution are utterly immaterial. The only relevant point was that he used his military genius to fight a war that would have kept men, women, and children in chains. What on earth could make a man like that a hero? What could make a man like Jefferson Davis a hero in the eyes of the good people of the modern South, and what message are those who lionize this man sending to their children? That it is good to rebel against the United States?

Last summer, when I visited Richmond, the Confederate capital, with my children, I was astonished to see the enormous statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and the other confederate luminaries that line Monument Avenue, which the Virginia tourism literature calls "one of America's most beautiful boulevards." This, in the heart of a city that is about 60 percent African-American. If I were they, would I abide this display of veneration for the Confederacy's leaders? Were the statues erected with any thought to the feelings of the city's black residents?

And aside from the slavery question, were these men not traitors to their country? The Confederate rebellion cost the United States 580,000 lives. It began when the South rejected the election of Abraham Lincoln, a president who they believed would abolish slavery but whom we Americans today regard as the greatest president ever to lead this country.

Let's put this in the starkest possible terms. The cause for which the Confederate leaders fought, namely slavery, was no more noble than the cause for which the terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi fights for today in Baghdad.

Zarqawi fights to enslave the Muslim people, and the Confederate leaders fought to continue the enslavement of American's black sons and daughters. Zarqawi fights to deny Muslims their rights and to deny them a say in their political future, and the Confederate leaders fought so that blacks would have no rights and no future. Zarqawi fights so that women can be whipped in the streets when they are dressed immodestly, and the Confederate leaders fought so that black women could be lashed when they disobeyed the orders of their masters. In every way, the enslavement of blacks that Lee and Davis fought to perpetuate is much more severe than any kind of enslavement that contemporary Muslim governments, however brutal and despotic, would currently inflict against their people.

To be sure, I do not compare the Confederate leadership to terrorists. Davis and Lee never waged a war against civilians, and in their personal lives historians tell us they were scrupulous gentleman. Lee in particular was instrumental in getting his fellow Southerners to lay down their weapons after Appomattox rather than contuing a guerrilla struggle from the mountains of the West. But the cause for which these men fought was just as odious as that for which terrorists would lay down their lives today.

It is high time for the United States to remove statues of Confederate leaders. And for those who say that removing such statues would be an affront to free speech, I would respond, are there any statues of Benedict Arnold in the United States? And would anyone dare erect one? And yet Arnold's treachery against the United States was child's play compared to the damage caused by Davis, Lee, and Jackson.

The great men of the Civil War were not the rebels, but those who fought to preserve the unity of this great nation rather than to tear it asunder. The great men of that terrible war were those who ultimately freed the slaves from bondage--most notably Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman--rather than those whose victory would have had fellow Americans owned as beasts of burden by their countrymen.

The idea that any southern state capitol would fly the Confederate flag offends the sensibilities and perpetuates racial division. Did we forget that it is the symbol of rebellion against the authority of the United States and stands for hatred of America?

I know that this is a hot-button issue, and that there are some state capitols that want to incorporate the Confederate battle flag into theirs because, they argue, the Confederacy is an integral part of their history. Indeed it is. But is the wrong history, the worst kind of history that could be perpetuated. While I would never compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany--there are, after all, gradations of evil, and the Confederacy did not approach the inhuman slaughter by Hitler's minions--no one would accept a historical argument for incorporating the Nazi flag into modern Germany's flag. Modern Germany is rightly ashamed of its past and the symbols of that past.

In the same way our country could never remain the United States if the South had gained the upper hand, likewise we cannot be a great country if we romanticize those who fought an evil rebellion whose ultimate objective was the perpetuation of America's foremost moral sin.

Which leads me to another conundrum. Many of the Southerners who romanticize the Confederacy are religious Christians who lead lives devoted to moral excellence. How is it possible that they would make heroes of men who betrayed the Bible's essential message: that G-d is the father of all humankind, and all of us therefore are equal before Him?

