The Guild Awakens (Part Two)

The promised second part.

So, now let’s get to the characters. As mentioned, these are where Star Wars stands or falls, so let’s see what we have to work with here. As in the last post, here there be spoilers.

To begin with, our villains are at least…interesting. General Hux is a more bombastic version of Grand Moff Tarkin, while Snoak fills in very nicely as the Emperor. Captain Phasma is slightly disappointing, and one hopes, if she is seen again, that she is more effective.

Kylo Ren, however–Kylo Ren is very interesting, as far as villains go. While it’s obvious that he’s a Darth Vader wannabe, he is presented as such rather than as some kind of replacement, and his emotional state is presented as being detrimental to him. Also, killing his father, Han Solo, does not actually resolve his emotional turmoil. He’s also more than a bit of a show-off and a braggart. In other words, a perfect villain for the current age–he’s every would-be alpha person out there. We also have the question of how Snoak got him to turn on his fellow apprentices and Luke.

Our Heroes, unsurprisingly, are far more interesting.

Chewbacca is still loyal to Han after all these years, albeit slightly snarkier. BB-8, in the meantime, fulfills the droid companion role wonderfully, being just enough like R2-D2 to fulfill his purpose, but not enough to cause someone to yell “retread.” R2-D2 and C-3PO mostly serve as reminders of how much time has passed and how devastating previous events were to everyone.

Han and Leia’s relationship is very interesting, and is one of the controversial parts of the film in some circles. It’s fairly obvious that Ren’s defection to the Dark Side destroyed their marriage, albeit with a healthy dose of lack of communication. What’s interesting is that neither blames the other for any of what happened, and when Han tries to take responsibility for Ren’s defection Leia immediately puts it on Snoak. You get the impression that they really do care about each other, which makes Han’s death scene even worse.

Han by himself, however, is worth watching. While it’s pretty obvious that he’s taking over Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role from A New Hope, he does it in his own way, going over his initial disbelief into what happened over the course of the original trilogy.

Luke is basically a nonentity in this movie, functioning primarily as a McGuffin.

Now we’re at the main cast, which we’ll go over by order of appearance.

Po is just a joy to watch, and I would have liked to see more of him. While he is very much the Ace Pilot, with a combination of exuberance and steely determination, he also has a surprising grasp of human nature, as seen in his first conversation with Finn, and can gain and keep loyalty easily, as see with BB-8 and Finn, while giving it in return.

Finn is also fun to watch, and actually undergoes a character arc over the course of the movie. While the initial incident in the village seems a little off–why would this cause someone conditioned to kill to freak and run?–the revelation that he was a sanitation engineer makes it make more sense. His initial determination to run comports quite well with the decisions of a certain Corellian after he defected from the Empire, as well as his tendency to run his mouth and his tendency to come up with interesting plans. Also, the running gag of him grabbing Rey’s hand when they need to get out of the way immediately is hilarious, and foreshadows that he is not, in fact, a self-centered jerk. Speaking of Rey, it’s interesting that she provides the reason for his undergoing the same transformation Han went through in Episode IV, although not surprising–aside from Po, she’s the first human contact outside of the First Order he’s ever had. Also, his shift is a little abrupt, but when by the end of the movie he takes out a lightsaber he has no clue how to use (although he’s a dab hand with a blaster) and prepares to take on Kylo Ren, he’s come a long way, and it’s awesome.

Now for Rey. Rey is controversial in certain circles, for reasons both good and lousy, but she is definitely an interesting character, and also undergoes a significant arc. To start off, she’s a scavenging loner stuck on a backwater planet, determined to wait for her family and take care of herself, which she is eminently capable of doing. That having been said, much like Finn, she won’t leave someone in the lurch if they need help, as seen with BB-8, and is somewhat more enthusiastic about the mission than Finn is. However, we also see her looking for a father figure and finding one in Han, as well as trying to run when confronted with force visions.  The scene where Kylo Ren is interrogating her is fantastic, and her escape from the base, albeit interrupted by the arrival of Finn, Han, and Chewbacca, is hilarious and cool. When she grabs the lightsaber after Finn drops it due to getting slashed down, it also shows just how far she’s come. These last sentences, by the way, also bring up one of the good reasons for her to be slightly controversial–namely, her omnicompetence. She can fly ships, gunsling, do stuff with the Force, wield a lightsaber and beat Kylo Ren, and fix literally anything, which have brought up accusations that she is a Mary Sue.

