Some sympathy for the historical American jingo

Dear Hannah,

People ask us to walk a mile in a man's moccasins, but they never wonder what it's like to be chased by someone with a tomahawk.  Nearly everyone feels comfortable condemning Andrew Jackson for how he treated the Indians.  What they haven't felt comfortable doing is asking themselves how it would feel to be born in a country you didn't found and have a strange-looking group of illiterate, jobless, pagan wild-men show up at your neighbor's house and scalp all your best friends.  Whether or not this is Jackson's experience is irrelevant if this was the experience of many American settlers.  To have a savage at your doorstep, ready to strike at night and oftentimes beyond the reach of the law, would eventually affect your psychology in ways a modern man would consider "unfavorable."  The only good Indian is a dead Indian is a cruel thing to say.  But we wonder how many cruelties a man had to witness or hear about before he was capable of saying it*.

With our view of the Southerners we find almost exactly the same problem.  Alexis de Tocqueville notes in Democracy in America that the majority of the Southerners he spoke to, who were not even in favor of the slave trade or happy about its results, were terrified of the dangers of emancipation.   In a South where blacks comprised at least half of the populace in many places, the Southerners lived in constant terror of both spur-of-the-moment riots and well-planned revolts.  They felt forced, by a mixture of not only self-interest, but self-protection of their friends and family, to propagate systems of oppression that shielded them from an almost ubiquitous danger.

Nobody good, at this point in history, can argue that the slaveholders were right for holding slaves.  Tocqueville's impression was that many of the slaveholders wouldn't argue they were right.  But at the same time nobody considers that freeing and enfranchising a rightfully-angry people might make you terrified for your family**.  We oftentimes say it's wrong to paint an entire people with an unfavorable characteristic.  To my knowledge, a leftist has never applied this popular rule, so oftentimes used in defense of blacks and Muslims, to Southerners in general.  

When we judge the settlers or the Southerners or even go as far back as the Romans, we oftentimes forget that of all the people in existence, a people from another world are the people we should judge the most carefully.  Simply put, there are an infinite slew of circumstances, shrouded in the impenetrable darkness of unrecorded history, that we don't know about, or even consider.  So we forget our ignorance while pretending our superiority, and condescend to censure things we may not ever properly understand.  The overwhelming majority of history, comprised of glances between lovers and stories shared at fireplaces and little hatreds of horrible things, has been lost to us forever; and the few things we retain aren't a picture of the way things really were, but a representation of a people for a certain moral and spiritual purpose.  Even a good historian never gives us history as it entirely was.  He paints a picture for us with the imagination he has, highlighting the few and almost isolated things that he knows, for the purpose of getting something he wants.

What our leftists have proved to us is that even our sympathy is selective.  And the people we choose to sympathize with tells us almost as much about ourselves as it does about them.  With some men we'll dig through centuries of history, trying to find them a excuse.  With others we say they did what they did because they're rotten.  And the truth is that men are almost always responsible while almost always having an excuse.  We simply choose to regard them as responsible one day and excuse them another; and we most usually do it according to the trends of the day; and the trends of the day are the things that we're best at; and the things that we're best at are the things we have easiest.  We would have lived in peace with the indians.  We would have set all the slaves free.  If we were King David we'd have easily killed our son Amnon for raping Tamar.  If we were Peter we'd have never denied Christ.  If we were smart we would keep our mouths shut.

We often hear that history is written by the winners, and that we ought to hear the perspective of the unheard.  What they have forgotten is that the Southerners were the losers.  They've forgotten that the children of Andrew Jackson and the successors of his own party are terrified of being associated with him.  We forget that Rome was destroyed centuries ago; and that the people who came after them weren't necessarily any more kind than they were.  In many cases we're not more kind.  We've only switched the people we're most kind to.  We say judge not, lest ye be judged.  And then taking Jesus in the worst and most literal and most non-contextual way possible, to that short and brutal sentence we added an asterisk -- and excluded almost the whole of our dead and mysterious white ancestry.

Your father,

*In partial defense of the men who try to take over the world, the chief advantage of being the dominant power is that nobody can bully you around.  In fact, it can safely be said that if the world isn't dictated on your terms, it will be dictated on somebody else's; and history proves that somebody else's terms are going to be unfavorable (which is why they're somebody else's).  The recorded history of early mankind is little more than a series of robberies and rapes, and it doesn't require much imagination to think that after a few thousand years of your neighbors killing your children and carrying off your women, that maybe someone might be interested in conquering everybody else.  Safer, in the long run, than waiting for anyone to conquer you.

Fear has a way or warping our consciences, and the constant fear of brutality has a tendency to make us brutal.  This danger also tends to establish a feeling of patriotism for those we know will protect us, and a hatred of anyone who won't.  In addition to this, each of us can see within ourselves the roots of the things we fear in others; and even a long-standing peace can never really hide from us the knowledge we have of our inner selves.  Post-apocalyptic films are a reminder that despite the world getting along smoothly in the West, there lurks in every grocer, in every doctor, in every student and hedge-fund manager and person we pass on the street a series of unsociable and tyrannical desires -- which are only suppressed by our fear of law and scorn.  We know, whether we like to admit it or not, that mankind is only subdued for the moment, and wonder when he'll be back at his old tricks of taking what he can't trade, raping what he can't love, and killing those he can't persuade.  The Walking Dead may have been fiction; but in many ways it's more real to us than The Old Testament.  It has the flavor of the Book of Judges, mixed with the clothing and the mannerisms of the modern man.  The scenery and the people, of course, are new.  The story is old as humanity.  It's the history of all governments, and the beginnings of every attempt at total domination.

The great value of The Walking Dead is that that it's forced us to reexamine the things we always took for granted.  We always talk of the certainty of death and taxes, but we've forgotten that a time existed when we could only be certain of death.  All governments, however benignly our politicians prefer to present themselves, are a permanent declaration of war against aggressors. Every bill is a threat of violence and an admission of our terror.  Our constitution is a right to wage war against our politicians.  Our policemen are our watchmen on the walls of public order.  In the beginning, there was God -- and then immediately after God there was fear.  And almost immediately after fear, perhaps even before we could express it, there was government.

**It's said that the Germans, who were never really entirely in favor of Nazism, confused the Americans greatly by putting up a desperate fight when it was obvious that everything was lost.  The reason why should be fairly obvious to any of us.  Like Stonewall Jackson throwing his lot in with the South, sometimes the worse moral claim is preferable to your friends and family being conquered -- especially by a rightfully-enraged enemy.  The people who pretend that they pick principles over family may be more noble than us; but my feeling is that they're probably just liars.


  1. The opening sentence is wonderful.

  2. Great read Jeremy. The last paragraph may be particularly relevant as it applies to the current political situation and many of the players involved.


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