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First take

Good history often has resonance today, and so it is with a piece today in the Daily Beast, which concerns the Confederacy and how people – especially the British – saw it at the time, and some of the lessons we might draw from it today. The battle flag defenders do have one point, that the past isn’t entirely gone (“it isn’t even past,” as that southerner Bill Faulkner said). But what points should be taken from it?

Writer Christopher Dickey, who notes that he’s not only a southerner and a war correspondent but the father of a soldier, discusses a new book about the British secret agent situated in the South as the Civil War unfolded, who was horrified at what he saw.

“One of the most shameful aspects of the American Civil War,” Dickey wrote, “is that hundreds of thousands of men and many women in the Confederacy gave their lives in a fight to defend the interests of a small slave-holding elite that had used its money, its control of politics and the press, the exploitation of racism and fear, and a shrewd if sickening appeal to status to mobilize the masses and then lead them to destruction.”

What did the British really think of the South (with whom they often were said to have some sympathy)? Agent Robert Bunch wrote, among other things, “The frightful evil of the system is that it debases the whole tone of society — for the people talk calmly of horrors which would not be mentioned in civilized society.”

Dickey concludes with the Civil War in mind, “Let’s remember that almost all wars are launched by ambitions, miscalculations, and grand illusions cherished by a few at the expense of the many. Perhaps the Confederate monuments will remind us we should be wiser about what wars we fight in the future.” One can hope. But the chances don’t improve with the still-large number of people deluded about what the Confederacy was.

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