[Rushtalk] An Historian Shills for the Warfare State

Carl Spitzer lynux at keepandbeararms.com
Wed Mar 23 10:20:25 MDT 2016

               An Historian Shills for the Warfare State

                         by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

                        by Thomas J. DiLorenzo 

In a May 4 Washington Post article entitled "Lessons for Iraq from
Gettysburg," Post writer David Ignatius reports on how Princeton
University historian James McPherson informed a "discussion group
sponsored by the secretary of defense" about "how to rebuild societies,"
drawing his lessons from the period of "Reconstruction" in America (1866
—1877). McPherson supposedly told the Defense Department bureaucrats, as
they toured the Gettysburg battlefield, that there were "intriguing
parallels between postwar Iraq and the postwar South." Like so much of
what passes for "Civil War history," such "parallels" are based
primarily on lies, myths, and nineteenth-century Republican Party

The Northern army killed some 300,000 southern men — one out of four of
military age; bombed entire cities and burned others to the ground; and
generally pillaged and plundered the entire region, carrying off tens of
millions of dollars in private property. Homes, farms, and businesses in
huge areas of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas were put to the
torch, and gang rape was not uncommon in the Union Army. The entire
southern economy was destroyed, and would take more than a century to

After the war, there was a military occupation run by the Republican
Party, which would hold a monopoly of power in the federal government
for the succeeding several decades. The "Grand Old Party," as it
shamelessly and immodestly calls itself, used that monopoly of power to
continue the pillaging and plundering of the South for more than a
decade after the war by imposing punitive taxes on southerners,
providing very little public services in return, with untold millions
being confiscated by Republican Party hacks who swarmed over the region
("carpetbaggers") and ran the state and local governments. Little was
done for the ex-slaves, despite all the empty rhetoric about "40 acres
and a mule." Why would the Republican Party, the Party of Big Business,
use the powers of government to help the ex-slaves when it could use
that power to help itself instead?

Southerners, only five percent of whom had ever owned slaves, naturally
objected to being plundered by an occupying army for an entire decade
after their country had been destroyed by that same army. The "lesson
for Iraq" in all of this, according to James McPherson, is that
southerners who opposed being abused and exploited in this manner should
be thought of as "an insurgency," just today's Arab terrorists, led by
Osama bin Laden, are. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Randolph, James
Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Marshall, and other prominent southerners
are apparently no different from today's terrorists according to
McPherson, as reported by David Ignatius. 

The Republican Party, which Ignatius equates with "the Union," was
supposedly "unprepared" for southern opposition to its plundering spree.
Consequently, the "army of occupation was too small . . . " Lesson
Number Two, courtesy of McPherson, is therefore to send more troops to
Iraq, perhaps even by instituting a new Lincolnian conscription law.
(Even if McPherson does not personally endorse conscription, such talk
on his part encourages those who do, such as the Defense Department
bureaucrats whom he lectured to in Gettysburg). 

Watching the Fox News Channel or listening to the daily pronouncements
from the White House or the Rush Limbaugh Show (which are basically one
and the same), one "learns" that despite all outward appearances, things
are going pretty well in Iraq these days. McPherson drew another
parallel to the South of the late 1860s in his Gettysburg talk. Ignatius
quotes him as saying: "In 1870 things looked pretty good — if not rosy,
at least optimistic." Why is this? According to Ignatius, it is because
Northern carpetbaggers were succeeding at effectively stealing millions
of acres of southern land by first imposing punitive, unpayable property
taxes on it, forcing the owners to sell the land to them at fire sale
prices. Of course, Ignatius doesn't put it quite that way. He
euphemistically writes: "Northerners were investing in what they
believed would be a new South." 

But the Documentary History of Reconstruction, paints a very different
picture of the "success" of Reconstruction as of 1870. For example, it
notes that "Never had a completer ruin fallen upon any city than fell
upon Charleston." By 1870, the Documentary History notes, the entire
Tennessee Valley consisted "for the most part of plantations in a state
of semi-ruin," with many others "of which the ruin is . . . total and
complete. The trail of war is visible throughout the valley and burnt up
[cotton] gin houses, ruined bridges, mills, and factories . . . and
large tracts of once cultivated land stripped of every vestige of

In Virginia, "from Harper's Ferry to New Market . . . the country was
almost a desert . . . . The barns were all burned; a great many of the
private dwellings were burned; chimneys standing without houses, and
houses standing without roofs." In North Georgia there was "a degree of
destitution that would draw pity from a stone." 

