Lest we forget, it has been nineteen years since the film “Gods and Generals” was released to screens across the United States—to be exact, on February 21, 2003—almost ten years after the release of the blockbuster film, “Gettysburg.”
“Gods and Generals” was based on the historical novel by Jeff Shaara, while “Gettysburg” was based on a work by his father, Michael Shaara. An intended third installment, “The Last Full Measure,” which would have carried events of the War Between the States to its conclusion, was shelved after critics savaged “Gods and Generals,” citing what Wikipedia termed its “length, pacing, screenplay, and endorsement of the controversial neo-Confederate ‘Lost Cause’ myth.”
Undoubtedly, “Gods and Generals” is more episodic than its prequel, which indeed centers its action around one pivotal event in the war, the epochal Battle of Gettysburg. And, yes, it is long—the director’s cut is four hours and forty minutes in duration. Yet, “Gettysburg” in its original version is only slightly shorter. But given its thematic unity it succeeds, perhaps, as more theatrical and digestible by a public attuned to simpler plots and more compact storylines. Whereas in “Gettysburg” the viewer watches as events unfold steadily toward an eventual climax that we all know is coming and at the same time manages to engage those who experience it as if—somehow—it is happening now for the first time, “Gods and Generals” is somewhat reminiscent of a mini-series with episodic segments attempting to offer viewers an impression of how the war actually began and how, in its first two years, it was fought.
In a certain sense, then, “Gods and Generals” is akin to a docudrama. I think here of such filmed efforts as “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970) and the two-part drama “Hiroshima” from 1995 (which is over three hours long but in two parts). And I believe this is the best way to judge it and to see it. For throughout its episodic nature it does exactly what it sets out to do—give a broad and panoramic view of major events occurring (albeit mostly in Virginia) in 1861 and 1862 while attempting to infuse life and believability into the history it portrays.
Both films now are roundly condemned as defending “white supremacy” and engaging in “neo-Confederate ideology,” and the celebration of “the myths of the ‘Lost Cause’.” And “Gods and Generals” gets the worst of it. Yet, in many ways, given its unfolding denouement and diverse focus, it succeeds admirably in painting vivid pictures in intimate, and at times endearing, detail of major historical characters.
Some reviewers have written, and I think rightly so, that “Gods and Generals” is in large part a biographical look, a kind of portrayal of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Indeed, much of the film revolves around him, his beliefs, his code of ethics, his brilliant and unparalleled generalship, and his remarkable humanity. Indeed, Stephen Lang’s portrayal of Jackson has been lauded, if begrudgingly, by some reviewers even if they dislike the film.
Then, there is Robert Duvall’s incarnation of Robert E. Lee, and, for me, he simply is Marse Robert, and far more impressive and “real” than Martin Sheen’s assumption in “Gettysburg,” which I found unnatural and too stagey.
I recall viewing the film with friends from work when “Gods and Generals” first showed up in the theaters. Back then we were able to take time off from our jobs to go—but that was 2003, and with the passing of nineteen short years since then I doubt that we could get the same benevolent permission to leave work for such an activity today. And that says a lot—far too much—about how the times and the country have radically changed. From the rumbles of political correctness so visibly apparent, yet not completely dominant, of twenty years ago, to the insane and hysterical full assault on everything, and anything, in and of our Southern heritage, we have descended into a hellish cauldron in which our culture and our people face virtual extinction.
All the more reason to return to films—and they are rare—like “Gods and Generals,” which actually assist us to both see and hear history without the accumulated ideological and poisonous dross that infects almost everything coming out of Hollywood these days. Given the extent of advancing “cancel culture” in our day, we need to treasure films like “Gods and Generals” and “Gettysburg,” as well as others such as “The Conspirator” (2010) and dozens of movies made before this age of cinematic putrefaction.
What I’d like to do, then, following the accusation that “Gods and Generals” is overly long, episodic and perhaps too diffuse, without a certain thematic unity, is to take seven pivotal scenes from the film, each around two or three minutes in length, and offer them in succession (though not necessarily chronologically). Each scene and representation offers, I would suggest, a “key” to the underlying objectives of the movie; that is, what it is attempting to portray, both cinematically and historically. Certainly, there are other significant scenes and moments in a four and half hour film that can be highlighted; but those I have chosen, I believe, are essential in understanding the personalities and critical issues “Gods and Generals” hoped to examine when it appeared in 1993.
So, let’s take a look via YouTube at the scenes I have in mind. Although they take only a total of about 18 minutes, seen in succession they form a natural progression of themes in “Gods and Generals,” and an enticement to go back and spend the time to view the entire film, with perhaps a keener appreciation of its objectives and how they relate to the whole.
First, there is the magnificent scene with Robert E. Lee (played with absolute realism and believability by Robert Duvall), refusing command offered to him of the entire Federal army intended to suppress the “cotton states” and succinctly stating his reasons why (April 1861) (3:55):
Then, in logical order Lee’s acceptance (after he had resigned from the US Army and after Virginia had seceded—so there is absolutely NO question of treason at all) of command of the troops of the independent State of Virginia (2:51):
Both clips in a few well-chosen phrases give the viewer a basic refresher in constitutional theory as understood by the Framers of the Constitution—and enunciated by Lee and the Virginia assembly, essentially framing why there was a war and why Southerner were completely justified in resisting the usurpations of a reckless Federal government, intent on violent anti-constitutional subjugation.
The third clip shows General Jackson before the First Battle of Manassas, invoking the assistance of Almighty God, and connecting the Confederate cause with Godliness and the necessity to defend those God-given rights conferred on his fellow citizens. The YouTube excerpt captures Jackson’s fervent faith, a faith that was shared by his fellow Southerners (1:50):
Now, we see General Jackson’s depth of patriotism and devotion to the Cause, and his comprehension that what the new Confederacy was attempting was truly a “Second War for Independence.” One cannot help but be moved by Jackson’s address to the First Brigade. His words resonate today as they did back then (2:31):
Here we have what we may call the Confederate General Staff as assembled at Fredericksburg for Christmas, 1862. And once again Stonewall Jackson, interacting with a young girl, is moved to encapsulate many of the sincere wishes and longings of Confederates under arms in defense of their homeland and their families (3:29):
Next we have General Lee (Duvall), before the Battle of Fredericksburg, poetically recalling his history, his family, and fundamental beliefs that course in the veins of every thinking Southerner whose memory has not been destroyed or polluted by the dominant American culture (1:10):
As a final scene in my series, and a defiant reminder of the importance of our heritage and our present duty, I pass on perhaps the most inspiring moment in the film—“The Bonnie Blue Flag,” as sung by the assembled Confederates in winter quarters. Even as “Dixie” is, in a sense, “the national anthem of the South,” “The Bonnie Blue Flag” represents an exultant and militant Southland and its citizens, ready always to do their duty to family and country, under the guidance of and obedience to Almighty God (2:28).
Thus my vision of how we can see and comprehend some of major points in “Gods and Generals,” and relate to the film historically, by becoming part of it, seeing with the eyes of its characters and fathoming what they were able to recreate historically. Not just a “re-enactment,” but a window into the lives and minds of our ancestors, and a path to a greater understanding of what they did and why they did it.
This piece was originally published at MyCorner on June 8, 2022.
Increasingly I despair of this country. The more I read and see, the more I am confirmed in my view that the "American Empire" is reaching a final phase and that our "shelf life" is expiring, just as all other great empires—Roman, Ottoman, British—have expired.
I keep coming back to William Butler Yeats' lines (written one-hundred and three years ago, after the cataclysm that was World War I), in his poem, "The Second Coming": "The best lack all conviction; while the worst are filled with passionate intensity." Yet, it is even more tragic, it is no longer a situation of "lacking conviction," but rather the "best" now mimicking the enemies of civilization, the "best" acting as if under hypnosis and acceding to rampant evil with enthusiasm...what a friend of mine calls the "zombiefication" of those who were once charged with defending our culture and civilizational heritage. Now they ape our enemies and fall into line like lemmings.
This has been the response I have gotten from some friends over this Ukraine conflict. Their passion is often clothed in an hysteria that characterizes and shrouds what is occurring. On a more global level, I can cite example after example, from banning "Russian" vodka and banning Russian cats (!), to firing dozens of world-famous Russian classical artists (e.g., Valery Gergiev, Anna Netrebko, etc.), to expunging famous Russian novelists from our university classrooms, to removing Russian-made caviar from U.S. sale, to banning Russian chess players from international competition, to (in Germany) banning the "Z" symbol because in Russia it is similar to "V for victory" (conviction in Deutschland will get you three years in the slammer!)... The list is inexhaustible.
One very ironic example: I listen while I work here on my Desk Top computer to a Sirius XM program, "Symphony Hall." The announcers, especially one Martin Goldsmith on the weekends, search strenuously to find Ukrainian music to program. And, voila! recently he came upon the composer Sergei Bortkiewicz, who happened to be born in Kharkov, then part of the Russian empire and a largely Russian-language city. Bortkiewicz was descended from Polish nobility and was an enthusiastic supporter of Imperial Russia, and he considered himself a true-blue Russian. When the Russian Revolution came, he fled to Western Europe.
Now, here is where it becomes ironic, if not a bit comical. Goldsmith and the other announcers--over the top with their unctuous praise of the "Ukrainian" Bortkiewicz--have been playing his first symphony (several years ago I purchased it, along with several other pieces he wrote--I also read up on his life and music. So, I know something about him and his history). However, much to their surprise at the end of his very listenable and old-fashioned opus Bortkiewicz inserts the clearly-audible strains of the old Tsarist Imperial hymn! It is an indication of Bortkiewicz's steadfast loyalty to old Russia and its imperial system.
Nevertheless, since Bortkiewicz was born in what is now Ukraine his music gets extensive playing time as Goldsmith (and others), who seem ready to weep, hold him up as a noble defender of Ukrainian liberal democracy.
There is even a Youtube video of his Symphony No. 1 being performed by a Ukrainian orchestra, but with the Tsarist anthem at the end excised - censored, if you will! To what lengths blind zealotry and jingoistic nationalism will go.