This is an understandable charge, but a mostly wrongheaded one. She can fly a ship, but there are some…teething issues; the pistol shooting can be chalked up to the Force; she doesn’t really do anything new with the Force; Kylo Ren had taken a bowcaster shot to the gut and a lightsaber to the shoulder, and also has no clue how to wield a lightsaber; and the fixing everything can be chalked up to her time on Jakku, where new stuff is unavailable and parts are scarce. She’s slightly more omnicompetent than Luke, but not by that much.

In other words, The Force Awakens gives us a passel-load of actually enjoyable characters, and the one’s we don’t enjoy are the one’s we’re clearly not supposed to enjoy. None of them actively make the movie worse, even if they don’t add that much.

Anyway, it turns out there’s going to be a third part to this post.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

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The Guild Awakens (Part One)

Hey y’all, we’re back, hopefully for good. My apologies for the long hiatus, but it’s been an interesting five months, what with graduate school and all. So, I figure that I should reintroduce this thing with a bang.

So, as we all know, the long-awaited Star Wars sequel came out recently, and has elicited much comment from all and sundry, some of which has been utterly pretentious, some of it hopelessly biased, and some of it relatively sane. I hope this discussion will be the third. We shall see. There will also be multiple parts to it, because I have a lot to say about this movie.

Since it has been over a month since this movie came out, spoilers will abound. You have been warned.

We’ll start this off with discussing the plot of the movie, mostly because I’d rather get the parts I find kind of obnoxious out of the way first, and focus on the good bits later.

The fact is that one of the criticisms of this movie which is eminently fair is that it seems like too much of a retread of A New Hope. Desert planet? Check. Scrappy youngster? Check. Giant superweapon? Check. Poorly defended weak spot? Check. Dead mentor figure? Check. Trench run? Check.

While I find this to be a bit obnoxious, these did not kill my enjoyment of the movie for several reasons. First, originality is overrated, and it should be pointed out that the deservedly-reviled prequels were much different from the originals. Second, playing it safe is underrated–to put it bluntly, you need audience members in order to keep getting movie contracts. Third, there seemed to be a kind of rightness to the cyclical nature of the threat here, an expression of time as a wagon wheel, not a spinning wheel or a line. Maybe I’m overthinking this a bit.

Also, there are several rather large plot holes in this movie, primarily centered around the Starkiller Base. First, why would you hollow out a planet in order to make a superweapon? Just build another Death Star, it’ll be cheaper and take less time than drilling what looked like a ten mile-diameter hole through thousands of kilometers of rock, never mind the thousand mile-diameter spherical chamber where the planetary core used to be. Good night. Snoke should not be nearly so cavalier at the end of the movie when the base explodes. That thing probably consumed the lion’s share of the First Order’s resources for years just to construct, never mind the time and effort expended on figuring out how to split the beam of solar energy into five parts or the people and ships stationed on it.

Second, why does no one seem to know about this? Again, you’re hollowing out a planet and firing a star out of it, the resource and research expenditures couldn’t help but be noticeable. Aren’t there any spies for the Resistance in the First Order?

Third and finally, why isn’t there a regiment of stormtroopers garrisoned right on top of the thermal oscillator thingamabobber? That seems like something you should perhaps protect from infiltration.

Anyway, enough about the Starkiller. We also have the questions of how Anakin’s lightsaber was recovered from Bespin, why the New Republic isn’t kicking the First Order around like a soccer ball instead of bankrolling a scrappy band of volunteers, and why Luke flipped out and left instead of trying to fix what went wrong–including, say, killing Kylo Ren. While there are numerous explanations–respectively, the Force, war weariness, and the fact that Ren is Luke’s sister’s and best friend’s son–getting an in-movie explanation for any of this would have been really wonderful. (Although, in fairness, these might be answered in the next movie.)

