Tag Archives: slavery

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here it is, 2013. Where did you go 2012?

Our weekend kicked off Friday night with a sleep over, not the fun kind. We participate in a homeless ministry at our church. Once of twice a year, the church provides overnight housing for a group of homeless families for a week at a time. They need couples to cook meals, be “evening hosts” and “overnight hosts.” Since we don’t have small children at home to worry about, Mrs. Poolman and I usually take one of the overnight assignments. It’s just a matter of going up to the parish center and spending the night sleeping on cots. It’s not a real hardship duty, and it apparently does some good. Our night was uneventful, except that Mrs. P hardly slept a wink. I rarely have such problems.

So Saturday was largely a wasted day. Mrs. P spent most of the day napping on the couch. I made some corn chowder and delivered it to our daughter and her husband who were sharing a case of the flu.

Trouble with the curve We rented a pretty good movie that evening – Trouble With the Curve (Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake.) It’s a story of an aging baseball scout whose attorney-daughter joins him on the road to help save his career and reputation. It was Clint being Clint and Amy Adams being her usual cute-self. Throw in a boy-meets-girl sub-plot with Timberlake and you have a fairly predictable, but still very enjoyable flick. Mrs. P went back to sleep before we were 20 minutes into the show, but I liked it anyway.

Lincoln-Movie-Poster-1536x2048_extra_bigOn Sunday, we hit another movie at the theater that we both really enjoyed. “Lincoln” with Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones was simply outstanding. I’m sorry we waited until it was almost at the end of its theater run before getting around to watching it. If you miss it in the theater, be sure to catch it on DVD or pay-per-view. The movie is not a comprehensive bio-pic of Old Abe. Rather, it focuses almost entirely on the single month of January 1865, when Lincoln lead a determined effort to convince the House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. At face value, that probably sounds boring to a non-history buff. However, the script is very well written, and the acting is outstanding. Watch for it to come up frequently when the awards season rolls around.

Mrs. P had to work both Monday and today, New Years Day. Unfortunately, they can’t send those babies home just for a holiday. Last night, some of our friends invited us to their house for dinner. We had a great time, but were back home by 10 pm so Mrs. P could hit bed in time for her 5 am wake-up. I’ve mostly watched football games today. So far the SEC is looking pretty good. Florida plays Louisville and long-tine, popular Gator assistant coach Charlie Strong tomorrow night. I’m back to work tomorrow. It’s been a good break. I may need it. Right now,  January and February look like they will be rocking.

Living in the past

You can always count on the folks in South Carolina to stir up the pot. They did it in 1860 and they’re back at it 150 years later. Monday night Confederate heritage-lovers staged a Secession Gala on the sesquicentennial of the state’s vote to secede from the union.

As a history lover and also a Yankee who has spent all but a few of his adult years in the South, I am chagrined by that group of Southerners who hold firmly onto their historical memory of four and a half years of bad judgment and reckless hubris under the banner, “It’s our HERITAGE!”

Some people take it seriously here. Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes was defeated in his bid for a second term in 2002, in a large part because he would not support the use of the Confederate Army battle flag on the state’s official state flag. Groups of protestors followed him to public appearances in flag festooned pickup trucks and staged demonstrations to support their cause. I remember it well. It was really funny. But I don’t think Roy thought so.

I guess what I don’t understand is the battle cry, “It’s our heritage.” While it is a part of Southern history, it is not a big part. The Confederacy lasted only a little over four years. Besides, it is not a part of history that Southerners should be justly proud.

Taking nothing away from the soldiers who fought for the Confederate side, their cause was morally bankrupt and politically flawed.

Current day revisionists will claim the Civil War was not fought over slavery, but rather for some vague concept of “states rights.” That may be literally true, but when taken in context, not factually so. The causes of the Civil War were complicated, but at the risk of oversimplifying them, here is what it came down to:

  1. The Civil War started because the Southern states attempted to secede from the Union and form their own separate and hostile nation.
  2. The alleged reason they attempted to secede was to defend their “state’s rights.”
  3. However, the only “state’s right” they were really willing to fight for was the right to own slaves.

Many modern revisionists like to cite the first two reasons, but they stop before they get to #3.