And these announcers are--at least as far as I can tell--highly educated. But what they are doing is to perpetrate a fraud, with a frenzy and brainless zeal that makes one think, indeed, that my friend's comment about "zombiefication" is right on the mark.
I think it possible to believe that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was ill-advised or wrong, that Putin should not have ordered his troops in. Fine. But this over-the-top, frenzied Russophobia bespeaks something more ominous, about those who engage in it and those who are possessed by it. Could this excess, this mania, be used—just like the COVID epidemic—for ulterior purposes, somehow to advance the objectives of the global Deep State? After all, George Soros from the get go has been an intense cheer-leader and an active player with his various NGOs in what is going on.
And the poor, devastated Ukrainian people? They become the cannon-fodder in this--the Nancy Pelosis and Lindsey Grahams do not, when it comes down to it, really care about them. Like Soros, they have ulterior goals, including regime change in Russia---teaching the Russkies their "place" in the global scheme of things. Using the Ukrainian people as a means to achieve that objective is, for them, a never mind.
That many on "our side" do not see that, do not understand that, saddens me. By all means, criticize Putin for invading, if you wish; but please understand what is actually going on.
Yes, "zombiefication" is a good word here.
My prayer is that soon sane negotiators in Ukraine and Russia will find a solution. Yet, it is evident that our state department neoconservative war hawks do not want peace, but rather to bleed Russia dry and hopefully effect regime change, another "color revolution"--even if it means the death of every Ukrainian citizen to do it!
We live in perilous times when Yeats' words take on a renewed and terrifying meaning.
This piece was previously published on My Corner on April 4, 2022.
Back in early 1981 the brilliant Southern scholar and traditionalist, Professor Mel Bradford, was the leading contender to receive President Ronald Reagan’s nomination as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Bradford was the epitome of the accomplished and erudite academician, yet his deep-rooted Southern and pro-Confederate beliefs disqualified him in the eyes of many national “conservatives” such as George Will and Bill Kristol. Bradford’s worst sin, they asserted, had been that he had harshly (if with laser-like precision and accuracy) criticized the modern icon within the “conservative movement”—Abraham Lincoln.
Bradford’s major accusations were that Lincoln essentially “remade” the American constitutional system, asserting “equality” as the country’s foundational value and enlarging the ultimate power of the federal government at the expense of the states, and, thus, beginning a process of governmental expansion and control that continues largely unabated in our time.
It was largely criticism of Lincoln that became the new bar, the “red line” which one could not violate that doomed Bradford (and ushered in William Bennett at the NEH instead). Since then criticism of Lincoln is not acceptable, not tolerated by mainstream conservatives. Instead, the conservative establishment now heralds such neo- Reconstructionist historians as Allen Guelzo or even Marxist Eric Foner (a favorite of Karl Rove). Any dissent from the virtual canonization of Lincoln in contemporary American society usually comes mostly from Southern traditionalists and their allies, Paleo- (or Old Right) conservatives, who are usually then dismissed or derided by the establishment Republican Party, various pundits on Fox News and the present-day “conservative movement” as reactionary know-nothings, unable to understand the natural evolution of the American republic.
Yet, beyond Lincoln’s role in unleashing the power of an omnipotent federal government, there is another aspect of Lincoln’s background that should worry
Americans—not only Southerners—just as much. It is perhaps the best guarded
confidence in American history. It certainly isn’t something that the dominant “conservative movement” wishes to acknowledge, much less see debated publicly. Yet, the factual record is there for anyone with initiative and curiosity to see for himself: Abraham Lincoln not only had a favorable opinion of Karl Marx and his writings, but was at times sympathetic to socialist policies and ideas.
A few years back (July 27, 2019) a short article by Gillian Brockell appeared in the The Washington Post. Titled, “You know who was into Karl Marx? No, not AOC. Abraham Lincoln,” the author catalogues the connections between Lincoln and Marx, and the list is—or at least should be—alarming for conservative Americans. (I acknowledge my debt to Brockell’s investigative reporting for this article.)
In his first annual message—his first State of the Union address—in December 1861 he ends the address with a peroration on what the Chicago Tribune at the time called a meditation on “capital versus labor.” “Capital is only the fruit of labor,” Lincoln elaborated, “and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
Those words could have come almost directly from Karl Marx, but they were spoken by Lincoln. Fascinating, since the sixteenth president was an avid reader of the father of Marxism and corresponded with him during the War Between the States. Abraham Lincoln was not a declared socialist, certainly not in the modern sense. But Lincoln and Marx — born only nine years apart — were contemporaries. They had many mutual friends, read each other’s work, and, in 1865, exchanged letters.
During his only term in Congress during the late 1840s, Lincoln became a close
associate of New York Daily Tribune editor, Horace Greeley. It was through Greeley’s paper that the ideas and program of the nascent Republican Party were spread. And these were not just the usual anti-slavery slogans we so often hear today when we read of the formation of the party. Often those positions sounded a great deal like socialism, including proposals for the redistribution of land in the American West by the federal government to the poor and emancipated slaves.
At approximately the same moment in time, across the Atlantic Karl Marx was penning his famous text, “The Communist Manifesto” (1848). The failed revolutionary uprising in Germany had compelled Marx to take refuge in England. Hundreds of thousands of other German radicals immigrated to and took refuge in the United States, settling in places like St. Louis, Missouri, where they would play a critical role in later securing that essentially Southern state for the Union in 1861-1862. According to historian Robin Blackburn, in his volume, An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln, Marx even considered immigrating and going west to Texas.
According to Blackburn Marx believed that the two most significant things happening in the world in 1860 were “the movement of the slaves in America started by the death of John Brown, and … the movement of the serfs in Russia.”
In 1852 Charles A. Dana, an avowed socialist and managing editor of the Daily Tribune, hired Marx to be the paper’s English correspondent. Dana had been active previously in the utopian socialist experiment Brook Farm, and he carried his vision of a workingman’s utopia with him. Marx, in exile, was a natural fit as a correspondent, and for the next decade the founder of modern communism authored 500 articles for the New York flagship paper of the Republican Party, many of them front-page editorials formally expressing the journal’s position. And like other contemporary Republicans, Lincoln constantly read the Tribune, and certainly, then, he read and digested the writings of Karl Marx. Indeed, it was the support of the German radical immigrants recently come to American shores and the Tribune that propelled Lincoln to the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.
In 1862 Dana left the Tribune, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton making him Special Commissioner for the operation of the War Department. Essentially, he became “the eyes of the Administration,” as Lincoln called him, with an inordinate influence over the conduct of the War…and over Abraham Lincoln. His opinions were received by the president as gospel, and frequently they mirrored the editorials of Tribune journalist Karl Marx.
After Lincoln’s re-election in November 1864, Marx wrote to him (January 1865) as representative of the International Workingmen’s Association, a group bringing together socialists, communists, anarchists and trade unions, to “congratulate the American people upon your reelection.” Marx continues in his communication: “…the workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working class.”
The president’s response to Marx came by way of his ambassador in London, Charles Francis Adams. Adams declared that Lincoln considered the founder of Marxism to be a “friend” and that he possessed the “sincere and anxious desire that he may be able to prove himself not unworthy of the confidence which has been recently extended to him by his fellow citizens and by so many of the friends of humanity and progress throughout the world.” The Union, Lincoln added, derived “new encouragement to persevere from the testimony of the workingmen of Europe.”
But this was not Lincoln’s only tip of the hat to revolutionary social radicalism. In 1864 he met with the New York Workingmen’s Association where he insisted that “the strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds.”
Of course, Abraham Lincoln never declared himself to be a socialist, and many of his utterances were likely politically-motivated. Yet, he certainly viewed socialists—the workingmen’s unions—as staunch allies in his war against the South. As author John Nichols in his study, The “S” Word: A Short history of American Tradition…Socialism (2015), comments about “the left leanings of founders of the Republican Party”: “…it is indisputable that the Republican Party had at its founding a red streak.”
In spite of the current historical legerdemain and outright falsification of history, Lincoln continued to be an icon of the Left after his death. In the early twentieth century Socialist Party USA leader, Eugene V. Debs, saluted Lincoln as a fellow “revolutionary.” And in the later 1930s American communists flocked to volunteer for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight, they claimed, “against fascism and Francisco Franco” in Spain’s bloody civil war.
One hundred years after Lincoln’s death, in February 1968, in an address praising communist W. E. B. Du Bois, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (reputedly a Republican, like his father) spoke in praise of Lincoln’s Marxist connection: “Abraham Lincoln warmly welcomed the support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and corresponded with him freely. … Our irrational obsessive anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires….”
Every time, then, that a Dinesh D’Souza, Brian Kilmeade or Victor Davis Hanson on Fox News, or a representative of the Claremont Institute praises America’s sixteenth president and claims him for the conservative movement, while condemning those old “racist” Southerners, alarms should sound for genuine believers in the Framers’ Constitution.
This was published on My Corner on March 9, 2022.
Most pundits we see on Fox News or Newsmax these days, or whom we read in the conservative “blogosphere” are confidently predicting huge Republican gains in the November 2022 congressional elections. Based on various national and state polls showing the marked unfavorability of Biden and the Democratic Party, they exude a confidence in this outcome which approaches certainty. All we must do is wait, they assure us, and the scoundrels will be turned out of office.
Let’s suppose that this scenario somehow becomes reality and that Republicans appear to win a majority in the congressional elections this fall (and this despite the certain efforts to rig the vote by Democrats as they did in 2020). But then, following the election result, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her henchmen in the US House of Representatives solemnly declare that perhaps half of the new GOP congressmen were elected based of racist voting procedures and racially gerrymandered and ultra-partisan congressional districts in their respective states which violate the 14th Amendment and various laws and court decisions guaranteeing civil rights.
In other words, the Democratically-controlled House then refuses to seat the newly-elected GOP majority. They are illegitimate, their elections tainted as minority voters in their districts were somehow denied the “equal right to vote.”