Leaving aside, of course, the question of just how Po got off of Jakku. My guess is that he hired a smuggler, but it would have been nice to get an explanation for that. (Although at least we got how he survived the crash–the same way Finn did.)

Which brings up the question of why a sanitation engineer was conditioned to kill from a young age and was taken along on the obligatory war crime scene mission. While there is some precedent for this–the old Marine Corps dicta of “Every Marine a rifleman”–even the Marines don’t believe in “Every Marine an infantryman.” I’ve heard good explanations for this, mind, but they require a knowledge of military bureaucracy that is not generally possessed among Hollywood writers.

All of my complaining aside, the fact is that this movie makes much more sense than Episode I (what did the Trade Federation hope to gain by that blockade, exactly?) and almost as much sense as Episode IV (why not do orbital bombardment with Star Destroyers–or, for that matter, mount engines on asteroids and crash them into planets at relativistic speeds?) We have compelling A and B plots–the search for Luke and the Starkiller base, the first of which the audience is invested in because of Luke, and the Starkiller base because we are invested in the universe. We also have multiple subplots going on in this movie–Rey and Finn’s character arcs and relationship arc (which is not necessarily a romantic one), Po and his droid, Han Solo and Leia’s falling out and getting back together, Kylo Ren and his inner turmoil–some of which are more compelling than others, admittedly, but they’re enough to give this movie a recognizably human dimension in addition to the grand spectacle.

However, let’s face it, plot has never really been Star Wars’ strong suit. For that, you have to go to the characters, which have always been where the franchise rises or falls–if you don’t believe me, compare Obi-Wan, Padme, and Anakin in Attack of the Clones to the same characters in Revenge of the Sith. That’s what the next post is going to be about, and if you were put off by the negative tone of this section, the next one will be much more positive.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

When is it a Fallacy? (Part Two)

So, this is a continuation of the series started with last week’s blog post regarding logical fallacies. Today, I’m going to discuss two of them: the strawman and the appeal to nature.

The strawman is when you set up a version of your opponent’s argument that is as illogical and insane as you can make it while still having some sort of relationship to reality. Examples include the dismissal of Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “pushing Granny off a cliff” or the notorious Obamacare “death panels.”

This one is almost always a fallacy and is almost never useful in any sort of debate, even between candidates during election seasons. The only exception is when your opponent manages to strawman himself, or when you are attempting to present the strawmen of both sides in an attempt at humor. Otherwise, skip it.

The appeal to nature, on the other hand, has a bit more nuance to it. Essentially, it’s the idea that if something occurs regularly in nature, it is therefore good, while if something does not occur regularly in nature, it is therefore bad. This, by the way, is technically different from just calling something “unnatural,” which generally means using something for a task it was not made to perform, but that is another story for another day.

Calling this a fallacy does have a lot of grounding in reality. After all, eating fecal matter, rape, murder, theft, and wastage of resources all regularly occur in nature, while mercy, charity,  and the like are rather uncommon–especially for those outside the group, or on the bottom of the social hierarchy. For that matter, using leeches to bleed people is technically natural, as that is what leeches do.

However. The fact of the matter is that while the appeal to nature is not very good at figuring what is right or wrong behavior to engage in, it does actually have a place in debate, and that is when you are debating what should be done about something.

Here’s what I mean. The fact of the matter is that a lot of ideas that people enact, like abstinence-only sex education and socialist economics, ignore basic facets of human nature–the former ignores the fact that teenagers are often horny and short-sighted (although arguably all sex education ignores this to a certain degree), which can cause their horniness and short-sightedness to have worse consequences than if they had been recognized and allowed for, while the latter ignores the human desire for power and control over others, which allows said desires to run wild and free under the surface of the society, which results in having the people in charge being experts in intrigue and backstabbing as opposed to keeping people happy.