There were economic issues in dispute, but if it were not for slavery, there would have been no secession and no war. Slavery, along with its related issues like expansion to new territories, was single hottest political issue of the decade leading up the Civil War. It was the overarching issue of debate. The current debate over legalized abortions pales by comparison.

You cannot separate the Civil War from the issue of slavery.  Lincoln figured that out. While he has been quoted as saying he would accept slavery if it would preserve the union, he also knew by tying the Northern war effort to a fight against slavery, he could strengthen his political position, gain additional support for the war and isolate the Confederacy from potential European allies. By 1863, slavery was most definitely a central issue for the north.

You will hear Southern apologist claim, “My great grandfather didn’t own any slaves, and neither did most of the soldiers who fought for the South!” So what? The key decisions that led to the war were not made by lower aand middle class farmers and shopkeepers. The decisions were made, as usual, by the rich and powerful, and they were overwhelmingly slave owners.

It is interesting to note that the Southern politicians did a complete turn when it came to writing their own Constitution. On one hand, they claimed that while part of the national union, the states had the rights to secede and to determine the status of slavery within their borders. Yet when it came time to write the rules for the Confederacy, they specifically prohibited both those rights to their member states. Any future secession was disallowed, and states were not allowed to outlaw slavery within their borders.

What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander.

In defense of evil…sort of…

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

A couple of recent developments have caused me to rethink the popular notion that no good can come from evil.

I am judging entries for a local film festival. The subject of one video I watched last week profiled a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Naturally, it was very sympathetic towards him and the Japanese of August 1945. It gave me something to think about, but probably not in the direction the film maker intended.

I am no historian, but I read a lot. Over the course of the past year or two I have read several history books on the final months of World War II, including  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard Frank; Retribution by Max Hastings; and Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 by Barrett Tillman.

It seems easy in the light of the 21st century to cast the US as a malevolent nuclear monster and the Japanese as innocent victims in the atomic bombings. This is a popular view to some, but such casting ignores the realities of 1945.

The Japanese initiated a war of conquest that they waged with incredible brutality against both the military and the civilian populations of their foes.

By the summer of 1945, the Japanese government was dominated by die-hard militarists who were quite willing to sacrifice both their country’s military forces and civilian population “for the honor of the Emperor,” rather than admit the obvious fact that that they were defeated.  They were willing to die to the last man, woman and child.

It is quite unrealistic to believe the Allied Powers would simply walk away after having driven Japan to the brink of defeat. So, aside from nuclear bombardment, there were only two other options available to the Allies.

1.) A continuation of the campaign of fire-bombing and naval blockade, which had already destroyed most Japanese cities and much of  Japanese economy, and killed hundreds of thousands. A continuation of this campaign would have undoubtedly resulted in the deaths of millions of Japanese by either starvation or incineration.

2.) Invasion – In addition to the deaths and wounding of more than (estimated) 100,000 American and British soldiers, sailors and Marines, an invasion would have likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Japanese, military and civilians.

In light of these options, the deaths of roughly 200,000 Japanese in the two nuclear bombings seem mild by comparison. As horrible as the nuclear bombings were, ultimately they were the least of the possible evils, not just to the Allied servicemen, but also to the Japanese. The callous conclusion is this; there are millions of Japanese who are alive today because the war ended when it did and their parents or grandparents were not killed by additional bombing, blockade or invasion. The misfortune of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became their good fortune.

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On a similar note, but closer to home, the fortunes of millions of African Americans living today were benefited by the tragedy that was impressed on their ancestors. By 21st century values, there is no debate about the evil of slavery in this country. The capture, transport and forced enslavement of Africans and their descendents in America was a tragic evil imposed on those who experienced it.  However, seven generations later, the descendents of those American slaves benefit greatly from the misery to which their ancestors were subjected. If it were not for their ancestors being forcibly brought to this country, it likely most of the African Americans of today would have been born in equatorial Africa. S0, instead of living in a land rampant with civil war, poverty and disease, the descendents of American slaves are born in a country with perhaps the highest standard of living and the greatest total opportunities in history.

I’m sure that is not what the plantation owners and slave traders intended, but it’s amazing how things sometimes turn out.