To James McPherson such scenes are "if not rosy," at least "optimistic."
As Bill Clinton might say, it all depends on what the meaning of "rosy"

Ignatius also quotes McPherson as saying that "the insurgency" of the
1860s was so "potent" that it "staged bloody riots in Memphis and New
Orleans." The implication is that there was complete lawlessness in the
South, a "matrix of lawlessness," as Ignatius says. 

Like so much "Civil War history" that is spouted by McPherson and most
other "mainstream" court historians, this is simply more
nineteenth-century Republican Party propaganda passed off as truth. As
Ludwell Johnson, professor emeritus of history at William and Mary
College, documents in North and South: The American Iliad, 1848—1877,
there was a riot in Memphis during Reconstruction, but the main
protagonists did not include ex-Confederates (McPherson's "insurgents").
Instead, it was primarily a conflict between blacks and recent Irish
immigrants. Under the military dictatorship that was established in
Memphis by the Republican Party, all ex-Confederates were evicted from
public offices. In their place were Irish immigrants. The mayor, most
aldermen, and 90 percent of the Memphis police force were Irish,
according to Johnson, who explains the genesis of the riot (p. 220):

        Competition for jobs between Irish and blacks was a continual
        source of friction and produced numerous fights. Another source
        of hostility was the garrison of 4000 Negro troops, whose camps
        became a focus of crime. The soldiers themselves, when drunk,
        occasionally robbed shops and individuals, pushed whites off the
        sidewalk into the mud, and so forth. Some Memphians suspected
        that Stanton employed Negro garrisons in hopes of provoking
        violence that he could use to political advantage. As early as
        the fall of 1865, General Grant had warned that the use of black
        occupation troops would lead to trouble. 

The riot commenced after a street brawl during which "a shot was fired,
by whom no one knows." After that, there was "an attack by police and
laboring-class whites, apparently mainly Irish, on the black

This is remarkably similar to the scene of the New York City draft riots
of 1863. Indeed, as Johnson correctly points out: "Hitherto urban race
riots had been a Northern phenomenon. Between 1832 and 1849, for
instance, Philadelphia alone experienced five major anti-Negro
Disturbances, and, of course, there was the New York riot of 1863 . . ."

Johnson then gets to the heart of the matter with regard to the effects
of the Republican Party's Reconstruction propaganda which is so
faithfully repeated by today's court historians, such as James
McPherson: "Although these occurrences were not taken as conclusive
evidence of the incurable depravity of Northern society, the Memphis and
New Orleans riots [the latter of which was ended by the actions taken by
former Confederate General James Longstreet] and other incidents, real
or fabricated, were cited by Republicans as revealing a continuing
rebellion and the utter failure of [President Andrew] Johnson's system
of Reconstruction."

The parallels between the Memphis riot and the 1863 New York City draft
riots are in fact remarkable. As Iver Bernstein wrote in The New York
City Draft Riots (p. 120): "In April 1863 longshoremen's attempts to
enforce a standard wage rate and an ‘all-white' rule on the docks led to
a protracted binge of racial violence . . . . For three days mobs of
Irish longshoremen beat up black men found working along the docks and
fought Metropolitan Police who attempted to save several blacks who
defended themselves against lynching."

Ignoring real history and relying exclusively on the nineteenth-century
Republican Party propaganda line, McPherson informed his Gettysburg
audience that conflicts such as the Memphis riot of the 1860s were
analogous to "the Sunni-Shiite divide that has poisoned postwar Iraq." 