Now, I should point out that most policies, laws, customs, mores, etc., are attempts to overcome various facets of nature. However, if you set up your attempts to overcome nature in a way that ignores nature, you will fail. So, in other words, the appeal to nature is not fallacious if you are using it to point out that a particular policy will not result in the desired outcome.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

When is it a Fallacy? (Part One)

So, those of you who know me should know that I was on the debate team in college, which means that the concept of “logical fallacies” got brought up a lot. This concept is also something anyone who has spent more than five minutes arguing on the Internet should be familiar with, but let’s define our terms. There’s not really a universally-agreed upon definition beyond “error in reasoning,” but that should suffice for our purposes.

However, the problem with discussing logical fallacies is twofold. First, there’s the fallacy fallacy–the idea that because an argument for a notion has a fallacy in it then the notion is automatically wrong. We’ll discuss this later, as it happens. Second, there’s the problem of figuring out when a logical fallacy has been committed, and when someone is actually making a relevant point. I’m hoping that this series can get some good discussion going on this.

Here’s how it’s going to work: the logical fallacies used will be pulled from this website (which is somewhat obnoxious, but still useful), generally at a rate of one to three per post. Each logical fallacy will have the dividing line between it and a logical argument developed, as well as a discussion of those times when the logical fallacy may be deployed as a reasoned argument.

So, to begin with, let’s start (and finish, for today) with the slippery slope fallacy. This is one of the more notable ones, second only to ad hominem in terms of hollering it being considered a good substitute for refutation.

In essence, the slippery slope fallacy is “Well, if we allow x, then we have to allow y if we want to be consistent, and do we really want to allow y?” This conveniently avoids explaining why x, which the majority of the audience might want, is bad by associating it with y which the majority of the audience probably doesn’t want, and is therefore fairly common in political debates. It should be noted that like most of these fallacies, people will denounce others for using it then turn right around and use it themselves–for example, an online argument I observed where one person who had pooh-poohed the idea that Obamacare would result in a single-payer system said she refused to support banning partial-birth abortions because it would give the hardcore anti-abortion crowd momentum to ban all abortions. It’s generally obnoxious when people do it, and it tends to damage legitimate debate.

However, there’s an issue with this altogether negative portrayal of the notion. The fact of the matter is that one thing, generally speaking, does end up leading to another, so long as the generally-held logical premises for the first thing apply to the other thing. The key division between a slippery slope fallacy and there being an actual slippery slope towards something is whether the logical premises involved are the same. For example, it would not be a slippery slope fallacy to point out that the “consenting adults” paradigm under which the current society views marriage almost demands acceptance of polygamy, because consenting adults can do such a thing. It would, however, be a slippery slope fallacy to claim that eventually the “consenting adults” paradigm will cause acceptance of pedophilia, because one of those parties is not an adult. And it should also be pointed out that, on both sides of the aisle, those who squeal “slippery slope” the loudest are the ones pouring tubs of warm butter on the incline.

But anyway, the fact of the matter is that the slippery slope idea, as outlined above, is really only useful for critiquing the reasons behind a specific notion, rather than the notion itself, like many of these fallacies. For example, pointing out that someone advocating looser gun laws on the grounds that people should be armed the same as their government would have to support private individuals holding main battle tanks, fighter jets, and nuclear weapons is valid. Claiming that this means that looser gun laws are a terrible idea is an example of the fallacy fallacy. In this regard, it is basically only useful for debating on why a specific policy measure should or should not be implemented, rather than whether or not it should be implemented.

So, that wraps that up. I’m not sure what I’ll do next, but it’ll probably be one of the better-known ones.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Concerning SCOTUS

So, to begin with, let’s begin by establishing that we’ll be talking about three rulings in this post, not just the homosexual marriage one.