There is no easy answer to this question. Some would say that the original sin of the Confederacy's Christians was to talk themselves into believing that slavery was really a benevolent institution, granting support, food, and shelter to a population who they believed could not fend for themselves. The perpetuation of that sin would be lionizing the Confederate leaders and believing that it does not offend the South's black citizens or undermine its morality. Still others would say that when G-d-fearing Christians honor the Confederate leaders today, they do so as a means of honoring the South and a lost way of life rather than focusing on slavery. It's collective amnesia. The horrors of slavery have been forgotten and only the charm of the old South has remained.

But all these answers ring hollow. For people of religion should be lionizing only those whose lives captured the divine ideals that they hold dear. And those who fought to preserve slavery, to use an understatement, simply don't make the grade.

When religious southern Christians engage in nostalgia for the Confederacy, they are making the mistake of putting Southern sentiment before religious conviction, in effect elevating an inferior part of their identity over the most central part. Regional loyalty must never come before eternal principle.

© MBM

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quote:
Originally posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach:

. . . and the Confederacy did not approach the inhuman slaughter by Hitler's minions


ek ek ek

Not that there is any real benefit to comparing tragedies, but I could make a rather cogent argument that slavery was FAR worse than Nazism. Historians generally suggest that WELL over 6 million Africans lost their lives on the middle passage alone, much less what those who made it endured here for HUNDREDS of years!

Great article otherwise.
quote:
This acceptance gives what the CSA stood for a giant pass...
Yeah, like a freakin' MATADOR!

You might could even say its as skillful... The feigned disdained complete with the WHITEWASH Hand Slap.

On the other thread someone said Southerners have long since been negatively stereotyped and that's what many who say they are "Proud Southerners" are responding to. Well, it sure seems like the "stereotyping" is rather benign because, as this article suggests, the prevailing American attitudes hardly go far enough.

They are running a little tardy on the Tim McVeigh, "Be On The Look-Out for crew-cut White Boys" racial profiling thing... They can get their little Rainbow crew of Colored Neo-CON's (a la Michelle Malkin) to rationalize why making White Skin suspect - just because - is prudent public policy.

IMO, the American flag, American "hero" worship, etc., etc. ain't crackin' on shit either... The very fact that the Confederacy LIVES as it does, the way the article details it, is just that: An Indictment of the Red, White and Blue, Stars and Stripes. But I digress...
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It is high time for the United States to remove statues of Confederate leaders. And for those who say that removing such statues would be an affront to free speech, I would respond, are there any statues of Benedict Arnold in the United States? And would anyone dare erect one? And yet Arnold's treachery against the United States was child's play compared to the damage caused by Davis, Lee, and Jackson.

The great men of the Civil War were not the rebels, but those who fought to preserve the unity of this great nation rather than to tear it asunder. The great men of that terrible war were those who ultimately freed the slaves from bondage--most notably Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman--rather than those whose victory would have had fellow Americans owned as beasts of burden by their countrymen.

The idea that any southern state capitol would fly the Confederate flag offends the sensibilities and perpetuates racial division. Did we forget that it is the symbol of rebellion against the authority of the United States and stands for hatred of America?---Rabbi Boteach

The Confederate flag is the flag of a foreign nation. It should not fly over any facility, or operation that is under the jurisdiction of member State of the United States.

I cannot argue against the right of former citizens of that nation to statues commemorating their former nationality. Having those statues on State property can present a conceptual problem.

Such however is the nature of our construction.

A flag is dramatically different from a flag. A flag is a symbol of allegiance.

If 'worship' is the complaint it implies religion.

If it is a 'sin', it implies religion.

We all know we can't get into that.

As for the people being Christian, it should be remembered that Christianity is, and always was the foundation for racism in America.

The bible said so.

The City of Richmond may indeed be 60% African American-American.

The power of the economics, politics, and society standards are European-American.

There was a huge fight to keep a statue of Arthur Ashe (a son-of-Richmond) off that very 'beautiful' boulevard.

I don't remember who won.

If there is a statue of Arthur, I would expect to see it 'off to the side.'


PEACE

Jim Chester
I, too had a problem with this article. It's almost pointless, is certainly thoughtless and in some ways dishonest.

I believe that "hero worship" of a system and government that enslaved, murdered and dehumanized millions of people is ignorant, insensitive, and cruel. But the article is pointless because what can be done? And if we could do something about it, would we want to?

Is Rabbi Boteach in favor of a law prohibiting the display of these artifacts, of violating the guarantees of the First Amendment? If so, some first-year law student can give him a quick lesson on the Bill of Rights.

Or, perhaps he believes the First amendment should be repealed or the display and expression of these ideas and artifacts should be made an exception to the First Amendment? Good luck! I know the ACLU will have some input into the latter.

Is Rabbi Boteach suggesting that all symbols of the Confederacy be forcibly removed? He and his followers will quickly find themselves behind bars.

Is he merely suggesting that removing all flags and icons of the Confederacy is an idea whose time has come? Well, it is a nice idea but I don't think it's time has come. Maybe in two or three generations, but not now or the flags and statues would be gone.

"It is high time for the United States to remove statues of Confederate leaders. And for those who say that removing such statues would be an affront to free speech, I would respond, are there any statues of Benedict Arnold in the United States? And would anyone dare erect one?"

These statements are possibly the most blatantly absurd of the whole article. They are untruthful and misleading. They justify the infringement of freedom of expression through irrelevancy; the absence of a stature of Benedict Arnold. Please! Is Rabbi Boteach an American?

In fact, anyone can erect a stature of Benedict Arnold on private property and on public property, if the community approves. The statue would likely be defaced and damaged but to imply that no one would do it because of fear is simply untrue.

The swastika is a universally despised symbol of bigotry and hatred yet there it is, on armbands, on a flag displayed in a window, on posters and signs. You only have to surf the Internet to realize how many crazies and fools are hiding in small places.

Rabbi Boteach is also dishonest. He states that he does not compare the "Confederate leadership to terrorists" but in the previous two paragraph he did just that. Is he also an authority on how the Islamic people perceive Abu Musab Al Zarqawi? To many Muslims, Zarqawi is a nationalist and Ariel Sharon is the terrorist.

And finally, his criticism of Southern Christian churches is thoughtless. Hypocrisy is not unique to Southern Churches and Rabbi Boteach has forgotten human frailty. All of us who have heroes tend to forget the wrong that they have done and focus on what we regard as great achievements.

As I perceive racial discrimination in 2005, there are conditions in America that perpetuate racial division far more than the Confederate flag or a stature of Robert E. Lee. The display of these items is a minor irritant but that's all it is. Perhaps I say this because I live in the Western part of the country and we rarely see these items. Still, in the scheme of things, I think if I lived in the South, I would readily agree to ignore these items in exchange for true equal opportunity and quality education for our children.
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If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." – Noam Chomsky
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Being from South Carolina, the confederate flag does not bother me. Nor do the statues. I look at them as reminders. Many blacks want to forget slavery and act as if it didn't happen. They think that if you hide everything and don't make mention of it it will go away. Removing flags and statues will not remove racism. Maybe we should stop worrying about their flag and concentrate on getting OUR flag.
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quote:
Originally posted by blackbutterfly:
Being from South Carolina, the confederate flag does not bother me. Nor do the statues. I look at them as reminders. Many blacks want to forget slavery and act as if it didn't happen. They think that if you hide everything and don't make mention of it it will go away. Removing flags and statues will not remove racist. Maybe we should stop worrying about their flag and concentrate on getting OUR flag.

Blackbutterfly,

That was my thought, but because I'm not from the South, I couldn't say this with certainty. It just seemed that all the flags, statues, and other reminders of the Confederacy were minor when compared to all the other injustices perpetrated against African Americans. Thank you.
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quote:
Originally posted by EgbertSouse:
"Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixieland."


Damn, I don't know nothing about negroes bashing jews for bashing southerners for bashing negroes, ad infinitum, BUT I do know I like that "Dixie" tune!

bang bump
Maybe we should stop worrying about their flag and concentrate on getting OUR flag.---black butterfly.

First: I like insight detail of your avatar.

You may have noticed I have special 'thing' for flags.

Clearly, I agree with you.

In 1997, I created a flag that represents me as an American of unknown African ancesty. I use it to represent me, and all others who share my 'history and circumstance.'

Speaking of flags please take a look at what the wikipedia website has done with the problem.

I like my option better.


PEACE

Jim Chester
quote:
Originally posted by EgbertSouse:
"Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixieland."


Damn, I don't know nothing about negroes bashing jews for bashing southerners for bashing negroes, ad infinitum, BUT I do know I like that "Dixie" tune!


You stupid jerk. Do you know how many times I've read your inane posts on this web site accusing Blacks of turning everything under the sun into something racial? And now here you are doing just that.

You hypocritical, asshole.

Read the whole thread. It was started by someone who liked the article and supported by others who liked the article.

I think you've been in back of your hardware store sniffing too much acetone. Not good for the brain cells, W. C.
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This article seemed kind of vague in terms of he was trying too hard and doesn't really understand the issue of the Confederacy and then he tries to tie it in with the current war in Iraq. It doesn't seem like he has a full understanding of the issues with this. I'm not impressed.
Yeah...I bet if white people would have been in slavery and that schit was still flying, they would be crying that they are hurt psychologically and all that BS...some of them can be the most evil sonofabitches on earth...and the biggest victim at the same time...i.e., Affirmative Action as "reverse racism"....what kinda schit is that......all of that monumental bs needs to come down....but it shows how calloused ignorant azz racists really are......but their day is coming.....just not fast enough.....
This is in reference to flags that herald the confederacy and in particular.....the one that flies on the capitol grounds of South Carolina. It was raised in response to the court order ending segregation (although they will sell you that BS about it being raised to commemorate some confederate anniversary). Let me tell ya'll.... It was raised as a gesture of defiance to the federal government and a symbolic message to Black South Carolineans....... Essentially saying...."this is our government, our statehouse and your voice is neither heard nor respected when it comes to our state affairs" Now, -just across the street from the capitol building in S.C. you'll find the "Confederate Museum". A whole damn building dedicated to confederate memoriabilia. You'll find original confederate flags that were actually used in the civil war!! You'll even find cotton plants in frames over there hanging on the walls!!! BUT that's not good enough for them. They can't be satisfied with just a museum. They can't be satisfied with confederate monuments in just about every little damn one horse town in the damn state. NAWWWWW.... They gotta go out of their way to indignify, insult and basically slap and rub that flag in the face of blacks in S.C. BUT WHAT MAKES THE CHIT SO INCREADIBLY INSANE is that TAX MONEY (yes, blacks pay taxes) is used for the upkeep of it all. And you still got blacks talking about....Well.....it don't bother me none....it's just a flag. Now I'm not trying to call anybody out....but if you are not bothered by it--- it damn sure OUGHT to bother you! DAMN Ya'll -- That flag essentially is to us, what the swastiki is to the jews. But let some government try to commomorate their nazi german heritage (ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD) with the swastiki, and see what the f&%k happens. The jews would not stand for it one second!!!! Hell, I don't give a rat's ass if they fly their flag on their houses, wear it on their tee shirts, put it on their car tags or tatoo it on their damn arms, have all kinds of parades and confederate reinactments or whatever! I'll just Be Damned If I'M gonna sit by while they take MY TAX MONEY and use it to further indignify me, my offspring, and MY ancestors who they treated like dirt....who died some of the most horrid deaths imaginable so that I might be one day FREE and able to do something bout crap like this. HELL NAWWW !!! When they poured all out into the streets in Columbia SC....I was there. When they brought that Chit down from the Gold Dome in Atlanta...I was right in the mix. And I'm ready right now to shoulder up in arms. I'm ready right now to pick up my sword and sheild. If you are not willing to stand up for something......well,--- you know the rest. Can We Wake UP??!! Will we ever show some unity and solidarity ?
quote:
They gotta go out of their way to indignify, insult and basically slap and rub that flag in the face of blacks in S.C. BUT WHAT MAKES THE CHIT SO INCREADIBLY INSANE is that TAX MONEY (yes, blacks pay taxes) is used for the upkeep of it all. And you still got blacks talking about....Well.....it don't bother me none....it's just a flag. Now I'm not trying to call anybody out....but if you are not bothered by it--- it damn sure OUGHT to bother you! DAMN Ya'll -- That flag essentially is to us, what the swastiki is to the jews. But let some government try to commomorate their nazi german heritage (ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD) with the swastiki, and see what the f&%k happens. The jews would not stand for it one second!!!! Hell, I don't give a rat's ass if they fly their flag on their houses, wear it on their tee shirts, put it on their car tags or tatoo it on their damn arms, have all kinds of parades and confederate reinactments or whatever! I'll just Be Damned If I'M gonna sit by while they take MY TAX MONEY and use it to further indignify me, my offspring, and MY ancestors who they treated like dirt.