So what you would have is the usurpation by a rump, lame-duck congress of power, the denial of the results of the election due to phony charges of "voter suppression,” “discriminatory partisanship," "racist gerrymandering" and the continuation and tightening of Democratic control—the virtual triumph of authoritarianism under the guise of “saving our democracy.”
Think it cannot happen? It can, and it already has occurred in American history, in the immediate congressional and presidential elections following the War Between the States. In the congressional elections of 1866 “most of the congressmen from the former Confederate states were either prevented from leaving the state or were arrested on the way to the capital. A Congress consisting of mostly Radical Republicans sat early in the Capitol and aside from the delegation from Tennessee who were allowed in, the few Southern Congressmen who arrived were not seated.” In that case the question was whether those congressmen-elect had engaged in “insurrection” and sedition. But the precedent was set for Congress to regulate and expel members which it felt in some way had violated the Constitution.
Already across the United States Democratic-front organizations, led by former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, have launched legal action, asserting that newly-drawn districts favoring Republicans violate the Constitution. In North Carolina the 4 to 3 Democratically-controlled Supreme Court just threw out (February 4) proposed congressional and legislative redistricting maps confected by a Republican-majority General Assembly, using the argument that they were overly partisan and also discriminated against Democrats (minorities) by unnecessarily splitting and diluting that vote into Republican districts. Of course, in other “red” states Republicans may prevail and dominate the election, but the legal basis for denying newly-elected GOP congressmen in those states as been established and could well be employed by a lame-duck congress to refuse to seat those representatives.
Of course, this assumes that the foolish GOP can actually win the November congressional elections without committing suicide, which is what they usually end up doing.
Perhaps then, following on the tendentiously ideological "findings" of the January 6 Commission which will surface conveniently prior to the election, the House decides to expel some members who are already in congress (e.g.. Rep Jim Jordan) who supposedly had "contact" with the "insurrectionists." This idea has been raised by general counsel to the Democratic National Committee (and former counsel to Hillary Clinton), Marc Elias, among others.
Indeed, Elias and Democrats have suggested that Congress could possibly expel sitting House Republicans for supporting or encouraging the Jan. 6 “insurrection.” Last year, several Democratic members called for penalizing dozens of current Republicans. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) demanded the disqualification of the 120 House Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), for simply signing an “Friend of the Court” amicus brief in support of an election challenge from Texas.
And a Democrat-related group is challenging North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn's right to run for re-election, because he had "contact" and "encouraged" the "insurrectionists" of January 6. The NC Board of Elections (controlled by Democrats) may in fact disqualify him as a candidate.
All of this could possibly happen with a degree of impunity. Of course, there would be legal action by the Republicans, but that would also signal a constitutional crisis unlike anything since the 1860s. Would the crazed Democrats then enact legislation adding members to the high court? Would Biden, pushed by his even more extreme advisors, declare a national emergency and martial law, as Justin Trudeau has done in Canada? And how would “moderate” Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney react?
I have mentioned this nightmare scenario to several friends who have held high government positions, and they tell me that such a play out is conceivable, given the dominance of extreme ideology in the Democratic Party.
I would add: does anyone believe that the Democrats and leftists who now control congress will give up power voluntarily? If they cannot manipulate the election (like they did in 2020), then what have they got to lose, especially against a spineless GOP?
This piece was previously published on MyCorner.com.
Recently a friend of mine asked me to list my ten favorite films about the South and the War Between the States, and to discuss the reasons I would choose them. I had written several columns in the past about cinema that favorably portrayed the Southland and had dealt fairly with the War Between the States, including, most recently, the delightful early color Bing Crosby vehicle about Dan Emmett and his composition of the unofficial Southern national anthem, “Dixie” (1943), and also about “Firetrail,” on Sherman’s march through the Carolinas. Before that I authored an essay about the classic 1946 title, “Song of the South,” and where to find good DVD copies here in the United States, and, back in 2014, a piece for the Abbeville Institute on “Classic Confederate Hollywood.”
Earlier (July/August 2013) I reviewed a Blu-Ray copy of one of director John Ford’s finest classics, “The Sun Shines Bright” (1953) in Confederate Veteran magazine.
In each of those review essays I cautioned readers to snatch up copies before our modern totalitarian censors got round to interdicting them and locking them up in some inaccessible vault, away from the eyes and ears of viewers. For in contemporary America “cancel culture” has stretched its long tentacles into almost everything that in any way affects us. In a real sense it is the advance phalanx of the Revolution that seeks to completely and radically change our society and simply destroy the very memory of our past. This is true not only in how we examine and study our history, what we read and esteem as great literature, but especially in what is permitted (and what is banned) in our cultural accoutrements—in music, sports, and film.
The controversies over such classic films as “Gone With the Wind” and Disney’s “Song of South” (1946) as racist and examples of “white supremacy” continue to generate discussion and fierce debate. But in many ways, the forces of progressive “wokism” have already been successful. Of course, “Gone With the Wind” is far too significant a film to ban outright, but cautionary messages now surround it, and when it is screened (now uniquely) on TCM, there is always an introduction to let viewers know of its supposedly explicit and contextual racism. For “Song of the South,” once a crown jewel in the Disney film library, it was last dusted off and re-released to theaters in 1986. Disney’s executive chairman and former CEO Bob Iger recently affirmed (2020) during a shareholders meeting that the film would not be released officially in the United States in any format, even with an "outdated cultural depictions" label. The film was, he declared, "not appropriate in today's world." “Song of the South,” he added was “antiquated” and “offensive.”
It is available in some foreign DVD transfers, but most of those in a non-American format. But as I wrote in my Abbeville piece (July 25, 2019) “Song of the South” still can be had here in the United States in a good transfer and in the American DVD format.
There are a number of other films which treat the historic South fairly, even favorably, and which our modern-day cultural totalitarians have either not gotten round to or perhaps don’t realize exist...yet. But they do exist, for the time being, in the DVD format.
To begin our chosen ten, any list of films specifically about the Southern War for Independence must include special mention of director Ronald Maxwell’s two blockbuster extravaganzas: “Gettysburg” (1993) and “Gods and Generals” (2003). Both run in excess of four hours, and both pay minute attention to historical detail, seamlessly weaving in personal vignettes and narratives that might well have occurred at the time. “Gettysburg” is based on Michael Shaara’s historical novel, The Killer Angels, and “Gods and Generals,” on his son Jeff Shaara’s novel of the same name. The younger Shaara’s novel The Last Full Measure was intended to be the basis for the third film in a trilogy, one leading to Appomattox, but never made it to the screen due to lack of funding and faltering interest from Ted Turner and Warner Brothers.
Both films attempt to portray well-known events with comparative fairness, with a degree of objectivity, even sympathy, for the various historical players and their actions. In particular, the character of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, played memorably by Stephen Lang, becomes the central personage in “Gods and Generals,” around which much of its action takes place. “Gettysburg,” despite its length, is a much tighter-knit film, the action and events leading up to the third day of that momentous battle; “Gods and Generals” is more episodic and was criticized for that very reason—it becomes almost a docu-drama in its treatment of the beginning years of the War. Yet, Robert Duvall’s General Lee (preferable to Martin Sheen in “Gettysburg”) and the moving scenes involving the death of “Stonewall” Jackson are not to be missed.
Both films are available singly on Warner DVDs, but my advice is to snatch up the beautiful commemorative box containing both, in director’s cut editions, expensive, yes, but a genuine keepsake.
I’ve always been a fan of the classic American Western film genre, basically from the beginning of the “talkie” era (around 1929) until the early 1970s (with a few exceptions since then). In fact I have written about the classic Western on various occasions, most recently for Chronicles magazine (December 2021) and for the Abbeville Institute, LewRockwell.com, and Reckonin.com.
Over the years I’ve discussed my passion for old Westerns and films about the South with my friend Dr. Clyde Wilson, who is, without doubt, the country’s leading expert on Southern and Confederate-themed films. Some time ago in our discussions of a “Southern canon of best films,” he made an observation that the classic Western in many ways was a “Southern,” in that so many Westerns from even before the advent of the sound era to more contemporary times essentially treat the War or post-War periods with a western twist. Former Confederates go west and fight new battles to open the plains and uplands to settlers and prospectors, fend off rustlers and crooked bank presidents, bring law and order to areas beset by disorder, and sometimes, as in the case of the numerous films about Jesse James and the Youngers, continue fighting the War as guerillas and Border Bushwhackers. Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy, Joel McCrea, and others made dozens of such “Southern Westerns.” And who can forget John Wayne in “The Searchers”?
So a list of good films treating the Confederacy will need to also consider the “Confederacy out West.” Indeed, some the finest movies on the War and its aftermath are set beyond the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, and even California.
Two of the finest are: “Jesse James,” in Technicolor, released in 1939 by 20th Century Fox, and starring some the most notable actors of the period: Tyrone Power as Jesse James, Henry Fonda as his brother Frank, Southerner Randolph Scott as Will Wright, John Carradine as Bob Ford, and the inimitable Henry Hull as Major Rufus Cobb, CSA. Very successful at the box office, 20th Century Fox followed it in 1940 with “The Return of Frank James,” with Fonda, Hull, and Carradine reprising their earlier roles, and directed by Fritz Lang. I must admit that I like “The Return of Frank James” even more than “Jesse James.” There is one scene—it takes place in a court room when Frank goes on trial—where War veteran Colonel Jackson is called to testify. Played by legendary actor, Edward McWade (1865-1943), the unreconstructed colonel humorously taunts the Yankee attorney.
Both “Jesse James” and “The Return of Jesse James” are on 20th Century Fox DVDs.
After their success with the James movies, Fox followed in 1941 with another major Technicolor adventure set in the border Missouri-Kansas region, “Belle Starr – The Bandit Queen.” Featuring Randolph Scott as guerilla leader Sam Starr, Dana Andrews as Yankee Major Thomas Crall, and with Gene Tierney as Belle Starr, it is perhaps the most unabashedly pro-Confederate film of the period. Of course, its depiction of contented slaves and evil carpetbaggers is not acceptable to our “woke” cultural censors these days. Copies can be had in non-USA DVD formats from Great Britain, Spain, and France, but these require a universal or PAL DVD player. But a good American format copy may be obtained from Vermont Movie Store; the DVD print is fine. If you desire a rousing good story, “Belle Starr” fits the bill. Criticized for romanticizing events and distorting history, in the movie’s defense I would reply as did the freedmen at the end of the film: Belle Starr may be largely mythic, but as they explain: “It’s what the white folks call a legend…[and] a legend is the best part of the truth.”