1. The disparate impact ruling wasn’t covered much in the media due to the homosexual marriage ruling, but it was kind of important. While it did not get rid of the notion of disparate impact, it did make the criteria for establishing malintentioned disparate impact more stringent, which can’t help but be good for everyone. The court is finally moving towards sanity on dealing with race-based discrimination–i.e., innocent until proven guilty, rather than the other way around, like with everything else in our society.

2. The death penalty ruling was…interesting, but not especially groundbreaking. Suffice it to say that the court still finds that the death penalty is still constitutional.

3. And, what you’ve all been waiting for–the homosexual marriage ruling. First, anyone surprised, shocked, or panicked by the ruling really hasn’t been paying attention to the fact that Anthony Kennedy is the most pietistic Catholic in modern jurisprudence–yes, even Sotomayor is less so than Kennedy.

Second, this ruling unfortunately makes sense under the current cultural paradigm through which we view marriage. And yes, it is a cultural paradigm, not the absolute truth. Deal with it. Anyway, the current conception of marriage is that its purpose is solely  to make the individuals involved happy.

Raising happy, healthy kids in the best environment possible? Great side bonus, but not really important.

Basic building block of society? Why should I care?

Any sort of religious notion or other tradition? Hah!

How do I know this is the prevailing ethic, you may ask? Because no-fault divorce, which means that a marriage may be ended at any time, for any reason, exists. At the point where a society has such laws, it has chosen to claim that marriage is a purely personal institution, based around that relatively nebulous concept called “happiness.”

Now, a moment for clarification here. There is a rather large middle ground between the present attitude towards marriage and the “arranged marriage” idea as practiced in much of India and elsewhere. A robust societal conception of marriage would prioritize the happiness of the individuals involved, seeing as happy people tend to be better at raising functional kids–and also, it’s usually bad when people are unhappy–but would include all of the other items mentioned above as well. And no-fault divorce would not exist.

I’d go more into what that means, but that’s a blog post for another day. Suffice it to say that we have an excessively individualistic view of marriage, and that such a view lends itself to…expansion of the combinations of persons involved.

Now, the ramifications should be obvious. For one thing, we’ll get to see how many homosexual pairings decide to act on the new ruling. For another, we’ll get to see how much resistance gets put up to it–expect lots of surreptitious feet-dragging, states de facto doing civil unions, and a lot of RFRA-like laws being passed over the next few months as well.

Longer term–depends on who you ask. I’m not going to speculate, at least not here, except to say that I’ve always known that I don’t live in the world as I would have it or the world that is to come, but in the world that is. And it would behoove everyone to remember that when reflecting on any of these decisions.

‘Til next time,

Lowell

So…About That Flag (Part Two)

So, in part one we went over the origins of the Confederate Battle Flag and its use during the American Civil War. Now we’re going to talk about the post-Civil War history of the flag and what to say about it today.

Anyway, the flag ended up being incorporated and nodded to in numerous Southern state flags after Reconstruction ended, and the homages were seen as part of the process of the South controlling itself instead of being controlled by carpetbaggers. That this involved disenfranchising black people en masse would have been a little awkward for people capable of seeing past the end of their noses, but the people in charge of all this nonsense, as usual, really couldn’t.

And now we’re going to skip ahead to the 1950s and 1960s, because that’s the part living people remember and where things get really, really awkward for people who want to think of the flag as a symbol of resistance against tyranny. Here’s why.

The only Confederate flags that weren’t somehow related to the Civil War Centennial (and even some of those) were being waved by racists and segregationists demanding the right to treat black people like they weren’t real people. This was propagated by the Ku Klux Klan, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, numerous state governors, and various other notables. And the state of Georgia threw it into their state flag for the same reasons. To boot, a lot of people still use it now for those reasons. The Southern Identity movement, the League of the South, the Klan…there’s a lot of that going around. And all of this more recent history, which is what most people who despise the flag remember, renders non-racist interpretations of the flag exceedingly difficult to present to an audience from outside the South–or a lot of audiences within the South.

