The Confederate flag has come under attack recently in the wake of the discovery of web site photos showing America’s latest headcase-gone-off-the-deep-end holding one. Catholics everywhere are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t wearing a St. Christopher medal. Actually, the thing that got my initial attention and concern in these photos was the fact that he was holding a gun. Did anybody else notice this? Whatever the case, it was exhilarating to observe right thinking Americans in the corporate and government world leap into action with the same speed as when the other wazoo tried to light his underpants on fire aboard an airplane, resulting in every American since having to be fingerprinted and strip-searched before going off on holiday.
But certainly this was an issue to be dealt with. In order to resolve any serious issue it’s important to find someone to blame since that’s less time consuming than actually doing anything to prevent this type of thing from happening again. And when it comes to blame, we white people in the North always know who to point the finger at: white people in the South. I grew up in Chicago and learned in Catholic school that the reason the North won the Civil War was because that’s what God wanted. It would be a long time before I realized that American History is not offered as a major in Nun school.
But as I said, the Confederate flag is under attack. Leading the “do the right thing” charge in the corporate world is Walmart and Apple. Walmart removed all access to the purchase of Confederate flags and any image of them on their website, but at least did not overreact to the extreme and stop selling 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol ammunition because, as we all know, guns don’t kill people–flags kill people. I myself feel as though I can defend myself from a person wielding a flag, but that might be just my personal skill set.
The discussion among the top executives for this action had to have been very intense and I’m guessing lasted almost four minutes. I’m pretty sure, however, they were up all night working on the spin. I like Walmart’s the best. Here’s Walmart spokesman Brian Nick presenting his group’s Frankensentence that required no fewer than eight well-paid people to construct. It’s up to you to determine if he’s talking about the past, the present, or if their product selection process involves a time machine:
“We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment–whether in our stores or on our web site. We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly–this is one of those instances.”
I can’t help paraphrasing John Belushi here in the role of Howard Baker and asking, “When did Walmart know they were selling the Confederate flag and when did they stop knowing it?” Not only is Walmart pulling the flag, but they would, apparently, never have knowingly sold it to begin with because they always knew it was a bad thing. How it got into their web site we’ll never know. Some sort of slip up I guess. Thank goodness they’ve got this special process or gaffe seeking inventory probe thing that minimizes the fallout from their inability to have a discriminating thought based on anything other than sales. Stay tuned next week when it finds their Mr. Handsy, Overly Curious Gym Teacher action figure and recommends a rethink.
Apple, Inc. wasted no time either. After removing Game Labs Ultimate General: Gettysburg, this official post was on Apple’s web site:
“We have removed apps from the App Store that use the Confederate flag in offensive or mean-spirited ways, which is in violation of our guidelines.”
It’s good to know that Apple is not pulling all Civil War games that have an image of the Confederate flag in them somewhere but, rather, only where it’s displayed in a mean-spirited or offensive way. I assume this would be a depiction of someone with the flag draped around their shoulders while mooning the enemy. I know there were a lot of complaints from Union soldiers at the Battle of the Wilderness for this sort of thing.
And eBay pulled the plug too. Says eBay spokeswoman Johnna Hoff, the Confederate flag has “become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism.”
Amazing. I don’t know about anybody else, but I haven’t witnessed a mass epiphany on this scale since the last Grateful Dead concert. And slightly off the subject, Johnna, regarding your phrase “symbol of divisiveness”: a thing can’t be a symbol of what it is. An object of divisiveness can’t be a symbol of divisiveness at the same time. It’s one or the other. A chipmunk is not a symbol of a chipmunk, it’s just a chipmunk. I don’t mean to belabor this point, but I felt it needed to be addressed. Moving on.
In the midst of all this, as if the subject of the Confederate flag and the cavalier approach to English taken by our corporate executives wasn’t enough, we’ve just now learned that archeologists digging in the National Cathedral in Washington in search of trilobite fossils have inadvertently uncovered stained glass images of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Adolf Hitler. Says residing reverend Gary Hall, “I didn’t know they were here. And shame on me.”
This is actually a classic chess move wherein one sacrifices their pawn to avoid having their rook, or ass, captured. By volunteering the fact that you’re an unobservant doofus or the village idiot, then chastising yourself for that, people will be misdirected from the fact that you’re actually evil. He must have woken up in bed in the middle of the night and yelled, “I’ve got it! Ha!” Well played, Gary.
So, as I mentioned, I grew up in Chicago and was doled out a thimbleful of information about the Civil War. That’s probably normal, actually. And while we’re all sort of aware of this divide between us, probably a lot of us can’t remember how it got started. To refresh you memory, I’ve jotted down some key points.
