[VIDEO] How important was the South’s “peculiar institution” to the Civil War and why does it still matter today?

The Stone Wall, Fredericksburg
The Stone Wall, Fredericksburg

Following our trip to Virginia, Maryland, and Southern Pennsylvania, a trip that took us to Fredericksburg, Manassas, Gettysburg, and Antietam, we’ve been watching Ken Burns’ The Civil War.  The documentary, which I failed to follow back in 1990, is somehow much more interesting now that I’ve seen the stone wall in Fredericksburg, the Bloody Lane at Antietam, and Little Round Top and the site of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg.

One of the difficulties for me in watching the documentary, which focuses pretty tightly on the battles, is that it’s hard not to root for the South.  I don’t mean that I’m rooting for slavery, God forbid!  I mean that, army qua army, up until the last year of so of the War, the South was a plucky little fighter that, with fewer men and supplies, managed to do amazing fighting.

Moreover, in the War’s early years, while all generals were horribly profligate with their troops, the South’s generals had the virtue of being less wasteful with the men in their charge than the Union generals were.  What General Burnside did at Fredericksburg was criminal — that it, it was criminal right up until Pickett and Lee did the exactly same thing at Gettysburg.  Moreover, by 1863, Lee and Pickett had even less excuse to do what they did than Burnside, because they ought to have learned from Burnside’s own experience.

The fact is that, although the South was fighting dashingly and pluckily, it was doing so for a dreadful, completely immoral cause:

The Confederacy deserved to lose, no matter how dashing its officers, devoted its foot soldiers, clever its tactics, and brave its fighting.  That the Northern soldiers were less dashing, that Northern civilians didn’t suffer having a violent civil war fought on their soil, and that the North eventually had a vast industrial complex backing up its troops is all irrelevant: What matters is that the Northerners were spending their money and, in the case of their troops, shedding their blood for a truly moral cause, dedicated to individual liberty and freedom.

This is a point worth remembering for those who think the United States is always in the wrong when it engages in war because it’s big and powerful while compared to the U.S., its enemies are invariably cast as poor and plucky. In this, World War IV, those “plucky enemies” are Islamists fighting in the cause of slavery, misogyny, homophobia, and genocidal antisemitism and anti-Christianity. Given the cause for which they fight, the odds should not matter. What matters is that are enemies are wrong — deeply wrong — and need to lose.

Incidentally, losing was good for the South, just as it was good for the brave Germans and Japanese who fought in WWII, and it will be good for radical Islam if we final commit ourselves to defeat them. When a people have dedicated themselves to a dreadful, inhuman, slave-oriented or even genocidal cause, only a drastic loss gives them a reason to abandon that cause — or, as in was the case in the South, which held onto the “cause” for another 100 years, makes the problem regional and easier to destroy, as opposed to national or imperialist.

To the South’s great credit, as I noted last month when I was visiting that region and as many Northern blacks are discovering, having finally abandoned all remnants of its peculiar institution, the South is not only a dynamic part of America, it is also a very congenial place for blacks and whites to live together in more harmony than one sees anywhere in the North or West. Sometimes, victory really does lie at the other end of defeat.