Now, remember the first part of this post. A lot of the ordinary people who fly the thing choose to remember guys like Cleburne and Lee, who were basically honorable men who served an exceedingly dishonorable cause because they didn’t quite get what cause they were serving. They legitimately don’t see it as a declaration of white supremacy.

“How could they not?” is the cry I hear. Well, if you don’t make a detailed study of Reconstruction, the Klan, the Civil Rights Movement, and hate group symbology, it’s really not that hard. By comparison, it’s kind of like the people who wear Che Guevara t-shirts unironically, without knowing that he was a psychotic failure.

This, however, is countered by the fact that, in the minds of tens of millions of Americans, the Confederate Battle Flag is associated, not unjustifiably, with being a racist jerk.

Let me put it another way. If you didn’t actually bother to read Cleburne’s proposal that I linked to in the previous post, I’m going to give you the opportunity to read it again, because you really should. It’s a masterpiece of writing by one of the most honorable men on the Confederate side of the war as he desperately tries to get the Confederate government to figure out that as long as they continue to support slavery, they will not have independence, and that it would be better to have to deal with four million free blacks rather than to be ruled by the North. The money quote is towards the end of the thing, when he and his co-signers write “It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny…” and, given the rest of the statement, probably actually mean it.

Not in the letter is the part when Cleburne got whacked with the clue-bat of the fact that most of the civilian leadership of the Confederacy really thought that winning the war without slavery wasn’t really better than losing, much like the Battle Flag has come to be a symbol of racism.

If you fly the Confederate flag without racist intent, you are in the role of Patrick Cleburne. You have your own motivations, honorable ones–to honor your kin, or the valiant dead, but in the broader picture you are fighting for a cause unworthy of you.  We should keep it on the battlefields where it flew, and on the memorials for the Confederate dead, and in the living history museums, for under that flag many did not fight to keep the black man in his place, and to eradicate it from those places would be to deny the reality of history.

But keep it out of your yard, unless it is a Confederate cemetery. Keep it off your truck, just in general. There are so many better ways to express defiance of overweening government than to fly the flag of a government that instituted conscription before its opponent did and was based on being tyrannical to a large portion of its populace.

But despite the hypocrisy and opportunism of those denouncing it, despite the hysteria of comparisons to the swastika, despite the fact that many of the people demanding its removal would demand mine if they thought they could get away with it, we should remove the Confederate Battle Flag, in its present form, from anything that is not dedicated to the preservation of history and its memory, for the sake of the public discourse, if nothing else.

As for myself, if I’m going to fly a flag other than the American one, I’d rather it be this one:

We can have the discussion about Constantine later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my brethren in this sign: let this be our banner in all things. Let us never fight for causes that we are better than, but only for causes that we are worse than. For those are the only ones worth fighting for.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

So…About That Flag (Part One)

It’s time for a history post, because there is far too much heat coming into this debate from people whose only exposure to the American Civil War, and its causes and effects is what they got in school or from what they heard on the news or strange websites on the Internet. So, a brief history of the Confederate Battle Flag is in order.

Let’s begin by stating what should be patently obvious: the proximate cause of the American Civil War was slavery. Full stop. Everything else, from tariffs to states’ rights to farm vs. factory, is secondary, and oftentimes caused by the slavery issue.

How do we know this? Well, of the original seven ordinances of secession, two of them, Texas and Alabama, specifically mention issues involving slavery, while Virginia’s alone of the last four states to actually secede did. That is only three of the eleven, but look you further. There were also several Declarations of Causes made as well–those of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas all list slavery as the primary issue involved. So, of the original seven seceding states, five all mention slavery as the primary cause of secession. Florida also had one, but never published it, and while there is economic talk, there’s a lot of slavery talk there. Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina might be able to receive the benefit of the doubt, although support for secession tended to correlate to slaveholding. Louisiana–they didn’t publish anything, but it was one of the epicenters of American chattel slavery. What do you think?

As a side note, by the way, it would be excellent if anyone who is from or whose ancestors were from New England would kindly be silent on the topic of secession. Two words: Hartford Convention.

