Public life is always a hoot…
People of sound mind and reasonable judgment in their personal lives take on characters full of unwarranted confidence and intolerant insistence in public.
The couple whose son has a ‘drug problem’ wants the government to start a nationwide treatment program.
The guy who can’t get his town sanitation department to pick up the trash in front of his house wants to clean up a government on the other side of the world.
The woman who is not sure she will need an umbrella is convinced the planet is warming up.
It’s always easier to solve someone else’s problem than your own. That’s one of the great advantages of living overseas: Public life is full of other people’s problems.
Imagine if a group of Americans proposed to abolish the First Amendment, take away your favourite monuments, or introduce devil worship at your church.
You would be outraged.
But when similar outrages happen in a foreign language…they are mostly amusing and puzzling.
The show is a comedy, not a tragedy. As our friend Nassim Taleb puts it, we have no ‘skin in the game’.
Overseas, we lack the cues, the context, and the emotional connections to take them seriously.
We read the headlines; we shake our heads and smile. The local myths and mysteries have no power over us.
So it was that when a group of leftist demonstrators marched through Salta yesterday, we didn’t know what to make of it.
‘What was that all about?’ we asked.
Meanwhile, scuffles broke out in New Orleans on Monday. On one side were demonstrators eager to pull down the statues of war heroes Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis, and PGT Beauregard. On the other side, demonstrators were there to protect them.
‘Multiple people were arrested on Sunday as hundreds of protesters clashed over the fate of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, police said.
‘Three protesters were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace on Sunday afternoon near Lee Circle in New Orleans after a fight broke out at a Confederate monuments demonstration, according to the New Orleans Police Department…
‘More than 700 people attended demonstrations on Sunday on both sides of the city’s plans to remove three remaining Confederate monuments.’
Then, on Tuesday night, vandals defaced the monument to PGT Beauregard, draping a sign on it that said: ‘This is historical violence, we say no.’
We’re not sure what that was supposed to mean. But we know where our sympathies lie: with the stones.
War of liberation
Confederate General Robert E Lee was one of the greatest soldiers in American history. Compared to him, the gilded generals now frequenting the White House — Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly — are little more than paper pushers.
But let’s look at PGT Beauregard, the hero of the First Battle of Bull Run.
Born on a sugar plantation in St Bernard Parish, Louisiana, little Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard didn’t speak English until his parents sent him to New York to learn it.
Thence, he got an appointment to West Point and began his military career thereafter. He served his country in the Mexican-American War…and then served as superintendent at West Point.
But when Louisiana declared independence, what was he to do? Defend the homeland? Or fight against it?
We begin by correcting a common misunderstanding. Many people call it the ‘Civil War’, which is not only oxymoronic but also incorrect.
A civil war is a fight between two or more factions for the control of the government. The war that took place between 1861 and 1865 was nothing of the sort.
Instead, it was a war of national liberation. The Southern states seceded from the Union — a right announced in the founding document of the US, the Declaration of Independence.
Thereafter, they never sought any control or even influence over the remaining United States of America.
Government is always a way for the few to exploit the many. The southerners wanted no more than to be ripped off and bossed around by their own people.
But it’s been a long time since the war.
Facts degrade like carbon isotopes. Real knowledge declines by the square of the time gone by and the magnitude of the event in question.
In its place, a simplified myth provides a soothing explanation, leaving those who believe it dumber than they were had they known nothing at all.
So the stage was set when Donald J Trump came on the scene.
The New York Times:
‘People don’t realise, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?’ he told his interviewer…
‘Mr Trump followed up on the comment in a tweet on Monday night, arguing that [Andrew] Jackson saw the Civil War coming and would have prevented it had he not died 16 years earlier.’
Almost immediately, the great and the good rose to the challenge, denouncing Mr Trump for daring to challenge the flattering narrative.
In their minds, the ‘Civil War’ had but one cause. Even Chelsea Clinton let her Twitter fans know what it was immediately: ‘slavery’.
This made the war unavoidable, just, and heroic. Whipping the South, at great cost, made sense because it wiped that stain from the national escutcheon.
That is the only politically acceptable narrative for the ‘Civil War’ today.
Mission to protect
But the poor little Creole!
It was much more complicated for PGT Beauregard. He was trained as a soldier. His mission was to protect his country…as commanded by his civilian superiors.
Louisiana declared independence in January 1861. The Confederate States of America then offered to make him a brigadier general. What was he to say?
‘No, thanks…I’ll stick with the Yankees.’
Judged by today’s sentiments, he might have refused service, citing slavery (a classic win-lose deal — slave owners won while slaves lost) as a deal breaker.
He might have led a demonstration, seated on the grass in front of the state house playing guitars and singing Kumbaya. He could have asked for gluten-free wafers in church, too.
But this was the 1860s, and his homeland was about to be invaded by a foreign army.
In the event, Beauregard cast his lot with his fellow Southerners. And when Lincoln sent his army into Virginia, he was ready for them.
The Yankees attacked at Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861. Beauregard, in command of the Confederate Army there, counterattacked and drove them back to their barracks in Washington, DC.
Some military scholars believe Beauregard should have followed up with a move against the capital. He might have captured the White House and Congress…and brought the war to an early close.
Had he done so, who knows what would have happened?
Perhaps the nation would have been spared one million deaths. Maybe slavery could have been ended in an orderly, nonviolent way.
And maybe Lincoln’s statues would now be hoisted up and carried away.
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