Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox -

I cringe when I hear politicians say "we are all Americans" because it too often is a call to bully people to support some misguided mission like the 2003 invasion of Iraq.   That's how Hillary Clinton and John Kerry (SAWS) found themselves voting to authorize the catastrophic invasion.

OTOH I was thrilled when Barack Obama won and to cheers said "not red states, not blue states, but the United States of America".  That was because he stood for tolerance, not the flag-wavers notion that means "white America" when they say "Americans".  I feel foreign to the millions who flocked to see American Sniper as some sort of tribal ritual.  I've read reviews that persuade me that it is a good movie not a celebration of killing.  But it was turned into a symbol of the militaristic side of our culture from which I am deeply alienated.  

Back to Appomattox.  If you want to know what happened post-war read the great W.E.B. DuBois - Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880.  It is subtitled "An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America". -- gwc
The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox -
by Gregory P. Downs (CCNY / CUNY Graduate Center)

Appomattox, like the Civil War more broadly, retains its hold on the American imagination. More than 330,000 people visited the site in 2013. In Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” as in many other popular portrayals, the meeting between Lee and Grant suggests that, in the words of one United States general at the surrender, “We are all Americans.”

Although those words were allegedly spoken by Ely Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca Indian, and although hundreds of thousands of African-Americans fought for the nation, the “we” in the Appomattox myth all too often is limited to white Americans. In fanciful stories of Grant’s returning a ceremonial sword to Lee, or of the United States Army’s saluting its defeated foes at the laying-down-of-arms ceremony, white Americans fashioned a story of prodigal sons returning for a happy family portrait.

Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war’s end far too soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general’s plea for “peace” and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony to plan the Army’s occupation of the South.

To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750 towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.

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