I have lived in the deep south my whole life. I grew up in a small Georgia town and it was a pleasant place to live. I learned in school that the Civil War was about southern freedom from northern tyranny. It wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights and the right of people to make their own decisions without coercion from a foreign power. Well damn, that sounds great. Where do I sign up? However, after reading a little more about it and especially after focusing on world history, in particular the second world war, my logic kicked in. As a youth, I was fascinated by WWII. I studied some in high school and much more afterwards. Since America really did stand for liberalism, justice, and tolerance in this conflict, it is an excellent example, that is not emotionally loaded, of something to be proud of. Today, even the Germans and Japanese admit that they had a horrible form of government at that time. Both countries have made amends for their past. They have accepted it, embraced it, and moved on. They are some of the most peaceful cultures on Earth now. This is not to say they are perfect or that they do not have problems. However, they are not singing the praises of that past era.
When we look at the American experience, it is a completely different story. Like Germany, the south was beaten. A more liberal government was imposed on it, but oddly enough, we have not disavowed our past. There is a significant portion of the population that regrets losing and reminisces about the rise of the south. Keeping in mind that like Germany and Japan, the Confederate government instituted slavery upon a significant portion of the population. All three were illiberal societies. They implemented a morally reprehensible form of government while disenfranchising liberal voices amongst others. Modern Germans are not on TV longing for the rise of the Third Reich. The Japanese are not yearning for emperor to once again subjugate the savage races. They have moved on. For some reason the old south has not moved on. That the confederate government was a racist institution is fact enshrined in the confederate constitution. Please read it if you disagree. The whole reason for the war was to keep the peculiar institution of slavery. States’ Rights was nothing more than the “right” to own slaves. If you look at the pre-secession conventions, they were about slavery. Their own congressional debates were about slavery. The states with the most slaves seceded first. Then a few months later, the states with less slaves left as well. Finally, the border states that were not totally dependent on slave labor did not secede at all. One only needs to read the rhetoric of the time to determine that there was only one states’ right: the right to own slaves.
Now there is nothing wrong with dismissing a formal government that no one alive was a part of. Modern Italians do not feel guilty that the Romans killed Christians for fun. The Turks do not feel guilty about castrating and selling Caucasians into slavery. The Spanish do not long for the Imperial government that baptized Native American babies and smashed their skulls on rocks. Why do southerners yearn for an equally despicable form of government? When asked, they have to perform verbal gymnastics to justify that it was a good idea but had some minor flaws. Let us be like Germany. Our ancestors made some mistakes and we do not want to repeat them. We shall move forward, not look backward.