Two fine films are set in the east during the War, and are based on actual—and remarkable—events: “Alvarez Kelly” (1966), starring William Holden and Richard Widmark, and based on General Wade Hampton’s famous “Beefsteak Raid” in September 1864 around Union lines at Petersburg to capture some 2,000 cattle intended for eventual Yankee consumption. Completely successful, even Lincoln remarked that the feat was “the slickest piece of cattle-stealing” he had ever heard of. “Alvarez Kelly” is available on Sony DVDs.
“The Raid,” from 1954 and directed by Hugo Fregonese, is a largely underrated film, portraying the famous and incredibly daring Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont, in October 1864. With a solid cast headed by Van Heflin (as Confederate Major Neal Benton, the leader of the twenty-one raiders), Anne Bancroft, Richard Boone (as the hard-nosed and suspicious Yankee Captain Lionel Foster), and a wonderfully expansive Lee Marvin, whose character hates all Yankees but can’t keep silent when he has a few too many drinks, “The Raid” illustrates the nobility of Major Benton at the end, despite his orders to burn public buildings in the town. “The Raid” is available on a 20th Century Fox DVD.
In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, reaction from the Federals was swift and merciless, and often involved overriding constitutional protections and flagrantly violating settled legal procedure. Such was the case with Mary Surratt. A devout Maryland Catholic and Southern sympathizer, Surratt was caught up in the frenzy to find and severely punish anyone even vaguely associated with the assassins. The story of her arrest, mockery of a trial and execution is told with unfolding intensity in “The Conspirator” (2010), starring Robin Wright (as Surratt), James McAvoy (as Surratt’s attorney, Captain Frederick Aiden), and the fine character actor, Tom Wilkinson, as Senator Reverdy Johnson, who advises Aiken. The Socialist journal, Jacobin, accused the film of promoting the “neo-Confederate Lost Cause.” Nevertheless, the vehemence of the film and its enveloping narrative held me spellbound when I first viewed it. It is available on a Lionsgate DVD.
My two favorite films about the War and the post-War South are both incredibly rich in storylines, plot and finely-etched acting. First, there is the John Ford classic, “The Sun Shines Bright” from 1953. In some ways it is a remake of Ford’s earlier classic, “Judge Priest” from 1934 (starring Will Rogers). Some critics prefer that earlier filmed version of the Irvin S. Cobb short story, but the later version with Charles Winninger’s inimitable portrayal as the judge for me is supreme.
Of all his great films—including “Stagecoach,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “My Darling Clementine,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” and “The Searchers”—Ford cited this one as his favorite. It combines all his classic traits—humor, pathos, well-developed characterization, an ensemble cast that worked effortlessly together, and something of Ford’s almost spiritual understanding of Americana, in this case the South after the War. The scene of the UCV veterans trooping past at the end is always memorable.
A marvelous, restored Blu-Ray version of “The Sun Shines Bright” was issued by Olive Films in 2013, and I would urge anyone interested in great-filmmaking and the post-War South to get this film.
And, lastly, an unheralded and unjustly neglected film in the Errol Flynn filmography: “Rocky Mountain,” from 1950. Of all the films I’ve cited, this one may be the most straightforward, major pro-Confederate cinematic release available. Set in the mountains of California in the waning days of the War, the story recounts the history and fate of a small eight-member band of Confederate soldiers sent west to raise Confederate supporters in that Pacific state. From the start it becomes a forlorn mission, supremely heroic but destined to fail. Starring Flynn (as CSA Captain Lafe Barstow) and Patrice Wymore (as Johanna Carter), the film also stars Slim Pickens, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, and other actors from Warner Brothers’ stable. During the movie, each of the Confederates, who were specially chosen for this impossible task, relates his history and background. Young Dickie Jones’ story of serving a meal for General Lee and about his little dog Spot, who came with him from Virginia, steal the show. And at the end, those eight Confederates, beset by hundreds of Shoshone Indians make one final, death-defying charge…so impressive and so moving, that even the approaching Yankee detachment salutes their fallen sacrifice, as the swelling strains of “Dixie” echo. And Spot? At the very end that little canine literally has tears in his eyes!
The first time I saw it was with a friend, and we both had drunk a couple of shots of Tennessee Bourbon. I will admit that by the end of the movie we both had tears streaming down our faces.
“Rocky Mountain” (it’s in black and white) is available on Warner Archive DVD.
That’s actually eleven films, but there are many more out there, and many more that I could list. But for the moment, this will have to do. My hope is that good Southerners interested in their history and great cinema will purchase these and other such films. In our present age, there is no telling if they will be around tomorrow. Share them with your family and your friends, and by so doing keep our rich cultural heritage alive.
As is my custom, each year for the Federal holiday celebrating Martin Luther King (whose birth date in January 15), I send out a cautionary essay I first began researching back in 2018. What I was attempting to do was urgently remind readers, specifically so-called “conservatives,” that King and his holiday are emblematic of the ongoing radical transformation of the American republic: the mindless canonization and glorification of King, especially by the conservative movement, only advances this project. And the fact that most Republicans and “conservatives” now buy into it illustrates their puerility and abject surrender to a Leftist agenda. The resulting revolutionary destruction of the United States, our traditions, and our history cannot be overstated.
For in placing King and his legacy on a pedestal, alongside George Washington or Ronald Reagan, conservatives—whether they intend to or not—buy into that radical agenda. You simply cannot create a legitimate opposition to the madness that currently afflicts us by accepting the essential principles and foundation of our enemies.
King is now the salutary, untouchable, indeed, indisputably holy and magical American talisman—an Icon—whose legacy cannot and must not be questioned. To do so means you are by definition a “racist,” a “white supremacist,” probably a “fascist,” as well. And from the usual Progressivist voices to almost the entirety of the pundits on FOX (can you find an exception?) and in the Establishment conservative media, King is the newest Founding Father who confirms the imposed narrative that “America was founded on the ‘proposition’ of Equality’.” The problem, however, is that this historical template is false, undone by a serious and thorough examination of history and the documentation available. But it is used by both the Progressivists AND the “Movement Conservative” advocates to advance an agenda that in the end leads irreversibly Left…and the destruction of our Western civilization.
Once again on the third Monday of January, Federal and state offices and many businesses either close or go on limited schedules due to Martin Luther King Day. We are awash with public observances, parades, prayer breakfasts, stepped-up school projects for our unwary and intellectually-abused children, and gobs and gobs of over-the-top television “specials” and movies, all geared to tell us—to shout it in our faces, if we don’t pay strict attention—that King was some sort of superhuman, semi-divine civil rights leader who brought the promise of equality to millions of Americans, a kind of modern St. John the Baptist ushering in the Millennium. And that he stands just below Jesus Christ in the pantheon of revered and adored historical personages…and in some ways, perhaps above Jesus Christ in the minds of many of his present-day devotees and epigones.
It may seem to do no good to issue a demurrer to this veritable religious “cult of Dr. King.” There are, indeed, numerous “Christian” churches that now “celebrate” this day just as if it were a major feast in the Christian calendar. In short, Martin Luther King has received de facto canonization religiously and in the public mind as no other person in American history.
Mention the fact that King probably plagiarized as much as 40 % of his Boston University Ph.D. dissertation [cf. Theodore Pappas, Plagiarism and the Culture War: The Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr, and Other Prominent Americans, 1998 and Martin Luther King Jr Plagiarism Story, 1994], or that he worked closely with known Communists throughout his life, or that he advocated American defeat in Vietnam while praising Ho Chi Minh, or that he implicitly countenanced violence and Marxism, especially later in his life [cf., Congressional Record, 129, no. 130 (October 3, 1983): S13452-S13461]—mention any of these accusations confirmed begrudgingly by his establishment biographers David Garrow and Taylor Branch, or mention his even-by-current-standards violent “rough sex” escapades which apparently involved even under-agers (cf., Cooper Sterling, VDare.com, January 13, 2018) and you immediately get labeled a “racist” and condemned by not just the zealous King flame-keepers on the Left, but by such “racially acceptable” Neoconservatives as Brian Kilmeade and Dinesh D’Souza who supposedly are on the Right.
Indeed, in some ways Establishment “conservatives” such as Kilmeade, Rich Lowry (National Review), D’Souza, Glenn Beck, the talking heads on Fox, and many others, not only eagerly buy into this narrative, they now have converted King into a full-fledged, card-carrying member of “Conservatism Inc.”—the (contemporary) “conservative movement”—a “plaster saint” iconized as literally no one else in our history.
Celebrating King becomes a means for these ersatz conservatives to demonstrate their “civil rights” and “egalitarian” bona fides. The Neoconservatives—who dominate modern conservatism—with their philosophical and ideological origins over on the Trotskyite Left of the 1930s and 1940s, when they made their pilgrimage towards conservatism in the 1960s and 1970s brought with them a fervent believe in a globalist New World Order egalitarianism that characterized Trotskyite Marxist ideology, and the determination to redefine and re-orient the traditional American Rightwing, and to re-write, as well, American history.
Thus, the purges of the old conservative movement in the 1980s and 1990s—there was no room for Southern conservatives like Mel Bradford, no room for traditionalist Catholics like Frederick Wilhelmsen or Brent Bozell Sr., no room for paleo-libertarians like Murray Rothbard, no room for Old Right anti-egalitarians like Paul Gottfried, and no room for “America Firsters” like Pat Buchanan…And those traditional conservatives who were too significant in the “pantheon of greats,” like a Russell Kirk, they attempted to simply whitewash and give them new, cleaned up images and identities (part and parcel of their “rewriting” of conservatism). Thus, Kirk’s opposition to the civil rights bills of the 1960s and 1970s, his staunch arguments against egalitarianism, his willingness to debate cognitive disparities between the races (publishing, for example, reviews of Dr. Audrey M. Shuey’s study, The Testing of Negro Intelligence, in his publication, The University Bookman--I know, as I was there in Mecosta, Michigan, working as his assistant when it happened) are all swept under the carpet or carefully ignored.