The Road to the Civil War
1787–The framers of the Constitution set a date twenty years in the future for the importation of slaves to end, thus giving everybody ample time to go get more, in case they felt they didn’t have enough. This includes anybody living in New York, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C. where slavery is legal.
Slavery begins to peter out in the South as it becomes apparent that it is not an efficient system. But the institution is resuscitated by Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, leading school children ever after to wonder what the hell a gin is. With its ability to easily remove the seeds from the cotton balls, the cotton industry booms and slavery gets jump started back into high gear. Everybody is fine with this, including New York and Maryland, but especially Baltimore as Baltimore’s economy, because of exports, is dependent on the South’s cotton and its continued economical production.
While most people in the South don’t own slaves, the big business one percent seize upon the fact that cotton is a hugely profitable crop and push the South further into becoming a purely agricultural economy with cotton (aka “King Cotton”) dominating the landscape and obliterating the development of anything else. Like plums.
As westward expansion rapidly continues, there is great debate about whether each territory will eventually be let into the Union as either a free state or a slave state. This is coupled with much debate as to whether or not California should be let in at all, but that’s a different story. Given that cotton is a crop harsh on the land, the big cotton producers want new territory designated as slave friendly. On the other hand, there is an equal amount of people, mainly in the North, who do not want slavery to spread any further than it already has. They of course have moral reasons for this feeling which stem from their overwhelming desire to not have to compete anywhere in the country with black people for work should they, the white people, ever want to move westward which they do all the time for who knows what reason. At this time there is also the theory that if black people in the South were free they would consequently stop fleeing to the North and moving in.
The country at this time is definitely divided into two camps. In one camp you have people who are in favor of slavery for economical reasons, and in the other camp you have people who think slavery is just fine as long as there aren’t any black people living in their neighborhood or anywhere they might like to visit in the future, such as Las Vegas. The North has also discovered, for their industrial society, that slavery is not an economically sound system. This leads many slave owners in the North to free their slaves from the yoke of Northern slavery by selling them to plantation owners in the South where they’ll be able to spend more time outdoors. What is a good system in the North, though, is hiring children and the Irish for three cents a week to work twelve hours a day. And what makes this a really good system is the fact that these workers go home every day so you don’t have to feed them. It’s win-win.
Cultural differences and jealousies already have begun to shred the fabric of the Union when the Tariff of 1828 really cheeses off the South. Here’s how this works: The industrial North makes stuff. England sends us the same stuff but at a cheaper price. The North can’t compete. The government puts a tax (a tariff) on incoming English goods so that they cost more than the stuff the North makes. People buy the North’s stuff instead and the North prospers. In the meantime, England is the biggest buyer of the South’s cotton but since England is losing money in the import/export deal, they can’t afford to buy as much cotton, and as a consequence the South starts losing money. Also, the South is an agricultural society and needs to buy industrial goods (like hammers) from either the North or from England. So the North gets money from the South by selling directly at whatever price they want, or they get money from the South through the tax (tariff) put on the English-made stuff (like hammers) that the South ends up having to pay if they want the English thing, and they have to turn the tax over to the Federal government (under penalty of being invaded and fired upon if they don’t) but which gets distributed to the North for further industrial development like railroads because everybody in the North knows, by reading the most popular periodical of the day, Greed’s Weekly, that that’s where the future lies. And the South gets squat. South Carolina threatens to withdraw from the Union for the fourteenth time since the Revolutionary War. Nobody in the North takes this seriously.
The abolitionist movement starts to gain momentum among the Northern clergy. In an attempt to encourage slave owners to abandon slavery, abolitionists “reach out” to their Southern countrymen by telling them they’re all going to hell. And when it comes to getting support for your cause from someone who is not already on your side, we all know how effective this method is.
On the flip side, President Franklin Pierce, from New Hampshire, and three of his cabinet members including next in line president James Buchanan, put forward the idea of annexing Cuba and making it a slave state. They’ll offer Spain 120 million dollars for it but if Spain says no they plan to blow up the U.S.S. Maine, which is currently at rest in Havana’s Guantanamo bay, and blame Spain for it which will allow them to go to war and take Cuba by force. This pro-slavery agenda on the part of President Pierce can be somewhat understood, of course, given that he grew up in the Deep South New Hampshire bayou country.
