I’m slightly hesitant to publicly criticize an undergraduate for misunderstanding history and civil rights, but since Nathan McLendon (pictured at left, without what I assume is his customary fedora) is apparently a guest columnist at the Albany (Georgia) Herald, and therefore popped up among the Google alerts in my inbox, I’m going to make an exception.
First, I invite you to read the jumble of accreted right-wing talking points the Albany Herald, an esteemed publication with a 125-year history and a 29-word Wikipedia entry,* thinks qualifies as a guest column. Following the thetical headline “Political Correctness Threatens Free Speech,” McLendon asserts the following:
- That activists seeking to remove the Confederate Flag from popular use are attacking free speech. Which is counter to reality, because those activists are employing free speech in advocating for the removal of a government-sanctioned symbol. It’s McLendon who opposes free speech by suggesting that those raising complaints are somehow committing an offense against public discourse.
- That public outcry against unpopular opinions attacks free speech. This is a right-wing canard: “If I express my opinion, that’s free speech. If you express criticism of my opinion, that’s oppression.” McLendon backs it up with another deceptive canard, the “bakery owner fined for refusing to participate in a gay wedding.” In fact the fines in question resulted from the bakery owner encouraging harassment and violence against the gay couple in violation of court instructions.
- That “it’s easier to call someone a racist than to think for yourself.” This follows a lengthy repetition of farcical Civil War history, which I’ll get to in a moment. In the minds of many right-wingers (especially racists), one of the worst things anyone can do is call someone a racist. I just find it so bizarre and slightly amusing that so many Americans frame their opposition to free speech as a defense thereof.
McLendon shares an anecdote about an occasion when he, a uniformed ROTC cadet, had a genial conversation with a college anarchist. At the end, the two “shook hands as gentlemen, and…walked away enriched by having [their] personal views challenged.” As if the purpose of affording Constitutional protection to free speech and expression was solely to enrich the thinking of white college males, and not to provide an avenue toward enacting actual change. Essentially, McLendon thinks (in that stereotypical straight white male way) that free speech is just fine as long as it doesn’t threaten the status quo to which he is accustomed.
And what about McLendon’s defense of the Confederacy and the Civil War? It’s not enough that it’s filled with laughable revisionism, McLendon doubles down by pointing out that he is a history major, and that the nuanced details of Confederate secession and warfare are “lost on those who get their historical “facts” from Twitter instead of history books.” His historical “facts?”
- “slavery was one of several factors that caused the Southern states to secede”
Funny, because both the President and the Vice President of the Confederacy outright stated that slavery was “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” Entertaining especially juxtaposed with McLendon’s assertion that the first amendment does not “allow someone to change the parts of history they do not agree with.”
- “the average Confederate soldier was merely defending his homeland rather than fighting for slavery” Well, sorta. They were fighting for their homeland’s right to fight for slavery. In case you hadn’t noticed, the Confederates didn’t lose their homeland when they lost the war–they kept everything except slavery. Their homeland was under no threat aside from the loss of slavery, and it was fear of losing slavery that led them to secede.
- “the North invaded in order to keep the Union together” Right, because the South seceded over fear that they wouldn’t get to keep human beings as slaves.
- “Many Confederate soldiers raised their Battle Flag to resist tyranny” Yes. The “tyranny” of not being allowed to own slaves.
Of course, my personal favorite is this:
Even more recently, anything and everything Confederate is being banned because political correctness dictates that one must distort history in an attempt to paint everyone in the Confederate Army as racists who were the worst people imaginable and equate the antebellum South with Nazi Germany.
Honestly, I haven’t heard that comparison made very often, but is it really that inaccurate? Certainly the two things are not identical, but let’s review. In the roughly 340 years slavery was an industry in North America, slavers abducted 12.5 million Africans and declared them the property of white men. Nearly 2 million died en route to North America. Those who survived endured physical abuse, malnutrition, physical abuse, the devastation of families, and constant rape–remember, because the did not have a right to consent, virtually all sex experienced by enslaved people was rape.
Maybe the failure here doesn’t belong to Nathan McLendon, who after hall has exactly two semesters of undergraduate history under his belt. Surely at least part of the responsibility falls on the American education system, which has allowed nefarious lies and half-truths like these to persist in McLendon’s trusty history books. One has to wonder what kind of grades he would pull if his term papers were full of the same tripe he put in his column.
But such things aren’t isolated to Georgia and the South; I went to high school in the Philadelphia suburbs, and even I was programmed to believe that the Civil War was about the Confederate defense of “states’ rights,” when in fact the Confederate states were quite opposed to states’ rights when they conflicted with slavery. Sure, maybe we were reading books designed to sell in the South, but it took me years to accept the truth and deprogram myself.
Then again, I was neither a history major nor a guest columnist for any local newspaper. McLendon’s bio says he’s switching his major to forestry, which is probably for the best. As far as I know there’s no right-wing effort to falsify the history of Dutch Elm Disease.
* That’s including the photo caption.
Photo: Albany Herald.