In this, in fact, the dominant Neocons have joined with their cousins on the “farther Left,” to the point that Bush consultant guru and Fox pundit, Karl Rove, could boast that hardcore Marxist/Communist anti-South historian Eric Foner (who lamented the collapse of Soviet Communism) was his favorite historian (when examining Reconstruction) (See Dr. Paul Gottfried’s incisive critique of Foner and those “conservatives” who have praised him, “Guilt Trip,” The American Conservative,” May 4, 2009, pp. 21-23). And now neo-Reconstruction historian Allen Guelzo is warmly welcomed in the pages of establishment mainstream “conservative” publications.
King Day has become, then, for the Conservative Movement an opportunity for it to beat its chest, brag about its commitment to civil rights and the American “dream,” the unrealized idea of equality (that is, to distort and re-write the history of the American Founding), and to protect its left flank against the ever increasing charges that it could be, just might be, maybe is—“racist” or “white supremacist.”
And for the “farther Left,” that catapulting cultural “woke” juggernaut that continues to move the societal and political goalposts to the Left, King Day becomes as a major ideological blitzkrieg, a weaponized cudgel used to strike down and silence anyone, anywhere, who might offer the slightest dissent to the latest barbarity and latest “advance” in civil rights, now expanded to include not just everything “racial,” but also same sex marriage, transgenderism and abortion on demand. Martin Luther King–that deeply and irredeemably flawed and fraudulent figure imposed upon us and our consciousness—has become an icon, a totem, who serves in martyred death the purposes of continuing Revolution.
The heavily-documented literature detailing the real Martin Luther King is abundant and remains uncontroverted and basically uncontested. During the debates over establishing a national “King Day” in the mid-1980s, Senators Jesse Helms and John East (both North Carolinians) led the opposition, supplying the Congress and the nation, and anyone with eyes to read, full accounts of the “King legacy,” from his close association and collaboration with the Communist Party USA to his advocacy of violence and support for the Communists in North Vietnam, to implicit support for Marxist revolution domestically. Ironically, it was Robert Woodson, a noted black Republican, who highlighted in a lecture given to honor the “conservative virtues” of King at the Heritage Foundation on November 5, 1993, the difficulties in getting black advocates of the older generation to respect King’s role as a Civil Rights leader. According to Woodson, as quoted in an excellent essay by Paul Gottfried,
“…when Dr. King tried to bring the Civil Rights movement together with the [Marxist] peace movement, it was Carl Rowan who characterized King as a Communist, not Ronald Reagan. I remember being on the dais of the NAACP banquet in Darby, Pennsylvania when Roy Wilkins soundly castigated King for this position.” [Paul Gottfried, “The Cult of St. Martin Luther King – A Loyalty Test for Careerist Conservatives?” January 16, 2012]
Indeed, as reported by The Washington Post, at a celebration of the life of W.E.B. Du Bois at Carnegie Hall in February 1968, King, while praising the co-founder of the NAACP who became a Communist in his later years, declared that America was possessed of an “irrational obsessive anti-communism.”
But not only that, behind the scenes there were voluminous secretly-made FBI recordings and accounts of King’s violent sexual escapades, often times with more than two or three others involved in such “rough sex” trysts; and of his near total hypocrisy when discussing civil rights and other prominent civil rights leaders. It is, to put it mildly, a sorry record, scandalous even by today’s standards…Indeed, King makes Harvey Weinstein look like a meek choirboy in comparison.
But you won’t hear any of that mentioned by the falling-all-over-itself Mainstream Media or the media mavens on Fox. In fact, such comments will get you exiled to the far reaches of the Gobi Desert and labeled a “racist,” quicker that my cocker spaniel gobbles down his kibble.
Rather than rehash and restate all the various accusations, backed up with substantial and overwhelming documentation, let me offer something of an annotated bibliography and history of MLK Day. Almost all the material is now available and accessible online, including material from the Congressional Record.
First, essential to understanding the background of just how we got King Day, the late Dr. Samuel Francis’s account is critical. Originally written to preface the publication of voluminous testimony and documentation placed in the Congressional Record by Senator Helms, Francis’s essay and the Helms’ dossier were eventually published in book form. A few years back Dr. Francis’s introduction and his detailed background essay and the lengthy Congressional Record material (which he prepared for Helms) were put online. For a complete understanding of King’s association and cooperation with American Communists and his endorsement of Vietnamese Communism, as well as his putative endorsement of Marxism here in the United States while condemning the free enterprise system, these two items are essential reading:
Dr. Samuel Francis, “The King Holiday and Its Meaning,” February 26, 2015.
Dr. Samuel Francis, “Remarks of Senator Jesse Helms. Congressional Quarterly,” February 26, 2005.
To fully understand the serious plagiarism charges leveled against King and the academic and politically-correct skullduggery that surrounded Boston University’s decision not to rescind his doctoral degree, Theodore Pappas’s two detailed studies, cited above, offer fascinating and scandalously revealing details. But other writers, also, upon cursory examination, have found numerous other instances of his plagiarism.
Remember the “I Have a Dream” speech? Well, as Jim Goad wrote in Takimag back in 2012:
“…the immortalized in MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the part where he beseeches God…to “Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.” King stole that passage about Stone Mountain from a 1952 oratory delivered by another black preacher at the Republican National Convention. He also allegedly plagiarized parts of the first public sermon he ever delivered back in 1947.” [Jim Goad, “I’m So Bored with MLK,” Takimag, January 16, 2012]
But, say the Neocon scribblers at National Review and the pundits on Fox, wasn’t King really a conservative at heart, an old-fashioned black Baptist who believed in the tenets of traditional Christianity? Shouldn’t we simply overlook these all-too-human foibles?
To answer that I should mention VDare editor Peter Brimelow’s superb essay which offers additional insight on the King Day holiday and which summarizes much of the information, ideological uses, and controversy surrounding him and his holiday. It was originally published in 2015, but he has republished it each year to coincide with this annual national paroxysm: “ ‘Time To Rethink Martin Luther King Day’–The 2017 Edition.”
Finally, I can think of no better summation of the real meaning of King Day and its bare-knuckled ideological use to deconstruct, dissolve and obliterate American traditions and heritage than to cite, again, Sam Francis:
“[T]he true meaning of the holiday is that it serves to legitimize the radical social and political agenda that King himself favored and to delegitimize traditional American social and cultural institutions—not simply those that supported racial segregation but also those that support a free market economy, an anti-communist foreign policy, and a constitutional system that restrains the power of the state rather than one that centralizes and expands power for the reconstruction of society and the redistribution of wealth. In this sense, the campaign to enact the legal public holiday in honor of Martin Luther King was a small first step on the long march to revolution, a charter by which that revolution is justified as the true and ultimate meaning of the American identity. In this sense, and also in King’s own sense, as he defined it in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, the Declaration of Independence becomes a “promissory note” by which the state is authorized to pursue social and economic egalitarianism as its mission, and all institutions and values that fail to reflect the dominance of equality—racial, cultural, national, economic, political, and social—must be overcome and discarded.
“By placing King—and therefore his own radical ideology of social transformation and reconstruction—into the central pantheon of American history, the King holiday provides a green light by which the revolutionary process of transformation and reconstruction can charge full speed ahead. Moreover, by placing King at the center of the American national pantheon, the holiday also serves to undermine any argument against the revolutionary political agenda that it has come to symbolize. Having promoted or accepted the symbol of the new dogma as a defining—perhaps the defining—icon of the American political order, those who oppose the revolutionary agenda the symbol represents have little ground to resist that agenda.” [January 16, 2006]
I will not be celebrating this day; rather, it is for me a mournful reminder of what has happened and is happening to this country.
This post was previously published on MyCorner.
It seems that every day brings news of an additional collapse of our inherited institutions and culture—our politics give off the stench of gross amorality, our schools and universities have become the playground for evil indoctrination, our so-called entertainment drowns us in filth of the worst kind. Angry divorce, widespread abortion, “gender fluidity,” and every perversion imaginable wrack our society and infect our souls and the souls of our children. Our supposed guardians are rather become as minions of what can only be described as the rising globalist Antichrist which seeks to reverse two-thousand years of Christianity and the culture that it produced.
Yet, we recall the promises of Our Lord and the eternal Hope that He inspires within us. And that Hope which buttresses and supports our Faith will never leave us, if we cling to it manfully.
Thus, despite the woes around us, in our expectation of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, our hearts and minds are filled with anticipation and scarcely concealed joy as we await the memorialization and recreation of that ineffable Event—unimaginable in human terms—that forever changed human history.
The sin of Adam—Original Sin—affected all mankind and left descendants marked, indelibly stained by that original fault. Adam’s sin was a form of disobedience, but a disobedience so grave and monumental against God’s Creation, that only the Coming of the Messiah, the Second Person of the Trinity of the Godhead, could repair it. And the Son of God would be Incarnate in a woman who would be pure and herself immaculate, untouched by the inheritance of sinfulness (by the merits of her Son). Only such a pure womb would be fitting for the Incarnate God. And only the Incarnation into one of His creatures would serve the purpose of demonstrating that Our Blessed Saviour would come to us, not only as God, but also in the form of Man—this was fitting because it was to Mankind that He was sent.
For hundreds of years the People of Israel had awaited the coming of a Messiah to lead them, to liberate them and, if you will, to repair Adam’s Fall. But this vision—whether expressed in the revolts of the Maccabees or in later violent episodes like the revolt of Simon bar Kokhba against the Romans (132 A.D.)—implied not just satisfaction for sinful ways, but increasingly the establishment of an earthly and insular kingdom for and of the Hebrews.