Now THAT is well said. Free speech is great and all, but I certainly don't need to be paying for someone elses "southern pride." Any museum of the confederacy needs to be depicting in a very graphic manner what they were fighting FOR and should be supported only by private funds and the people paying to see that BS.
quote:
Originally posted by Scalder:
Kevin41.....You hit the nail on the head bro.!!!


Thankz Scalder,

So did you...I was about to highlight a great portion of your post that explains what the f-k the real motivation was for the flag.....racist whites get their ONLY jollies by thinking they can rub salt in the social wounds of black people...they are the lowest form of human existence...and I agree, black people should not be paying taxes to finance white displays of racial hatred........I tell you what idea I have: To sell confederate flag toilet paper....so black people can wipe their azzes on their beloved flag....how's that? believe me....I know how to deal with all people on their terms.......
quote:
Originally posted by Kevin41:

[I tell you what idea I have: To sell confederate flag toilet paper....so black people can wipe their azzes on their beloved flag....how's that? believe me....I know how to deal with all people on their terms.......


Kevin,

That's the best laugh I've had in awhile. Can I invest in your TP company?


Scalder,

Now that you mentioned it, I remember what happened in S.C. It was a couple of years ago, wasn't it?

Like I said, we don't have to deal with all that crap living in the West. The most you'll see out here is some good ol' boy with a Confederate decal in his pickup truck, a Confederate licence plate frame, or rarely, a small Confederate flag on a radio antenna.

And the first time I ever heard of "Civil War Reenactments" was last year when I happened to be visiting Nashville. I guess I shouldn't have been, but I was surprised that adults actually did that shit and played kids games.

Anyway, it was good to hear from you what it's like to live with it day after day and pay taxes to support it.
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A short story I've told before.

In 1998, I took part in a festival of ethnicities in Long Beach, California. It was an opportunity to publicize my then upcoming first book, and get some exposure for the newly created African American National Heritage flag.

On the second day, an early-thirties type guy came rolling by on his bicycle. He stopped out in the middle of the large walkway, and surveyed my booth, and spent a few seconds contemplating my flag.

He rolled over to the booth and looked through the literature laying out. He then looked again at the flag, and with obvious irritation said, 'I got my flag at home.', turned a rode away.

It was almost like he was going to get it.

I kept an eye out. He never returned.

I strongly advocate our having a flag of our own.

PEACE

Jim Chester

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