Wait, what? I’ve heard the classic phrase “don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” but school is a place where learning the facts is encouraged and legitimate, right?
Today I am going to talk about one of the most important reasons to study history, and that is the realization of the fact that history can be weaponized. How history can be used to shape opinion, influence the world, and change the future. Or more accurately, how the teaching of history can do this. Let me explain
I want to preface this by saying that this is a fairly controversial topic, especially in my home state of Tennessee, one of the former members of the Confederate States of America. However, I’d ask that you try to read this article with an open mind as I try to dive into the facts from an unbiased (as possible) perspective.
Now that that’s out of the way, lets talk about the civil war.
The Civil War was the deadliest war in American history and pitted the northern “free states” against the southern “slave states.” I think we can all agree on this statement. Strangely though, this is about as far as we get in regards to agreement. But how? If we’re all taught the history of this great split from 1861-1865, we should all be on the same page, but this truly isn’t the case and here’s why.
Shortly after the war, it became pretty clear that the southern states were going to be painted as the villains of the story, with their rampant racism and their violence that provoked the war. But southern historians weren’t particularly fond of this interpretation. They wanted their cause to be remembered as a glorious one.
Organizations such as the Daughters of the Confederacy sprung into action to literally rewrite history. They published textbooks such that portrayed the Confederacy as “The Lost Cause” of the fight for states rights and protection of southern culture. They banned books that shared a “northern agenda” stamped them as inaccurate in public libraries. They specifically targeted young children, teaching them these inaccuracies at their most vulnerable and impressionable stage.
The erected monuments to the great leaders of the confederacy all over the country, spreading their agenda of southern heroism in contrast to the southern oppression that true history shows. These monuments were placed in places of extreme importance, including a bust of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate leader and Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, inside the Tennessee state capital building. Southern textbooks even portrayed slavery as a humane institution, describing slaves as “happy”, “frolicking”, and “friends of the whites.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOkFXPblLpU here’s a great video by vox on the subject)
This teaching had some incredibly destructive effects on important struggles that faced our country, specifically during the Civil Rights Movement when many of the most outspoken segregationists were former members of the Children of the Confederacy. Even as I was growing up, I was taught as a Tennesseean that the Civil War was a war fought on states rights and not the institution of slavery, despite the fact that the Tennessee Governor at the time adressed congress by saying that “To evade the issue thus forced upon us at this time, without the fullest security for our rights, is, in my opinion, fatal to the institution of slavery forever. The time has arrived when the people of the South must prepare either to abandon or to fortify and maintain it. Abandon it, we cannot.” (https://americancivilwar.com/documents/isham_harris.html)
This is an issue all over the world. From China omitting the Tienanmen square massacre in order to restore their people’s trust in the government, to North Korea’s complete rewriting of the Korean War, history has been altered and framed to shape and control the minds of people all over the world. It is so important to analyze the facts, read the primary sources, and take a step away from previous biases to make sure that we can defy what the powers of this world would rather us believe.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article! Where do you stand on the States Rights vs Slavery Debate, and did this article change your mind on the topic? Let me know in the comments 🙂 Also, if you want to look at the succession clauses for your state, here’s a great link with a few of them. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states#Mississippi