And although Our Lord and Saviour indeed came first to the Jews, and offered them His reparative Grace and Salvation, it was by no means to be limited to them. Indeed, His message was universal (as it had been to Abraham). And those Hebrews who accepted the Messiah—and those gentiles who also joined them—became the Church, the “New” Israel, receptor of God’s Grace and holder of His Promises and carrier of His Light unto all the world.
While a majority of old Israel rejected Our Lord, demanding His Crucifixion before Pilate, those who followed Him and believed in Him entered the New Covenant, a New Testament. It is in this sense that the Christian church inherited the promises of Israel and the Old Testament, and fulfilled those prophesies. And that fulfillment continues.
St. Paul in his Epistle to Titus [2:11-15] summarizes both the dazzling and miraculous wonder of Our Saviour’s Grace amongst us and its inexhaustible power to transform us, as we await His final Coming in Glory: “The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to Himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak and exhort: in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We—the Christian church, those chosen out of Grace who accept God’s gifts—are in a journey to that final day when Our Lord will return. We have been given for that journey the armament of Our Lord’s graces in the Sacraments, and through His love, our Faith and a Hope that whenever we are tempted to despair, pulls us back and redirects our vision.
Years ago when I was doing my doctoral work in Pamplona (Navarra), Spain, I had several dear friends. One of them, by name Teofilo Andueza, although he and wife lived in the city, kept his family’s ancestral home and farm up in the Pyrenees Mountains. On numerous Saturdays we would travel out there; the women would busy themselves in the kitchen to prepare roasted lamb chops, pork shoulder, “patatas fritas,” various “ensaladas mixtas,” all sorts of desserts (flan and pastries), and, of course, there would be plenty of Rioja wine and cognac. After eating—which usually continued off and on for most of the day—we men would sit and smoke some “puros” (Cuban cigars—well, I didn’t worry about THAT aspect of Cuban Communism back then!).
I remember on one occasion Teofilo took me up to the crest of a nearby mountain; below we could see the city of Pamplona, as he related how in 1875 the city was occupied by “liberals” who supported the central and centralizing government in Madrid, but that elsewhere in all of Navarra, in every rural village and small hamlet, the people had risen up as one under the military banner of “God – Country – States’ Rights – and the Rightful King” (against the liberal king then installed in Madrid, the nation’s capital). In July 1936 Teofilo, his father, and his elderly grandfather (who as a young teen had joined the earlier Traditionalist rising sixty years earlier) all volunteered to fight under that same banner, the standard of the Traditionalist Carlist Communion against the secularist and socialist Spanish Republic (which is so loved by the establishment far Left and Neoconservatives these days).
Like his grandfather in 1875, Teofilo was barely 16 when he enlisted in 1936. And while his grandfather was too old to see active, front line combat in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 (serving in medical rear-guard duty), Teofilo saw combat in some of the fiercest battles against the Red Republic and marched in the Victory parade in Madrid in 1939.
But like my other Carlist Traditionalist friends—who were termed “Intransigentes” by more moderate (and compromising) partisans on the Right—Teofilo believed that Francisco Franco had not carried through with the actual re-establishment of a Christian kingdom as promised—too many foreign influences, too many compromises, and, lastly, opening the door in 1953 to all the worst aspects of American commercialism and cultural decay. The national reawakening promised in 1939 had not taken place, its fruits dispersed, and in exchange, Spanish society had increasingly accepted the worst features of American mass culture and secularist thinking.
At the top of that mountain crest, as we looked down at Pamplona, Teofilo became emotional. “My grandfather fought against that liberal contagion 100 years ago,” he exclaimed. “And in 1936 three generations of my family dropped everything and went to war against the communists and socialists, to a crusade for Christ the King—that He might reign in society.” And then, he turned to me, took me firmly by the shoulder, and said: “And now, if it were just you and me—and we were on God’s side—once again we would be victorious, for even if we are only two, nothing is impossible to men if they fight on God’s side!”
I have remembered that incident constantly over the years, especially when things appear dark or despairing. For not only did Grace and Salvation and the Healing for sin come into the world in a humble Cradle in Bethlehem a little over 2,000 years ago, but Hope came also. And it buoys us up, gives us balance and equilibrium, and acts as “Faith’s Sentry” to protect our Faith from harm and the threat of despair and apostasy.
In the year 312 A.D., facing an immense military challenge, the Roman Emperor Constantine prayed to the Christian God, asking what he should do. As related in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, he had grave doubts about the traditional Roman gods. He prayed earnestly that the Christian God would “reveal to him who he is, and stretch forth his right hand to help him.” His prayer changed the course of human history. The answer came in a vision of a Cross emblazoned across the noonday sky, and upon it the inscription read: “In hoc signo vinces”—By this sign you shall be victorious. The emperor then ordered that his soldiers have the Christian cross inscribed on their shields.
Victorious at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine then issued orders that the Christian church was to be fully free in its mission and the exercise of its functions. Although he did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire, Constantine bestowed favors on it, built places of worship for Christians, and presided over the first general church council. He became the first emperor to embrace Christianity and was baptized on his death bed. In less than 300 years the faith of Christ born in humble surroundings in remote Judaea and persecuted mercilessly and ruthlessly, nourished by the blood or martyrs, now emerged from the catacombs, triumphant, a light unto the pagans, to continue its salvific mission.
Is this not the power of Faith supported by Hope? That even if we be in the catacombs, even if we see our civilization and culture coming apart at the seams, even if we see the Church subverted and false prophets in positions of immense authority preaching false doctrines—even in these circumstances, if we hold “fortes in Fide,” firm and militant in the faith, bolstered by the Virtue of Hope, Faith’s Sentry, Christ the King will be victorious.
So, then, as we approach the Holy Day of indescribable joy, we know with assurance that the ineffable Gift from God of salvation and forgiveness is ours, and that no one can take our Faith from us, buoyed, as it is, by the unbreakable assurance of Hope—which came to us that Christmas so long ago.
“Even if it were just you and me—and we were on God’s side—once again we would be victorious, for even if we are only two, nothing is impossible to men if they fight on God’s side!”
Saving Grace entered the world two millennia ago, and with it the Hope we possess. And there are broad smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Merry and Blessed Christmas!
This post was published on My Corner on December 23, 2021.
Although Hollywood is now considered a monolithic bastion of leftist and “woke” political and cultural sentiment with almost no dissent tolerated, it was not always that way, at least not to the degree that exists today. Go back sixty years ago, and that progressivist uniformity was not as apparent.
Certainly, “Tinseltown” was never a haven for conservative and traditionalist cinema, actors, and screen writers, but back then to be on the Right and practicing a career in movies was not a rare oddity like it is in 2021. In particular, the sub-genre of Westerns, during its heyday on the big screen from the 1920s until the mid-1960s, was dominated by actors identifiably conservative.
Indeed, most of Hollywood’s leading Western and cowboy actors have been politically conservative, and quite a few have been Southerners. It is well known that John Wayne was a conservative, strongly supporting United States forces in Vietnam (recall his film, “The Green Berets”), and often supporting Republican candidates. But many other prominent Western actors were also on the right.
A short list would include: Joel McCrea (a Goldwater and Reagan supporter), Randolph Scott (a staunch conservative and Reagan supporter originally from Charlotte, N.C., who attended the 1964 Republican Convention as a Goldwater delegate), Audie Murphy (a Texan, life member of the NRA), Roy Rogers and Gene Autry (both conservative Christians), John Payne (a native Virginian and staunch Goldwater conservative), Alan Ladd (a Republican and native of Arkansas), Charlton Heston (a former president of the NRA), Ronald Reagan, Glenn Ford, Ward Bond, Jimmy Stewart (a regular contributor to the political campaigns of Senator Jesse Helms), Ben Johnson (who refused to act in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show,” until nudity and bad language were removed), Gary Cooper (a convert to the Catholic Church, who supported Nixon in 1960), George “Gabby” Hayes (a John Bircher, the quintessential cowboy sidekick, whose famous full beard and tattered hat identified him for several generations of Western-watchers), Walter Brennan (thrice-winning Academy Award winner whose staunch conservatism led him to co-chair the California state campaign for George Wallace in 1968), and Chill Wills (the noted Western character actor who was the other California Wallace co-chair in 1968).
And there were others that we might recall from those days of yesteryear.
In more recent times, such noted actors as Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck (another past president of the NRA), and Kevin Sorbo, have continued the rightward tendency among actors who act in oaters.
Various reasons have been adduced for the prevalence of conservatives in Westerns, in an industry that otherwise leans strongly to the left. The fact that many of them came from the traditional South or from rural areas may have had some influence. Few came from urban areas like New York, and if they came from California, it was an older California, one that was still capable of electing Ronald Reagan governor and right wingers like “Bomber Bob” Dornan or John Schmitz to Congress.
Most major studios from the 1930s to the 1950s maintained separate facilities—“ranches”—set away from major production centers, where Westerns were shot and produced. Western actors and, to some degree, their directors and producers, tended to be separated from other film-making. It was no accident that the great director John Ford (an early supporter of Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” who became a fervent Nixon and Goldwater supporter), when asked once what he did, responded, “I make Westerns.” Of course, Ford made movies in other genres, but he is most widely known for his superb Westerns. He had his own “stock company” of veterans and regulars who showed up in picture after picture that he directed. His genius was in securing the very best in ensemble acting carried to perfection over and over again. Those actors who appeared in Westerns generally made it a habit.
Some of the smaller studios, especially Republic and Monogram (later Allied Artists) concentrated on the genre, and turned out what are commonly termed “B Westerns”; they featured a recurring star (perhaps with a sidekick), were about an hour long, and normally appeared as the second half of a double bill. Too often film critics dismiss these B Westerns as “kiddie flicks,” but the truth is that many of these films were truly stylish, high level products. Thus, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Gene Autry, Wild Bill Elliott, and Roy Rogers made Republic a real player at the box-office.
Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, and Guy Madison did the same for Monogram/Allied Artists. Other studios, like Columbia and RKO, produced numerous B Western series until the early 1950s, showcasing actors like Charles Starrett (“The Durango Kid”) and Tim Holt. The end of the series Bs did not end the popularity of the genre. Both Columbia and Universal-International continued releasing higher quality, longer films, usually in color, in the 1950s, often spotlighting bigger-name stars such as Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott, or Joel McCrea. These studios used the Western as their bread-and-butter producer when major features failed to make money. In most cases, there was a virtual segregation between Westerns and other fare, a separation which may have affected the ambience in which they were made.
The very nature of the Western sub-genre has had a significant influence in attracting certain types of actors to it. Westerns traditionally expressed the purest form of “good vs. evil.” Even in the more conflicted, morally blurred years of the later 1960s and 1970s, the few Westerns that were made seemed to never lose sight of that essential conflict. Indeed, the paucity of films in the genre during the last thirty years is the clearest indication that the Western as a clear-sighted vehicle for representing society’s conception of itself and its frontier past has fallen on hard times. Too many heroes in white hats and too strong an identification with a triumphant—and white—country, subduing all before it, doesn’t offer the best medium for representing the morally conflicted and self-loathing America of the 21st century.
The late Southern historian, biographer, and political thinker, Mel Bradford, once explained, during a conference of former Richard Weaver fellows, that the 1948 Howard Hawks classic, “Red River,” starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, encapsulated the history of the West and of America as it expanded to the Pacific, its struggle to overcome both natural and human obstacles, its resilience, its quest to establish law and order in the wilderness, and its abiding faith in Providence.
And that men, in whatever station in life they find themselves, are obliged to assume and fulfill the duty which falls to them.
That put me in mind of a film I had seen many years ago with my father: Sam Peckinpah’s classic, “Ride the High Country.” It co-starred two legendary veteran cowpokes, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea. It was the last film that Randy Scott would make. At the time, he refused additional roles, declaring that “the movies have become too filthy”—and that was in 1962! McCrea still had one major outing (“Mustang Country,” 1976) and a couple of cameos before laying down his spurs, but essentially, like Scott, this was his last major role.
In a real sense “Ride the High Country” symbolized what was happening to America, foreshadowing in a way, and warning of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s and the ravages on the horizon which would follow.
Two old-timers, retired lawmen played by Scott and McCrea, undertake one last, one final task: to travel up in the Sierras and bring down a shipment of freshly-mined gold. Various, sometimes amusing sub-plots ensue involving a young Mariette Hartley, James Drury (later of “The Virginian”), Edgar Buchanan, R. G. Armstrong, and Warren Oates. All along Scott’s character, Gil Westrum, is planning to take the gold for himself, and on the return journey down the mountains he tries to convince his partner, Steve Judd (McCrea), to join him. For Judd, this assignment, this duty, has helped restore his self-respect. When Westrum asks him if he doesn’t desire more, he responds: “All I want to do is enter my house justified.” Let me do my duty before God and man, let me be faithful to my charge this one last time.
And in the end when Steve Judd is jumped by robbers, Westrum, who had gone on the lam, returns to assist his mortally wounded partner. When Gil pledges to take care of everything just like he would have, Judd says, "Hell, I know that. I always did. You just forgot it for a while, that's all." Judd casts a final look back towards the magnificent high country of the Sierras, as if to look back at a better America, and then dies.
It was 1962, and one month before “Ride he High Country’s” release in theaters General Douglas McArthur had delivered his famous “Duty, Honor, Country” speech to the cadets at West Point: “…those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn....”
Now, fifty-nine years later, duty has been replaced by the never-ending clamor and incessant demand for “rights”; honor has become an outmoded concept; and the country we once loved has been riven and violently split apart by fanatics who dominate our politics, our schools and colleges, and our entertainment.
The Western as a vehicle of our explaining to ourselves who we were—and “remembering who we are,” to use Bradford’s expression—no longer occupies the didactic role it once did. Boys no longer wish to grow up modeled on a straight-arrow Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy; they don’t even know who Autry and Hopalong were. A hero-inspired “code of behavior”? Not in the age of “The Bachelorette” or the barely R-rated movies and TV programs that too many parents allow their children to view these days.
In 1974 the country/Western vocal group, the Statler Brothers, released their single, “Whatever happened to Randolph Scott?” Through its lyrics and music, they expressed the feelings of many Americans:
“Everybody knows when you go to the show
You can't take the kids along
You've gotta read the paper and know the code
Of G, PG and R and X
You gotta know what the movie's about
Before you even go
Tex Ritter's gone and Disney's dead
The screen is filled with sex.
“Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
Ridin' the range alone
Whatever happened to Gene and Tex
And Roy and Rex, the Durango Kid
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
His horse, plain as can be
Whatever happened to Randolph Scott
Has happened to the best of me.
“Whatever happened to all of these
Has happened to the best of me.”
More recently director Quentin Tarantino, not known for engaging in cinematic nostalgia, examines the virtual disappearance of the classic Western as a theme for his 2019 film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which becomes a vehicle to illustrate what was going on in American filmmaking (and in America at large) in the chaotic 1960s. Set in 1969 Hollywood it follows the fading career of once-popular Western star Rick Dalton and his best friend, Cliff Booth, his stunt-double, both of whom are forced to look for lesser roles in an industry that seemed now to shun the kind of good vs. evil oaters that a Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea made between 1930 and 1962. In a real sense the Dalton and Booth characters must navigate a transition period which saw the country itself change radically. Throughout Tarantino employs bits of period nostalgia, from music to iconography, memories of what was being lost.
Yet, the Western has never completely disappeared from the big screen. “Silverado,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Tombstone,” and “Open Range” have illustrated that point. The success of TV’s “Lonesome Dove” proved that there is still life yet in the genre, and the Encore Westerns channel continues to be one of the more popular cable and satellite channels.
Perhaps it is the desire for clear-cut moral choices, the desire to recover some of the certainty that has departed from our culture, which attracts new generations of viewers. Perhaps it is the need to rediscover an American past that, after all, may be partly mythic, but mythic in the very best and most honorable sense of that word. Indeed, did not John Ford in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” have his newspaper editor tell Jimmy Stewart: “This is the West, Sir; when legend becomes fact, print the legend”?
Perhaps it is the Western’s celebration of American tradition, with its mixture of both truth and myth, which may beckon to a future generation of converts. Despite “cancel culture” and its terrifying destructiveness, those who dare to take a look back at some of the great cinematic works of our past will see a rich artistic patrimony worthy of emulation, with actors who largely believed in the principles their films convey.
And then, like Steve Judd, may it be said of us by those in a saner age: “Hell…You just forgot it for a while, that's all."
[A shorter and slightly edited version of this essay appears in the December 2021 issue of Chronicles magazine, along with other essays on conservatism in the movies.]
One-hundred and three years ago, this day, the Great War—the “War to End All Wars”—World War I—came to a conclusion. An Armistice was signed, but an armistice that in many ways eventually made many of the deaths and sacrifices of millions of young men and their families seem in vain. Most of those valiant “dough boys” did not know it at the time; they fought for country, for patriotism, defending their nation against perceived evils and threats—this was their duty and what they believed.
Many of their political leaders had ulterior, secretive plans to remake Europe and reshape the world—and without doubt, the leaders France, Italy and Britain and the draconian peace they exacted and imposed on the defeated Central Powers helped propel the world headlong towards an even more horrible and momentous conflict two decades later. Yet, in those heady days of November 1918 in Allied capitals there was celebration. In the United States people filled the streets. Contemporary photographs and silent film record the joy and relief: the American nation had been in its first major foreign war—excluding the Spanish American War—since 1848, and it had not only been victorious, but had, arguably, been the deciding factor in that victory.
Ever since that day, November 11, Veterans’ Day—known first as “Armistice Day”—has been a day to honor our veterans and to recall their service. And, in many ways, it is a very personal day for many of us, a day to remember and honor members of our families who went to war, who left wives and children behind, who answered the call—and some who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
No matter whether the war could be “justified” by politicians or if it were for the right reasons, in the end the individual soldier did his duty. He knew that his nation had called, and that as a citizen he must answer that call. When the country demanded his service, he went and he did his very best. He may not have understood all the particular geopolitical ramifications or all the long-range effects of his actions, but he did understand that he was there—wherever “there” was—with his band of brothers, engaged in extreme combat, and that some of his fellow servicemen, perhaps even himself, would not “make it back.” He was serving his country, just as his ancestors for generations had done…and just as those poor Germans, those Russians, those Brits were doing.
Like many of you, I have ancestors who fought in all America’s wars, from the Revolution (with a five greats grandfather, a captain in the Continental Line, who died on a prisoner ship in Charleston harbor in 1780), several who served during the War for Southern Independence (including a great-granddad who survived Gettysburg), a great uncle who was in the US Navy during World War I, and my father who served in the 101st Cavalry and was seriously wounded in the Saar region of Germany in early 1945.
More recently, I honor today a beloved cousin, James Lowell Brake, who served honorably in both Korea and Vietnam. “Jim” married my cousin, and in so many ways, despite their eventual retirement in Newport News, Virginia, three hours distant, they became very dear and close to me. Cousin Jim passed away in 2008, and his wife of fifty-four years, two years ago.
Cousin Jim was one of those soft-spoken veterans who did not boast or talk that much about his service, yet his life and his career were remarkable in so many ways. Originally from the Rocky Mount, North Carolina, area, he remains for me an unsung hero. Here is a portion of his obituary from The Rocky Mount Telegram (February 18, 2008):
“Jim attended Rocky Mount High School and matriculated at North Carolina State University. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in June of 1953. One week later, he married the former Barbara Perry of Raleigh, N.C. In September of that same year, Jim was called to active duty. He went on to graduate from Air Command and Staff College in 1965 and Armed Forces Staff College in 1968. He served in Korea and flew during the Vietnam War, where he was a forward air controller and logged 529 combat missions marking targets for the fighters. Jim worked at the Pentagon on the Air Staff for 4 years from 1968-1972. In 1975 he went to Japan as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Programming for the Air Forces in North East Asia. He also served on the Japanese Joint Committee. His last assignment was Commander of Pope Air Force Base at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he retired a Colonel. During his long career he received 13 different medals, including the Legion of Merit with one bronze leaf oak cluster and the Air Medal with four silver leaf clusters.”
But this account only begins to tell of a full life well lived. Cousin Jim, after his retirement from the Air Force, served as a substitute math and science teacher and worked at the Virginia State Department of Environmental Health. And for many years he and his loving wife were very active in the local St. John’s Episcopal Church.
When I think of Jim, when I think of my late father and the long list of soldiers on both sides of my family, I wonder what they would think, what they would say, if they were able to return for a fleeting moment and view the American nation of 2021. We honor them today, but we should also ask ourselves how we have received and treated the precious heritage and the legacy they passed on to us.
As boy I remember my grandfather on my mother’s side recounting to me, as if it were yesterday, about Jefferson Davis’s funeral procession down Fayetteville Street in 1893 in Raleigh (on his way to final burial in Richmond); granddad was just sixteen when that happened. And I recall my grandmother on my father’s side, who was born in 1865 (and died in 1962), telling me that as a small girl she remembered a centenarian neighbor who, when he was a boy, had seen George Washington in Charlotte on his great Southern Tour in 1791!
Relative to the history of most European countries or to ancient Rome and Greece, the American republic’s history, our past, is short. It has been 245 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed, and 234 years since the US Constitution became the governing document for thirteen former British colonies. The country established by the Framers incorporated the insights of English law and custom, and was founded on a belief in a just and munificent God who offered both hope and direction to the new commonwealth.
The Framers were both adamant and deeply concerned: for future generations they established what they understood to be a fragile constitutional confederated republic, and, accordingly, they created safeguards and implanted established balances against the growth of an unchecked executive power (or abuse by other branches). Under the 9th and 10th Amendments the respective states and citizens were recognized as depositories of original God-given rights—rights not conceded by the Federal executive, but held directly through tradition and from the Creator.
Our fathers and ancestors fought for that country, for that reality of families and the land they had cleared and planted—for “blood and soil,” and for the local and regional liberties that they had inherited from their ancestors, and for the faith they had received, and, in sum, for the Western and Christian civilization they brought with them to the New World.
When my ancestor Phillip Perry landed in Virginia in 1646 and when my ancestor James Cathey came to Philadelphia in 1717, they brought their families with them, they brought their traditions and customs, their faith. They came for new and fresh lands, to raise their families, not for some nebulous “idea” of “making the world safe for democracy” or for “human rights in South Sudan.” Yes, their offspring would help create a new nation here on this continent, but in many ways what they created was an extension of that European and Christian culture—a culture they did not leave behind when they crossed the Atlantic.
The “American experience” gave that cultural inheritance a tint, certain characteristics, particular American aspects that distinguished us from the countries of old Europe. But from the beginning—from the debates in Philadelphia, from the writings of the Founders and Framers—we were also aware of that historic European legacy and those traditions that so shaped us, even if we progressively transformed them in our own peculiar ways.
Our fathers and forefathers served and fought for those beliefs and those traditions, for that legacy handed down to them, and which they handed down to us. The fetid cultural and political decay we behold around us in 2021 is not what they sacrificed for. They may have given their all and their lives for our right to act stupidly, but that doesn’t mean that they wanted us to act stupidly. They did not fight for “global democracy,” much less for the universal right of same sex marriage or gender fluidity. They went to war for home and state, for family and loved ones, for duty to the country.
That inheritance and our traditions are under attack domestically as never before (save perhaps by the Federal government back in 1861-1865). As we honor our veterans—as I honor my father, my Cousin Jim and my ancestors who are buried in the Carolina soil they cleared, planted, and held so dear, and where they raised their families—we should re-dedicate ourselves and our families not only to their memory, but to their beliefs and to the Old Republic they so loved.
This was previously published on My Corner on Nov 11, 2021.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all it was completely logical, the inevitable result of the insane “woke” political correctness that has been building and raging, largely unabated, in the United States now for years. Indeed, in my regular columns and essays I have been writing that this insanity, spread and imposed like a highly contagious and fatal infection—far worse than COVID—would not and could not be stemmed by the pitiful half measures of spineless Republicans and of despicably cowardly “conservatives.”
Yet, the news that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C., had begun to re-label the nation’s founding documents, characterizing them as reflecting “racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes” and being “discriminatory towards or exclud[ing] diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more, ” still caught me off guard.
We are not talking about secondary copies of the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or Bill of Rights, those reproductions that you hang on the wall in a school classroom. No, NARA is the official repository of the original documents themselves, of the original copies signed by the Founders and the Framers. It is those priceless and irreplaceable items held by it in trust that the National Archives has decided to label as “outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent [in] views and opinions.”
Accordingly, that agency of the federal government has begun to “re-contextualize” its more than 100 million documents based on a report issued by its Task Force on Racism and issued April 20, 2021. That report declared that NARA and its unique collections are shot through with “structural racism,” including “a Rotunda in our flagship building that lauds wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC [black, indigenous, people of color], women, and other communities.” Additional examples of structural racism at the National Archives include “legacy descriptions that use racial slurs and harmful language to describe BIPOC communities.” The National Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero accepted the commission’s report and recommendations, and immediately began the work “to transform its exhibits, archival information and descriptions, and policies.”
NARA’s catalogue and labeling are being rewritten—“re-imagined” is the currently popular term to describe the historical legerdemain. Everything now, including our founding national documents and symbols, must reflect the new consensus, the new revisionist interpretation of American history and all that which will follow: “equity,” reparations, and the eventual and practical disenfranchisement and replacement of “white America.”
You may have thought the “1619 Project” just an outrageous outlier, a radical and intellectually dishonest attempt to redo and refashion American history to fit an extreme progressivist “woke” reinterpretation of our past. But that project, lauded and praised by the loudest voices in academia and heralded by the media (including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and most broadcast outlets) already possesses and dominates by and large our educational system, our entertainment industry, and, yes, our political discourse. And it was inevitable that it would reach the National Archives and its precious holdings.
The re-imagining of the nation’s foundational documents, then, is entirely logical. It is consistent with “1619,” and reflects the powerful influence such thinking has and exerts over our governing and corporate classes.
But what is truly scandalous, and appalling, about what is occurring is that opposition to this outrage has been largely muted, with very little news of it in the media.
You would think, would you not, after all the hullabaloo about the “1619 Project” and the disgustingly weak and embarrassingly contradictory actions of the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees (majority Republican) regarding the hiring of (and tenure for) the Project’s main author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, that this latest assault on the nation’s historical past and identity would have been met by fierce opposition and an outcry from conservatives?
Yet only forty-four Republican members (no Democrats) in the US House of Representatives sent a protest to National Archivist Ferreiro, as reported by The Federalist. Those lawmakers called on NARA to remove the warnings on this nation’s original documents and cease politicizing them.
Their communication continued:
“We are deeply concerned by the National Archives Record Administration’s ‘harmful content’ warning displayed on the Archives’ cataloged website, including on seminal documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution…”
But where are the other 168 GOP House members? Where is the voice of the Senate Republican Caucus? Of Mitch McConnell? And others?
Certainly, if polled I’m sure they would declare their formal opposition—they may have already done so. But where is their concerted action, other than a few easily forgotten words or fatuous protests?
Over the last few years I have written that the efforts to take down Confederate monuments, most egregiously perhaps the recent disgraceful removal of the Lee Monument in Richmond, were just a first step in a major process of fanatical hatred for and redefinition of American history. It is not only the physical monuments themselves, but what they symbolize, that has to be destroyed and extinguished. And the hysterical campaign to erase those monuments honoring the Confederate dead is just the first part of this effort.
There is a recent documentary, “How the Monuments Came Down,” produced by the Virginia Film Office and widely distributed by PBS which makes this goal crystal clear. Removal of the monuments is only the easiest, hanging fruit, as it were. There is much more to come until, as one of the commentators declares, “we have rooted out entirely white supremacy and systemic racism.”
In their national campaign to erase anything that offends them, the “woke” lunatics have counted upon the benevolence of the establishment Republican Party and very prominent members of what is laughably termed “the conservative movement.” Either by studied inaction or active encouragement, the Rich Lowry types (editor of National Review) and the near-unanimity of the apparatchik pundits on Fox News have cheered on the destruction of Confederate monuments, while simultaneously praising Martin Luther King Jr. as a “true conservative,” despite his embrace of Marxism and a genuinely Communist praxis on various occasions (for example, his address honoring Communist W. E. B. DuBois, February 23, 1968). Their response to the madness griping the nation is to apologize to the Left and whine with a form of virtue signaling: “Look at me! I condemn those Confederate symbols, just like you! Please don’t call me a racist…oh, will you still invite me to one of your swank cocktail parties on New York’s Upper East Side? Please!”
Back on June 16, 2020, I compared the pusillanimous response of our established conservative movement, what my friend Dr. Paul Gottfried calls “Con Inc.,” to a scene in the classic film, “Waterloo” (1970):
“The response of those supposed ‘conservative’ defenders of American traditions to the fanatical tsunami of violent revolutionary lunacy reminds me of the scene in the film “Waterloo” (1970), when an illiterate private in the Duke of Wellington’s army who has engaged in plunder and stolen a young pig, cautions the pig not to squeal, not to alert those around him of his plunder (a capital offense under military rules). ‘Be quiet,’ he tells the pig, ‘and I’ll only eat half of you!’ ”
Whether the craven response by Congress and national conservative leaders, or, more locally, the action of a Republican Gerald Kivett in Sampson County, North Carolina, member of the county commissioners, who made the successful motion to remove the Confederate monument in that largely rural county, it amounts to the same thing: cowardice, the fear of being labeled a racist and perhaps being “cancelled,” hoping to stave off something worse, but at base a lack of conviction and faith.
All the apologies and virtue-signaling of the GOP and ConInc. will not save them or those other symbols of traditional American history. The three-piece suit enablers only encourage the madness, embolden it, and in the end their response, or failure to respond, will not spare them. After Lee, it must be Washington, Jefferson, perhaps changing the name of the US capital? The list of culpables is endless.
The Revolution is not mollified by weakness and groveling. Offering up half a pig will kill the pig, as it will kill what is left of this country.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.