Who’s Arguing?

by Brett Schulte on April 18, 2006 · 2 comments

In a recent entry at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin says…well, I honestly don’t know exactly WHAT he’s trying to say, as you will soon see below. I take exception to some of Kevin’s comments, and my reply to his entry appears as below:

Kevin,

Camp Pope Publishing

I wasn’t surprised to see your post this morning. Any comment I make on my blog about my personal preference for books and articles focusing on strategy & tactics seems to end up over here. Your entry, as usual in these cases, seems to agree with me on one hand while essentially calling me ignorant for choosing not to study race relations and gender relations during the Civil War. This makes it utterly impossible to attempt a rebuttal with any chance of success because I have no idea what exactly you are arguing for or against. I don’t know if you for some reason believe that my blog posts are specifically aimed at you personally or at any group you claim to represent, but I can assure you that this is not the case. I create blog entries on the Civil War because it is a hobby of mine, not because I’m attempting to put together some thesis arguing that race and gender relations are unimportant. In fact, that thought could not be further from the truth.

Nowhere in the part of my entry that you quoted do I ever say that the social aspects of the war are unimportant, nor do I “dismiss” them. In fact, I argue the opposite, and we essentially agree that there is a need for and importance in the study of race and gender relations during the war and the effect this had on the memory of the war. Where we disagree is essentially whether or not myself and others like me who enjoy tactical studies should be interested in the social aspects of the war. I’m not an academic. I simply enjoy reading about the aspects of the war I choose to read about, and I thank you for acknowledging that this is perfectly acceptable. However, what is left unsaid (and maybe I’m reading too much into your words, as you seem to have misread mine in my original blog entry) is that I am in some way arguing against the study of race and gender relations, et al, in campaign and battle studies, and that my level of sophistication and that of others like me who prefer the standard tactical studies of battles and troop movements is beneath those who DO study other aspects of the war. In essence you are speaking out of both sides of your mouth, saying that it is okay to have preferences, but that people who do not find the social aspects of the civil War interesting are in some way ignorant for having particular preferences. Notice I said “interesting”, NOT “important”. This is a key difference, and one which you seem to have a hard time recognizing. The fact that I do not consider these aspects of the war interesting DOES NOT mean that I find them unimportant. As I have said in the past, my sister is a recent undergraduate of the University of Illinois in French History, and she will be attending Penn State in the fall. Her interests also include the importance of gender studies in history. From her, I have gained an appreciation of if not necessarily an interest in the topics she studies.

Your entire post, from the title to the comments button, smacks of thinly veiled condescension. In particular, I don’t appreciate being lumped in with the second poster, who is making an argument against something, whereas I am simply stating my preference for tactical studies in their current form. Nowhere did I say that there shouldn’t be battle and campaign studies that look at race and gender relations, the role of citizens, etc. I am simply stating, so that others who read this understand where I am coming from, that I would typically choose not to read those studies. Nothing more, nothing less. I agree that there are certain aspects of the war that I know little about. But guess what? I don’t care because those subjects are uninteresting to me. Again, this does not mean that I consider those topics unimportant. It’s not like I’m taking your Civil War class or that of a Professor at some University. Because I’m not, I am free to choose whatever books interest me and read only those, apparently to your unending annoyance. Why you seem so opposed to this idea while at the same time explicitly saying in your entry that you are not opposed is confusing and deceptive on multiple levels.

Other than this comment, which will be appearing on my blog as well, I hope this is the last time we need to have a discussion about this. We essentially agree, but you continually infer in these snide blog entries that I am in some way disagreeing with you. I can only continue to scratch my head in mild amusement when you essentially try to argue about a topic in which there was never any disagreement in the first place.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin April 18, 2006 at 3:35 pm

Brett, — YI posted this response on my blog, but I thought it might be appropriate to include it here. You may have set a record for the longest response to one of my posts. Unfortunately, I do think that you’ve misinterpreted my post. Re-reading it I agree that I should not have placed your comment alongside the Simpson response; I happened to be thinking about both at the same time.

I also understand that you do acknowlege the legitimacy of other approaches. That said, I was responding to a specific point that you made in your summary of Carmichael’s piece: “As a military history buff, I don’t believe it is needed as much as some would claim in traditional campaign and battle studies.” Now it seems to me that this is a conclusion that many have drawn, but it is a conclusion that is typically not argued for beyond simply stating that it fails to satisfy a personal preference. That is all I was focusing on and this explains my distinction between any individual’s personal preference and a claim about how best to approach the study and interpretation of the past. I have no quarrel with the former descriptive claim as it is simply a statement of preference, but as to the study of history and analysis I believe that it is worth questioning and should be questioned.

One final note. I don’t comment on your posts nearly as much as you let on. But be that as it may I respond to people’s posts because I value what they have to say. If the content of my responses comes off as critical it is meant in the best sense of the word. I read your blog because I enjoy it and learn from it.

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Kevin April 18, 2006 at 5:10 pm

Brett, — I’ve been thinking more about your response and I went back yet again to read my post. I think I need to take more of the blame than I’ve admitted thus far. When I first started blogging I saw it as a chance to engage fellow bloggers and readers alike. It seems that part of the difficulty is that I am not taking sufficient time to re-read my posts and make sure that I am being as clear as possible. If you stay on top of the blogs you know that I’ve made this mistake before. For example, I did not clearly distinguish my comments that were directed at you from those that were in response to more general reactions that I’ve read on other sites and that have been posted on my blog. Even the title of the post was not meant as a direct response to you. As I just stated I clearly need to spend more time before I click the Enter key. Perhaps fewer posts and more vigilance in this regard is the answer.

I was trying to address a very subtle distinction that I’ve seen all too often between personal preference and a real discussion about the relative merits of various approaches to studying the Civil War. My intent was not to be condescending. I am not an academic, but I do at times take an overly critical stance to what I read. Yes, I need to lighten up as you rightly reminded me not everyone blogs for the same reason. All I can say to you and anyone else who reads this that I will try to be more careful and sensitive in the future.

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