Meanwhile, striking a blow for freedom and the anti-slavery cause, prominent abolitionist and avid church goer John Brown and his sons murder five members of a slave holding family on their front lawn with English broad swords, elevating the South’s view of of all abolitionists from self-righteous buttinskies to Norman Bates class psychos.
The 19th century is perhaps remembered most for the number of presidents whose names we can’t remember. This is because during this time the main duty of the president is turning on the lights in the White House each morning and then turning them off at night before he goes to bed. Abraham Lincoln fits right in here and is selected as the Republican nominee over William Seward as Seward made it very clear during the nomination campaign that he had once dated Harriet Beecher Stowe. Lincoln, in contrast, along with not talking about anybody he might have dated, let alone an abolitionist, doesn’t have a strong opinion about anything. He’s perfect.
Lincoln’s presidential campaign chugs along with the help of varying political groups. Included among these is the Know Nothings. They are an anti-slavery group and only hate Catholics and the Irish. And immigrants. And children. They are called the Know Nothings because they are a secretive group and when asked what they do at their meetings they say, “I know nothing.” A century later they will be portrayed by John Banner on the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.
On Tuesday November 6, 1860 Lincoln is voted into the presidency. Seeing that their influence in the government is considerably lessened with the Republican party’s victory, South Carolina declares its intention to secede because it’s Tuesday and Tuesday has always been Secession Day in South Carolina. But this time six other states follow suit as well.
A four-month period of time exists between when Lincoln is elected and when now President James Buchanan actually leaves office at the end of his term. Upon hearing of the seven states seceding from the Union, Buchanan declares the act illegal but at the same time declares he will do absolutely nothing about it if they want to go. He also declares that he will do nothing if he catches them smoking pot.
Putting too much focus on the pot thing, South Carolina and the other states form a band and hang out at Florida’s parents’ house in the garage for the next four months rather than doing anything about leaving the Union until the day Lincoln moves into the White House. Little do they know at the time what a cool dad Buchanan was. Nonetheless, the die is cast and they are resolute in moving forward and thus declare themselves a sovereign nation. The country is now divided.
During one of the frequent seances held in the White House during Lincoln’s presidency, Lincoln is told by the ghost of Attila the Hun that he must preserve the union of the thirteen states at all costs because thirteen is his lucky number. The next day Lincoln vows to do anything necessary to preserve the Union and at first considers pickling it.
In South Carolina there are three forts with Federal troops. When South Carolina secedes they demand that the forts be handed over to them. Major Robert Anderson, commander of the lightly armed Fort Moultrie, acting without orders departs from the fort and moves to the more heavily armed Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, leaving the defense of Fort Moultrie in the hands of the camp’s cat, Buttons. Anderson (a man who is both pro-slavery and a former slave owner at the same time because, I’m guessing, he’s one of those Northern guys who sold his slaves into slavery for the purpose of buying a hope chest for his daughter’s wedding), alerts Lincoln that he would only be able to hold out for six weeks should there be an attack on the fort by the South Carolina militia, and probably much less than that if the militia actually uses guns and ammunition during the attack. He asks for reinforcements.
Meanwhile, Congress and the Senate are unanimous on the issue of turning over the forts to South Carolina, feeling that South Carolina is not intent on leaving the Union forever but is attempting to put themselves in a stronger position for near future negotiations in regard to bills, tariffs, mandates, referendums and other things no normal human being understands. And they are fine with acquiescing since the alternative would be The Freaking Civil War. They send Lincoln a message saying, “Just give it to them. No, really, it’s okay. It’s falling apart anyway.” Lincoln considers the advice, looks off mysteriously in the distance while a shrewd smile graces his face and says to himself, “No…that’s just what they’ll be expecting.”
He then sends reinforcements to Fort Sumter and the South opens fire. Game on.
Lincoln immediately institutes the draft, however, in the spirit of fairness allows anybody who can pay $300 to be exempt.
Riots in New York (which is in the North) break out amongst whites angered about being drafted and possibly killed over the slavery issue, or the secession issue, or whatever the hell it is, as well as the exemption for those able to pay the $300 fee to avoid the draft. Over a hundred random blacks minding their own business are killed and/or beaten the bejesus out of. Many buildings are burned including the Orphanage for Colored Children.
Also angered at the $300 exemption fee that allows upper middle class males to escape the draft, songwriter Stephen Foster composes “Fortunate Son.” Any initial performance is delayed, however, as Foster waits patiently for the electric guitar to be invented.
Making it crystal clear for the benefit of all future generations that the North fought the civil war to free the slaves, Abraham Lincoln offers slave owner Robert E. Lee command of the Union army. Lee graciously declines, citing first allegiance to his “country” Virginia.
Unable to woo Lee, Lincoln appoints a long series of generals to take control of the Union army starting with George “Fraidy Pants” McClellan and Joseph “Fighting Joe Yes This Is Where The Slang Term For A Prostitute Actually Comes From” Hooker. Later he would come to rely on William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, two people who Robert E. Lee would respectively refer to as “that bastard” and “that other bastard.”
The border states, those in the middle of the country between the North and the South, namely Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, are on the fence as to which side to join. They are all slave states, but are concerned about being in the middle of a war zone and getting shot at by the North. This inclines them to join the Union, which is an option, because unlike many country clubs today, owning slaves doesn’t preclude you from membership. When told that if they join the North they’ll still be in the middle of a war zone and will get shot at by the South, they respond, “Doh!”
Maryland’s dilemma is easily solved, though. Given the strategic importance of Baltimore, Abraham Lincoln coaxes Maryland to the side of the Union in his typically folksy manner by imprisoning Baltimore’s chief of police, the entire Board of Police, all the members of Baltimore’s city council, and a Maryland congressman.
The choice for Maryland is simple but discord and violence reign in the other Border States as they tear themselves apart trying to decide which side to join. Though most are not destined to exist for more than a few months, for a brief period of time new states are born like split off amoebas: West Virginia, North Arkansas, South Missouri, Upper Right Hand Corner Texas, The Really Cute Spot In The Middle But Toward The Bottom Illinois, to name just a few. Amongst the group, Lincoln eyes the intact Kentucky as the jewel. “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky,” he says. Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin proposes to stay in the Union but when Lincoln requests Kentucky supply 1,000,000 men to serve in the Union Army, Magoffin replies, “Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.” Lincoln is enraged, knowing full well that without Kentucky the Union stands little chance in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Even in the Indian Territory (future Oklahoma) there is upheaval. Slave owning tribes such as the Choctaw and Creek along with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Catawba join the Confederacy because–like them–the Confederacy starts with a “C”, while the Iroquois, Huron, Shawnee, Pamunky, and Lumbee join the Union. And in a display of true bravado and one-upmanship, the Cherokee also vote to have their own civil war. This rush into the white man’s war, however, whatever side chosen, is well calculated, as the South guarantees that with their victory the Indian Territory will be acknowledged as a sovereign Indian state, and the North guarantees that with their victory the Native Americans will be left alone.
As chaos within the states rolls on unabated, author, celebrity, and the 19th century’s forerunner to Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, sees from afar that it is a minority of extremists in the South and a minority of extremists in the North who are driving the locomotives of self-righteousness toward each other and on the same track at a hundred miles an hour while the rest of the country stares anxiously out their respective coach windows wondering what’s beyond the next bend. She decides that the issue of the American Border States must be decided in a practical way which will end the ongoing violence and horror. To stop the people in Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, and the Indian Territory from shooting each other, Nightingale proposes that the members of the Northern government cabinet and the Southern government cabinet shoot at each other instead. She beseeches the men to do the manly and chivalrous thing and fight a duel–whatever side has the most members still alive will get the four remaining Border States and Territory. Finding it difficult in their hearts to say no to “The Lady With the Lamp,” a document is drawn up and the members of both cabinets agree and sign it as this is the best way to halt the further loss of innocent lives. However, as the day of reckoning approaches, and without Nightingale’s knowledge, all agree to scratch out “fight a duel” from the document and insert “play miniature golf.”
The match commences under a drizzling rain on June 3rd, 1861. As it progresses, the South seems assured of victory until Confederate Secretary of War LeRoy Pope Walker double bogies the hippopotamus hole and then right after takes a six on the windmill. They lose. The slave Border States join the Union. Lincoln is overjoyed. Jefferson Davis is despondent. Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin resigns from office and moves to Japan where nobody knows he has a stupid name.
As the war continues and morale in the North wanes, Lincoln becomes even more determined to preserve the Union, reaffirming his vow to do whatever it takes to keep the Union together even if that means making everyone in the South dead, at which time he will generously welcome them back into the Union.
Poland is the only European country to acknowledge the sovereignty of the newly seceded South. However, no one in Europe acknowledges that Poland is a country.* Consequently the Southern hope of a snowball effect of European support quickly vanishes. *(At this time both Germany and Russia refer to Poland as “the woods.”)