McPherson further informed his audience of bureaucrats that
Reconstruction's purportedly noble objective of trying to "remake the
South into a version of New England" "suffered" from "haphazard tactics"
which were the source of the policy's ultimate failure. There is a grain
of truth to this statement. New Englanders always thought of themselves
as "God's Chosen People." Moreover, they also believed it was their duty
to force all others to become like them, or they would burn in hell.
That is what made a Northerner a "Yankee": the willingness to use force
— even mass killing — to remake society in his image. 

The phony part of McPherson's statement is the insinuation that New
England was some kind of egalitarian Nirvana, and that the Republican
Party rhetoric of "land reform" (along the lines of what occurred later
in history in most countries that were taken over by communist
insurgents) could turn the South into a "version of New England." Even
if such a communistic fantasy were achieved it would not have turned the
South into New England, for New England was anything but egalitarian —
especially when it came to its small black population. 

As Leon Litwack wrote in North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States,
1790—1860 (p. 97), "While statutes and customs circumscribed the Negro's
political and judicial rights [throughout the Northern states],
extralegal codes — enforced by public opinion — relegated him to a
position of social inferiority and divided northern society into
‘Brahmins and Pariahs.'" Furthermore, "In virtually every phase of
existence, Negroes found themselves systematically separated from

In Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780
—1860, Joanne Pope Melish of Brown University writes that even though
slavery was finally ended in New England by 1857, most of the New
England slaves were not freed but sold to southern plantation owners.
New Englanders then spent decades doing everything imaginable to
eradicate all black people from their midst. This included "targeting
people of color from ‘warning out' as undesirables under the legal
settlement laws; taxing their presence; advocating their wholesale
transportation to Africa . . . ; and finally, conducting terroristic,
armed raids on urban black communities and the institutions that served
them," Ku Klux Klan style. 

New England blacks were even precluded from being buried in the same
cemeteries as whites, and in some cases black corpses were dug up and
removed from "white" cemeteries. "New England clerics led widespread
efforts to raise funds" for the purpose of shipping all free blacks to
Africa (p. 193). In antebellum New England there was often a "crescendo
of mob violence against people of color," writes Professor Melish, which
included "assaulting their communities, burning down their homes, and
attacking their advocates" (p. 199). There were dozens of such riots
throughout the New England states during the antebellum period, so it
should be no surprise at all that many of the same people who had rioted
in the North behaved in the same way after migrating to cities like

The war itself so devastated the southern economy that it would take
more than a century for average southern income to achieve the same
proportion compared to the North that existed in 1860. So-called
Reconstruction added fuel to this economic fire by imposing high taxes
and out-of-control government spending and borrowing on a region that
was in dire need of tax amnesty. The male ex-slaves were all recruited
to register and vote Republican to become part of this plunder, while
whites were disenfranchised for a while at the beginning of the period.
This naturally — and needlessly — generated even greater racial
animosity in the region. When Reconstruction ended, the Republican Party
occupiers went home and left the hapless ex-slaves to fend for

The Northern investors and businessmen who benefited so much from the
plundering of the South finally "turned their attention to the West,"
said McPherson in his Gettysburg presentation. Translated into plain
English, this means that the U.S. army devoted its full attention to its
campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains Indians to make way for
the government-subsidized transcontinental railroads. The amount of
swindling and corruption associated with this venture rivaled that of

To McPherson (and Ignatius) it was not so much the invasion,
destruction, and subsequent plundering of the South during
Reconstruction that was responsible for the South's economic demise, but
"giving up on Reconstruction." Thus, if there is a lesson to be learned
from James McPherson's presentation to the Defense Department
bureaucrats in Gettysburg it is this: Pay no attention to actual facts,
historical or otherwise; rely instead on the politically correct,
"virtual history" concocted by court historians; ignore the current
"troubles" in Iraq that result in the death of more and more young
Americans (and Iraqi civilians) every single day; send more troops; and
make no plans to ever end the military occupation. That, says David
Ignatius, would be failing to learn the lessons of American history,
Washington Post style. 

                                                            May 11, 2005

Thomas J. DiLorenzo is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at
Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers
Press/Random House). His latest book is How Capitalism Saved America:
The Untold Story of Our Country's History, from the Pilgrims to the
Present (Crown Forum/Random House, August 2004).

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