War Is Cruelty, And You Cannot Refine It

Excuse me a moment while I alienate all the southerners reading this blog….


This is General William Tecumseh Sherman on scenic horse ride through Georgia–I got in a bit of a kerfluffle with a southern stranger on Pinterest last year after I 86c237077812f258c8a367c7e5c7f7depinned the image to the right on the photo saving site, along with a favorite Sherman quote, one I find continually compelling, particularly in light of the penchant for many passionate southerners to look back on the history of the time through the rose tinted glasses of “northern aggression” and all that revisionist bullshit.  If nothing else Sherman reminds us that the South started the war.

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.”

I have no love of the man, whose reasoned barbarism in the civil war was surpassed by his cruelty in the “Indian Wars” that followed–but I found the woman attacking me to be intolerable.

Linda Ricker • 39 weeks ago

“If you had ANY idea whatsoever of what he and his men did to many southern families and their children, you would NOT admire this man at all! He and his men were nothing shy of satan himself! He and his men raped women while their husbands were off fighting. They raped and molested the children while they made the mothers watch. They stole our things and shipped them up North via railways and rivers and the ocean. War is horrible enough, but he and his men made it HELL!”

Junk Chuck • 39 weeks ago

“…because slavery wasn’t cruel? Approximately 10 million captive slaves were killed in bondage in North America, another 1.2-2 million died en route, and as many as 6 million died as an indirect result of the slave trade in Africa. I contend that the numbers of enslaved families were far greater, and the crimes perpetrated upon them far more heinous than the experience of the average southern family. I understand that southern history books teach differently, but Master raped and molested far more efficiently, and far frequently, than did the soldiers in Sherman’s armies. I’m sorry your things were stolen and shipped north–maybe your ancestors shouldn’t have stolen people’s children and sold them. I never see that goddamned rebel flag, the emblem of hate and murder and greed and racism (not a signet of some misguided idea of idyllic, romanticized “southern pride”) that I don’t feel sick to my stomach. The glorious south perpetrated feudalistic genocide and got what was coming to them.”

$(KGrHqFHJEQFC1Y23KpSBQ3ceq6Do!~~60_1The glorification of southern slave culture is something that piques my ire with a singular, venomous sting.  A bunch of Nazis get together to celebrate old times, and we’re convening international tribunals, but we’re perfectly fine with these “rebel” yahoos?  I’m posting this after spending half an hour on the highway recently behind a diesel 4×4 riding crazy huge rims and bearing the following bumper stickers. (These are the the same images, though not on the vehicle in question–I found them readily enough on the internet.)

 obamidt-300x225dontrenigin2012Now, what I find so–I guess “amusing” isn’t the word, maybe “ironic” or humorously contradictory, is this connection between self-styled conservatives and the iconography of southern rebellion.  The rebel flag is, at it’s basest, a symbol of contempt for America and American ideals, and while our constitution thankfully protects the rights of rednecks and idiots to spit on and disdain those ideals, it could be argued that embracing the confederate flag–the flag of a nation that is NOT the USA I might add–is, at best, an act of anti-patriotism.  Isn’t that just the kind of thing about which conservatives are so often foaming at the mouth?  Remember “Freedom fries?”  Lapel pins?  Just recently President Obama was criticized for carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and saluting the Marine guard as he stepped from his helicopter as being insufficiently patriotic.

321dog4296 AP05042204298 bush_barney_salute finger

Opps!  Wrong photos.

Yeh, I couldn’t resist that, even though it dilutes and distracts from my argument.  What I’d like to see, next time Obama steps off the chopper, is him dramatically throwing his styrofoam cup to the ground, then fervently salute the Marines before grabbing them on the shoulders and kissing them, one after the other, euro-style, first on one cheek then the other.  Of course, he’d then not only have all the usual trolls riding him, but the Sierra Club would be all over his ass for the litter.

MJZ598The point is this: how can people be so damned touchy about patriotism at one moment, then turn around and…well, what am I saying?  We’re humans, after all, wreathed in complexity and contradiction, glorious reminders of the…no, not that, either–because it’s all a perfect plan, right?  Aren’t inconsistencies at odds with the intelligent design that’s been fine-tuning us for every one of the 3,000 years or so that there has been life on Earth?  So, no–I don’t get it.

And you thought they didn’t make these!