Desperate for money and support, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis prohibits all cotton exports, knowing that England–cotton’s main buyer–will need to lend support to the South’s cause in order to get their “precious cotton,” as Davis refers to it at the time, followed by chuckling that goes on non-stop for about twenty minutes. Davis’ vice president, Clamshell Rickshaw, suggests that they sell the $50 million dollars-worth of cotton they’ve got sitting around to the English in order to gain funds and get in their good graces, but Davis–having been a graduate of West Point as opposed to a graduate of Harvard’s School of Business and consequently never having been introduced to the concept of schmoozing–considers this idea “plain silly.” Davis waits patiently for his plan to come to fruition but is greatly disappointed just a month later upon learning the English have invented Polyester.
In the midst of war, asked what his goals were regarding the slaves, Lincoln–displaying an example of the moral courage and principle for which he would be remembered for always–responds, “If I can win the war by freeing all the slaves then I’ll do that. If I can win the war by not freeing any of the slaves then I’ll do that. If I can win the war by freeing some of the slaves and not others then I’ll do that.” He also says, “My politics are simple and sweet, like an old woman’s dance.”
Soon after, however, it becomes clear to him what course to follow: Free all the slaves. He knows, deep in his heart, that this is the morally right thing to do because (a) it will drive Jefferson Davis nuts, (b) it will create chaos in the South and (c) he’ll be able to draft the recently freed blacks and deploy them as special units whose sole purpose will be to make the South run out of bullets quicker.
But Lincoln is smart enough to foresee a long-term solution with the freeing of the slaves. This is to colonize the Caribbean and ship them all there. He closes any discussion on this subject by saying, “We can’t have a mulatto country.” I think this is the inscription on the Lincoln Memorial.
Despite Jefferson Davis’s pissy pants approach to business, England considers lending assistance to the South. When word of this gets back to Washington, Abraham Lincoln, in a hands across the ocean act of goodwill, sends a message to the English prime minister via American Vice President Luca Brasi, that if England provides aid to the South, the prime minister and his family will sleep with the fishes.
Union general William T. Sherman utters his famous line that all school children will eventually learn: “War is hell.” It’s initially considered that Sherman was in a sad, reflective moment, issuing forth a warning to future generations from having experienced the futility and horror of war first hand, but upon closer scrutiny it’s apparent that this utterance is simply a rationalization for all the awful things he’s about to do. Like burning down Georgia.
Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to bolster their Southern ranks and increase their raw materials, Confederacy president Jefferson Davis devises a plan to annex Poland and have it towed into the Gulf of Mexico where it will be glued onto Louisiana. This will also keep the water in the Mississippi River from leaking out at the bottom, which has been a problem for years.
John Brown with the aid of his sons attempts to start a slave revolt at Harper’s Ferry. Attempting to arm the local slaves, Brown is surprised by the response of, “No thanks. We’re good. You knock yourself out, though.” Undaunted, Brown continues his plan which is to shoot up the town and then head down to the river where his spaceship is parked and which will allow him to flee to Mars. Brown is captured, however, and hung for treason shortly thereafter. Abolitionists everywhere observe a moment of silence for this man who they consider a martyr for their cause, and take up a collection to have his image made into a stained glass window in the National Cathedral.
Following the war, Abraham Lincoln and William T. Sherman become the only two people hung for war crimes. Oops, no I’m sorry, that was in a parallel universe where the South won the war. Never mind.
The war ends. Preparing for a joyous and celebratory reunification of the Union, Lincoln is surprised and dismayed to find out that the South is kind of pissed.
John Wilkes Booth commits the most boneheaded of actions by assassinating Lincoln. The course of American history is turned on it’s ear in a moment, starting the very next day when Lincoln is made a saint. Pushing aside Lincoln’s “Goodie Two Shoes” policy for reunification of the South, the Republican Radicals, who control the government, put Southern Reconstruction into action. Black military regiments become the occupying force in the South and recently freed slaves are appointed to the local government agencies and public offices for the purpose of maintaining order in the recently “conquered” southern land. The Northern politicians do this because, deep in their hearts, they are convinced that this would be really funny.
Oh, and they send the South a bill for the war.
In the meantime, all the blacks that are not designated to be in some sort of officious position are nonetheless free to earn a wage, except that none of the white people now have any money to hire them with and so they all starve to death.
As I wrap this up here I see South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has pushed forward the removal of the Confederate flag from the top of the state house. Well, okay. Maybe that’s the way it should be. It does, however, leave a big empty space up there. I think what could replace it, and people in South Carolina can vote on this and see if it’s suitable, is a giant fiberglass fist with it’s middle finger raised, pointing north.
In conclusion, I wish to address all my right thinking Yankee brothers and sisters, and ask, how’s that Washington Redskins name change coming along?