Anyway, the Confederate Constitution is essentially a copy/paste of the original American one, except with one Presidential term of six years and the direct inclusion of slavery instead of euphemizing it in the hopes that the thing would go away, and explicitly protecting slavery, “negro slavery” in particular. Awkward, that. In fairness to the last four seceding states, they didn’t draft it. They did, however, agree to join it.

Now, here’s the part where things get messy. A lot of Southerners fought for reasons other than slavery, and there’s actually some evidence for this. See Robert E. Lee’s refusal to join until Virginia joined the Confederacy after Lincoln’s post-Fort Sumter call for 75,000 volunteers, after having previously rejected the notion, much as Tennessee did. Which kind of pokes a few holes in the “All for slavery” thing. (Although, again, Upper South vs. Lower South. It’s…complicated. (And some of those holes get patched if you look at the correlation between slavery and secession sentiment.))

Further emphasizing the messiness of this whole thing is the saga of Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and veteran of the British army, who settled in Arkansas, joined the Confederate army in 1861, and became a major general and division commander by the time of his death in the Battle of Franklin in 1864. He had a good reputation, was an excellent battlefield leader–being the only Confederate general to not have his men go into rout at Chattanooga–and could have become a corps commander…had it not been for a proposal he made in January of 1864 to enlist slaves in the Confederate army with the promise of freedom afterward, seeing as the Confederacy was scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel. This was scotched by Confederate President Jefferson Davis the moment he heard of it on the grounds that it would cause dissension–that Davis was one of the largest slaveowners in Mississippi was a coincidence. That Cleburne did not become a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee, a force close to bereft of gifted leadership at that level, was also purely coincidence.

There’s also the issue that most of the men actually toting rifles and muskets weren’t fighting for any particular reason other than that they believed strange men from far-off places were coming down to their homes to coerce them into compliance with unfair laws–or because they believed that the well-being–by which I mean, the “not starving or trapped under mountains of debt”–of their families was at risk. If that first seems unfair to Northerners, please note that to an Alabama or Mississippi backcountry farmer, Tennessee was a ways off–Massachusetts was barely dreamt of. If the second seems like I’m ignoring the fact that the system they were relying on was an oppressive system of human bondage, you might want to look up a lot of the arguments used in the north against the expansion of slavery–one of the biggest ones was that it messed up opportunities for white people. The vast mass of the people, as per usual, were primarily self-interested, even if it was at others’ expense.

Anyway, in 1865, the Confederacy, after a whole lot of angsting and some very telling remarks by several leading politicians about what they thought the war was about–that is, slavery–finally got around to recruiting some black troops, less than a regiment’s worth, in Richmond months after Cleburne’s death, and months too late to do any good to them. The soldiers never saw action, and were disbanded as the Confederacy crumbled that April. Way to not be racist, guys. Only bring in the black people when it’s literally too late to actually get them onto a battlefield.

Anyway, all of that being provided here basically for context, the flag itself was never the official flag of the Confederacy, although two of the three official flags incorporated it. Instead, it is referred to as the Confederate battle flag because it was the basic design carried by the Army of Northern Virginia, which was the most successful of the Southern armies and the one led by Robert E. Lee (see above) for most of the war. By which I mean it didn’t start losing battles until mid-1863, instead of early 1862. It was developed in order to deal with battlefield confusion caused by the similarity of the first official flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, to the Stars and Stripes. Given that, on a battlefield, this could have potentially deadly consequences, it was decided that a flag for the battleground would be in order. So one was created, and the blue St. Andrews Cross with white stars on a red field that we all know and love/despise was born. As a side note, the St. Andrews’ cross, interestingly enough, was supposedly chosen in order to mollify Southern Jews and certain Protestants concerned about the religious iconography of a St. George’s cross. Yeah, just because you’re a jerk in one area of your life doesn’t mean you’re a jerk in all of them.

Well, this is running longer than I anticipated, so there will be a part two tomorrow, wherein I discuss the post-Civil War history of the Confederate Battle Flag

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness