Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tea Party Slim is not so civil about The Civil War

Tea Party Slim and I were on the back porch discussing the American Civil War. We would have been on the front porch but the Wyoming west wind was blowing too damn hard. Under shelter, we sipped iced tea festooned with sprigs of mint.

“You mean The War Between the States, don’t you?” said Slim.

“The Civil War is what I’m talking about,” I replied. “It was 1861-1865. It started with the South seceding from the Union and firing on a military fort in Charleston Harbor.”

“That’s the one I’m talking about – The War of Northern Aggression. The South just wanted to live in peace…”

“…with their slaves.”

Slim held up his hand. “Not all Southerners had slaves. In fact, 85 percent of them did not.”

“But 15 percent did. And they were the merchants and land barons and politicians that forced the issue. People like Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Scarlett O’Hara’s pa, Mary Custis, etc.”

“You mean Mary Custis, granddaughter of Gen. George Washington, slaveholder?”

“One and the same.”

“Or Thomas Jefferson, slave owner and well, you know… He liked his female slaves.” Slim was trying to be delicate.

“Sally Hemmings – we all know the story,” I said. “And I’m sure there are hundreds like it all across the South. The Massa had all the power and when he came calling, well, how could a girl turn him down?”

“O.K., O.K., enough of that,” said Slim. “People make mistakes.”

“Rape is merely a mistake?”

“Let’s get back to the politics. This stuff makes me sick.”

“Rape is politics.” I had to get in one more jab. “But we were talking about The Civil War. Ken Burns called it that on PBS.”

“Don’t get me started on PBS.”

I dearly wanted to get him started on PBS, one of the Tea Party’s favorite targets, but held my tongue. “Shelby Foote is interviewed on the show. He’s a Southerner and he calls it The Civil War.”

“He has to do that on TV.”

I disappeared inside and brought back Shelby Foote’s massive three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative. “Shelby Foote called it The Civil War.”

“His publisher made him do it,” said Slim. “The War of Northern Aggression: A Narrative wouldn’t be welcomed in those New York literary circles.”

“Foote was from Mississippi, land of great writers” I added. “You can borrow the books if you want.”

“No thanks,” he said. “I’ve read all I need to about The Civ… I mean, The War Between the States.”

I held the books in my lap. They weighed a ton. I wondered if I should tell Slim that I’d only read half of the first volume.

“That’s the problem – the victor gets to tell the story,” said Slim. “The North won. The North tells their side of the story.”

“I told you that Foote is a Mississippian,” I said. “Did you watch him on the PBS series? He spoke very kindly about the South and Southerners and said some harsh words about the North. The Union generals stunk, for one thing.”

Slim smiled. “They did, didn’t they? McClellan was the worst.”

“It’s hard to say who the worst was,” I replied. “So much competition. But they did find a leader in Grant. And Sherman is credited with creating the “total war” concept with his march through the South.”

“Talk about rape and pillaging.”

“And burning crops and houses and generally laying waste to the countryside.”

“The War of Northern Aggression – like I said.”

“The Civil War – like me and Shelby Foote and Ken Burns and millions of others said. You can look it up.”

We sat in silence. I could tell we had reached an impasse. Slim was looking a bit glum. I decided that the day needed some new energy. “I’m surprised, Slim, that you didn’t once mention the magic words.”

He looked at me. “Magic words?”

“States’ rights,” I said.

His eyes bulged. Steam poured out of his ears. The glass shattered in his hand. “States’ rights,” he bellowed. “That’s what it was all about. No matter what you call the war, it was about the rights of a state or group of states over the rights of a federal government. Why just look at what’s happened since. We got the feds telling us what to do, from what crops we grow to the kind of cars we drive. Half of Wyoming is owned by the feds and we should take it back, we should….”

As Slim went on and on, I sat back in my chair and sipped my mint tea. The history of The Civil War weighed heavily on my lap and in my mind.

Photo: Tea Party uber-patriot. Photo by Don Jenkins, The Daily News

No comments: