Erasing History: George Orwell, Meet the Anti-Confederates

Civil war reenactment at Kennekuk County Park,...
Civil war reenactment at Kennekuk County Park, near Danville, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives approved (as part of a Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill) a measure to limit the display of the Confederate flag in national cemeteries. This measure builds on an ongoing movement to eliminate Confederate statues and memorials from public property and even from public view. I oppose the whole idea, but it’s a sensitive enough issue that I’m going to have to give some background to explain why.

I was born in the south (Memphis, Tennessee) and raised in southern Missouri, where Confederate “bushwhackers” fought Union troops through the entirety of the Civil War and beyond. I grew up in the era of The Dukes of Hazzard and the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” when displays of  the Confederate flag were commonplace and uncontroversial.

Later, I lived in Springfield, Missouri, where the national cemetery includes both Union and Confederate memorials and a wall separates the Union and Confederate dead. When the subject of tearing down the wall came up, descendants of the Confederates successfully fought it.

These days, I live in Gainesville, Florida, where a Confederate memorial statue graces the courthouse lawn and the public school district’s headquarters are named after Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith.

Some libertarians glorify the history of the Confederacy on the claim that the Union side was even worse. I’m not one of them. “Neo-confederates” try to say the war was about secession, not slavery. They’re right. But secession was about slavery. The Confederacy fought to preserve the practice of enslaving black men, women and children, and it prolonged that fight by enslaving, through universal conscription, males as young as 15.  It also fought secession in western Virginia and hanged its own secessionists in eastern Tennessee. It’s a good thing the Confederates lost the war and that chattel slavery was eliminated, even at the cost of the lives of 1% of the population and the not entirely positive transformation of our shared society into another.

But I don’t favor erasing history. Not even ugly history.

I’m glad the tsarist palaces and Orthodox churches survived Russian communism and that the Chinese have preserved the Forbidden City. I’m glad the palace at Versailles survived the French Revolution and that the Arc de Triomphe wasn’t torn down when Napoleon went into his final exile on Saint Helena. I’m glad that we’re still able to contemplate the horrors of Auschwitz in person instead of only examining old photos, and that the echoes of gladiatorial combat can still be faintly heard in the imagination as one passes by the Colosseum in Rome.

I’m fine with proposals to vest ownership and maintenance costs of our nation’s monuments — not just Confederate monuments, but all of them — in private conservation and preservation groups instead of demanding the financial support of unwilling taxpayers for their upkeep.

I’m not fine with Orwellian proposals to scrub the Confederacy from America’s memory. History happened. We should acknowledge it and learn from it, not fearfully flee its very mention.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


I Don’t Know’s On Third Vote Pencil

Philip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post report that Mitt Romney and other establishment Republicans are unsheathing their threatened final sword: Attempting to put together an “independent” Republican presidential campaign versus GOP nominee-apparent Donald Trump. The draft effort’s reputed short list includes Ohio governor John Kasich and US Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE). Good idea or bad idea? Depends on how one looks at it.

If the goal is partisan Republican victory this November, two Republican candidates — one chosen by the voters, one chosen by the party bosses — is a very bad idea. Two well-funded, ably promoted Republican candidates on the same ballots means a Democratic win. So let’s assume that winning the election is not what this move is about.

If the goal is preserving the Republican Party’s “soul” — its core ideology — we’re also looking at a very bad idea here. Why? Simple: The Republican Party HAS no core ideology. Maybe it did once upon a time, but these days it’s just an ad hoc coalition of interest groups and identity politics blocs like the Democratic Party. The GOP leadership’s problem with Trump isn’t lack of appeal to its traditional demographics (whites, males, evangelical Christians, people whose livelihoods depend on a hawkish foreign policy, etc.). The GOP leadership’s problem with Trump is that he’s displacing them in their role as Pied Pipers.

But that second prospective goal does hit somewhat close to the mark. The real purpose of an “independent Republican” campaign against Trump is to give anti-Trump members of the Republican coalition another Republican to vote for so that those voters don’t abandon the GOP for good in favor of the Libertarian Party or Constitution Party.

How real is the danger of such abandonment? I don’t know. But I do know that to the extent that the danger is real, it is a danger created by decades of Republican failure to deliver on the  things Republicans supposedly stand for.

The Libertarian Party might or might not be able to deliver on lower taxes, balanced budgets, civil liberties and George W. Bush’s promise of a “humbler foreign policy.” The Constitution Party might or might not be able to deliver on the pro-life agenda. They haven’t had their chance to deliver yet. The Republicans — under the influence of their “leadership” — have had, and blown, chance after chance. Now they’d rather put up with four years of Hillary Clinton than face the music they themselves made.

The Republican establishment created Donald Trump. Now they’re paying for their hubris with the disintegration of their party. A fake third party campaign won’t save the GOP. Real third parties simply have more to offer. Or at least their offers are more believable.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.