I listened to WEEI on Friday morning, they were having a spirited discussion about some kind of statistical analysis (I don’t remember the context), it was heated and funny and at one point one of the hosts said, “we could just look it up, but that’s not the point of talk radio”. So, add self-effacing and truthfulness to my description of the Dennis & Callahan show.
Great timing, for me, and a bookend to a long week of off-the-main grid disturbing bits of news. One of which is a truly amazing item – and further ‘proof’ of the sports radio parable – the new Virginia history textbook for Fourth Graders reported on by the Washington Post. This newly approved text reports “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.”
This is flat out insanity on a number of levels. First, hopefully obvious, it is utterly false. The South did not approve the recruitment of black soldiers (after intense lobbying from R.E. Lee and a number of Confederate combat generals, particularly Patrick Cleburne (born in Ireland)) until a few weeks before Petersburg fell. Period. No debate, check McPherson, Foote, Catton, anyone who has ever read any primary documents.
Moreover (as if a moreover is warranted), a civil war battalion or brigade was approximately 4,000 men. Two brigades would be anywhere from 6-8,000 men, maybe more. Stonewall Jackson commanded 28,000 men at Chancellorsville – 12 to 16,000 black troops would have been somewhat noticeable, not to say shocking, in May, 1863 – it would have been headline news and been noted in journals and diaries — it would have been like the Taliban attacking UN troops in downtown Kabul with 10,000 aliens in uniform. Of course, this is ridiculous, Jackson never commanded blacks in combat, it would have been antithetical to everything the South was fighting for.
Okay, the statement is patently absurd —- what’s frightening is that (a) the woman who wrote it ‘stands by it’; (b) she explains she did her research for an American History Textbook on the Internet, and downloaded these particular falsehoods from the ‘Sons of Confederate Veterans’ (they’d be pretty ancient, wouldn’t they?) website; (c) the comments on the various websites and blogs ‘discussing’ this are, to say the least’ terrifying; mixing mythology with history, fiction with fact, fantasy with reality (see below); (d) 150 years after the fact thousands of people take the time to go out of their way to avow the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, it was about State’s Rights (uh-huh, what State right was the Confederacy protecting? The right to secede? Because if so, it’s strange that it was not a right granted the States under the Confederate Constitution).
One night at FMC Devens an inmate approached me in an attempt to befriend me (i.e., eventually request free legal help). He took the unique approach of starting with, “Hey, you really like history, don’t you?” When I, reluctantly, admitted I did, he launched into his specialty, his favorite piece of history: Little Big Horn. He had toured the battlefield once, went on to regal me with the history of the battle and George Armstrong Custer. I uttered not a word during his discourse, half way through my jaw was agape. I nodded as he left, exhaled, and caught the eye of my roommate, Hunter.
“What’s up? You didn’t say a word,” he observed as soon as the guy left, “he know what he’s talking about?”
I started laughing, barely got it out, “He just ran through the entire plot, including chunks of dialogue, from They Died With Their Boots On.”.
By then, Hunter was laughing with me, “How accurate was that?”
“Great stuff, Errol Flynn, battle scenes, fun . . . . and completely, utterly made up.”
“Any of it true?”
“There was a Civil War and Custer did die at Little Big Horn,” I explained.
Hunter considered that for a moment, “Well, he got something right, didn’t he?”
A 1941 movie taken as Gospel by a guy who while professing to ‘having more degrees than a thermometer” never bothered to look any deeper.
JD Drew, Fourth Grade History, Errol Flynn – I think they will stand nicely for the state of discourse in this country right now.