I learned not so long ago that “you’re either for us or against us.” I can deal with that.  I can get behind that.  My earliest relatives arrived here in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century from England, Scotland, and Alsace, and as far as I know none of them ever looked back. I certainly don’t fly an Alsatian flag on my lawn, or stick one on the bumper of my ILUV (impractically large utility vehicle).  Of course, given the proud martial history of Alsace, I’m not sure it would intimidate anyone, but oh, the beer….

The other thing that occurs to me is that the glorious armies of the Confederate States of America totally and unequivocally got their asses handed to them on a plate…and yes, perhaps they didn’t run, but only because they were left to stumble home shoeless, starving, bloody and broken.  Indeed, the fact that southern cultures exists at all is owed to the decision, made by the Northern leadership, to try to repair the nation rather than treat the south as, perhaps, it should have been treated: as the hostile, former homeland of a conquered and bitter enemy–like the way Israel treats Palestine. I mean, if you’re not going to be grateful….


Just remember, this juxtoposition is inherently flawed.  The two flags, and two mindsets, are incompatible.  One cannot have it both ways–the two are mutally exclusive.  Or, as a not all that wise woman liked to say, “America, love it or leave it.”

4 responses to “War Is Cruelty, And You Cannot Refine It”

  1. Don’t re-nig? Holy shit that’s vile… no wonder it makes you angry.




  2. “They stole our things and shipped them up North via railways and rivers…” Our things? Hers? The woman was delusional.

    I grew up among those idiots, and spent most of my time laughing at them. Of course, I once threw rocks at a Klan rally. They are piteous, frankly, were I capable of pity.


  3. The Klan. There was a “Grand Dragon,” whatever that means, who used to live up the road in Punxsutawney, PA, and to see him out and about was just a head-shaker: such a dirty, ignorant little shit of a man–it was clear why he needed to hide under a bedsheet to play tough guy. His lawn was full of propaganda, his neighbors hated him, and after a lifetime of petty crime and bullying he burned down his own house to make it look like he was a victim. Being dumb as a doornail, the ruse failed and he died in prison of cancer. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone around these parts to lament that–and as far and evil goes, i immediately thought of that guy during the “eyeholes’ scene of Django Unchained–his reign of terror was more like a parade of idiocy.

    The irony is that the Klan is more strongly rooted in rural Pennsylvania, a former hotbed of Klan activity, than in other northern states because of resentment towards the Italian and various Eastern European immigrants who were drawn here–and whose cultures have gone a long way towards defining what it means to be Pennsylvanian–to labor in the coal mines and steel mills.
    There have never been many African American folks outside the larger communities, and virtually none in the hills and hollows beyond the main roads. Probably because it wouldn’t be safe–and who would want to be first in?

    Still, ask someone my mother-in-law’s age about the Klan and they’ll remember burning crosses on hillsides, laws that forbade speaking in “foreign tongues” in church, mandatory dusk to dawn curfews, and laws against “assemblies” of two or more people–mostly to keep workers from discussing unionization. Most of these young rednecks now have no grasp of the history, and likely no idea that just a few generations ago they would have been the targets of the hatred they think is so cool and rebellious. I’ve been counseled that it’s wrong to despise people for their ignorance, but I’ve decided to take an old testament approach to my gnawing hatred in this case.

    I say that, and just as quickly it occurs to me: back in the day, the Klan was a tool that the wealthy classes wielded to control the exploited workers by both oppression and division, much in the same way that right wing media is employed today to keep different constituencies of oppressed classes suspicious of, and in conflict with, each other. The prospect of revolution scares the hell out of me, but it’s coming–I’d rather it comes from folks of differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds looking around and suddenly realizing they’ve been played, but I have a strong suspicion that we’re headed for a breaking point that will make Ferguson, Missouri look like a church social. My news aggregator seems to have yet another story about an innocent man being gunned down in public, or strangled to death on live video, or beaten in the street, followed by another prosecutor who declines to file charges. Maybe revolution is the only thing that will save us from each other–and ourselves?


  4. Ellen Morris Prewitt Avatar
    Ellen Morris Prewitt

    There are, unfortunately, many, many, many Southerners who feel this way, particularly once you scratch the surface. By the grace of the parents I received, friends I’ve met, and a constitutional inability to leave issues unexamined, I am not one of them. Write on.


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