The Fix is In On Some Things Just From Our Language or How the 19th Century Frank Luntzes Already Twisted How We Think About the Civil War

It’s language stupid!  Of course the language we use about something shapes how we feel about it, how it’s viewed, confers legtimacy, etc. and this article from the Smithsonian, by a Director of the African American History Program at the Smithsinian is like a smack in the forehead.  Of course!!

We Legitimize the So-Called Confederacy With Our Vocabulary, and That’s a Problem

To begin with why do we call it the Confederacy? That’s what they wanted to be called. They were a rebel  insurgency unrecognized as legitimate by any other country in the world.

“General” Robert E. Lee only achieved the rank of colonel in the United States Army.  He was a general only for an illegitmate insurgent force.

Historian Michael Landis suggests professional scholars should seek to change the language we use in interpreting and teaching history. He agrees with people like legal scholar Paul Finkelman and historian Edward Baptist when they suggest the Compromise of 1850 be more accurately referred to as an Appeasement. The latter word precisely reflects the sway that Southern slaveholders held in the bargain. Landis goes on to suggest that we call plantations what they really were—slave labor camps; and drop the use of the term, “the Union.” A common usage in the 19th century to be sure, but now one we only use “the Union” in reference to the Civil War and on the day of the State of the Union address. A better way to speak of the nation during the war, he argues, is to use its name, the United States.

Think about that.  We call the United States of that era “the Union” in a way that can separate the reality of our own country in our minds.  It wasn’t the Union that the rebels broke away from it was the United States of America.

we set up a parallel dichotomy in which the United States is cast as equal to the Confederate States of America. But was the Confederacy really a nation and should we refer to it as such?

And plantation is certainly a lovely bucolic name for what were slave labor camps.  The Nazis called their nightmare death camps “work camps” but we’ve never accepted their coloring of that genocide.  Why have we accepted so much of the South’s lipstick on the pig of slavery and rebellion?

Where else do we use language that actually gives breath to a false narrative?


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