Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists?

by Fred Ray on April 12, 2010 · 3 comments

Rarely does one get to read something that is both vile and silly, but Roland Martin, a CNN political commentator, manages to prove in one column that he knows nothing about the Civil War, history, military history, or terrorism, which is quite an intellectual tour de farce. His column “Were Confederate Soldiers Terrorists” is a follow-up up to a previous, even more vile statement that “celebrating the Confederates was akin to honoring Nazi soldiers for killing of Jews during the Holocaust.”

Martin reduces some very complex history (he has apparently never heard of a previous visitor to Atlanta, Gen. W. T. Sherman, who trashed the place even worse than a rock band) to whether it was defensible for Southern soldiers to defend their homeland from an invader, quoting several emails.

If you take all of these comments, don’t they sound eerily similar to what we hear today from Muslim extremists who have pledged their lives to defend the honor of Allah and to defeat the infidels in the West?

When you make the argument that the South was angry with the North for “invading” its “homeland,” Osama bin Laden has said the same about U.S. soldiers being on Arab soil. He has objected to our bases in Saudi Arabia, and that’s one of the reasons he has launched his jihad against us. Is there really that much of a difference between him and the Confederates? Same language; same cause; same effect.

If a Confederate soldier was merely doing his job in defending his homeland, honor and heritage, what are we to say about young Muslim radicals who say the exact same thing as their rationale for strapping bombs on their bodies and blowing up cafes and buildings?

So there you have it—defend your homeland and you’re a terrorist. Presumably if Martin signed up or was drafted to defend an invasion of his country, he’d be a terrorist (or is it a Nazi?) too. This is what I like to call the “Hitler wore pants” school of reasoning. Hitler wore pants. Therefore, if you wear pants, why, you’re no different than Hitler!

Never mind that US forces were invited into Arabia by the legitimate government, or that Osama expressly called for a global jihad against all infidels, including civilians, or that he and his ilk have expressly repudiated the laws of war, or that Al-Qaeda and most similar organizations are not conventional belligerents but non-state actors. Never mind that the Confederates fielded a regular army that for the most part fought with honor. Doesn’t matter—you’re a terrorist.

All this simply shows that Martin knows absolutely nothing about the principles of jus ad bellum and jus in bello—meaning the cause of the war is judged separately from how the war is carried out, or the principle of belligerency. In terms of the Civil War you do not have to agree that the Confederacy’s cause was just in order to admit that they did conduct themselves according to the laws of war.

Martin, however, seems unable to grasp the difference between cause and method.

Just as radical Muslims have a warped sense of religion, Confederate supporters have a delusional view of what is honorable. The terrorists are willing to kill their own to prove their point, and the Confederates were just as willing in the Civil War to take up arms against their fellow Americans to justify their point.

Even if you’re a relative of one of the 9/11 hijackers, that man was an out-and-out terrorist, and nothing you can say will change that. And if your great-great-great-granddaddy was a Confederate who stood up for Southern ideals, he too was a terrorist.

So apparently there is no difference between crashing an airliner into a strictly civilian target like the World Trade Center, lopping of the heads of hostages, and serving in a regular formation like the Army of Northern Virginia.

This sort of free associational reasoning, unfortunately, is pretty common these days in the MSM, which is one reason why it’s in trouble. I haven’t watched CNN in years and evidently no one else watches it either except in airport lounges. Fox News, which often gets slammed for ideological slant, now is the undisputed cable leader and handily beats all the rest combined. One reason why CNNs once-stratospheric ratings are in the toilet is because of twaddle like this. It’s the new age, Roland—if you write and speak drivel people will just change the channel or log on somewhere else.

I addressed some of the Union indiscretions in a previous post on Lincoln and Laws of War.

UPDATE: As luck would have it last nite, just after turning in I surfed thru the channels only to see Martin holding forth in a debate on that very subject. All I can say is—what a maroon! He comes off even more uninformed in person than in print. CNN seems bent on alienating what remains of its audience, so giving Martin lots of air will surely help.

UPDATE II: CNN, the inventor of cable news, is now officially dead last in cable, and gets beat by the cartoon network, maybe because it’s more believable. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.  I remember when CNN was run by Ted Turner. He was an unabashed progressive who made no secret of his politics, but who nevertheless funded two Civil War movies (Gettysburg and Gods and Generals) and appeared as a Confederate officer in both of them. Trivia: follow the link to a  pic of Anderson Cooper, a direct descendant of Civil War general Judson Kilpatrick.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

markacres April 15, 2010 at 7:11 am

You have touched on a real emotional sore point for a lot of people on both sides of the issue you discuss.

I agree with you that in ethics, particularly in just war theory, there is a strong distinction between the justice of the cause or reason for fighting a war, and the justness of the behavior of the soldiers in that war.

For others, there is a clear determination to honor soldierly or knightly behavior with the characteristics of courage, loyalty, honor and self sacrifice, regardless of the cause that elicits such behavior.

Finally, I do agree that people who refer to soldiers from former wars as “terrorists” are contributing to the same degradation of language that allows “Nazi” to be loosely and wrongly used as an adjective to describe anyone or anything a speaker happens to dislike.

“Terrorist” is a difficult term to define. It is rather like “pornography;” as Justice Potter Steward , “I know it when I see it.” But even then, consistency is very difficult, because of the emotional weight and power the term carries. Was Sherman a terrorist? Many would say that he was. Were his soldiers, then, terrorists? If they were, what about Air Force commanders who plan bombing campaigns that entail countless civilian deaths – for example, the fire bombing of Dresden in WWII. And if those planners are terrorists, what about the pilots?

In the end, we can’t entirely separate the question of “terrorism” – a highly emotional semantic question – from the deeper question that we have never fully nor successfully answered as a society: at what point does the common soldier, sailor, airman or marine become morally responsible for commiting acts that are ordered by his superiors? And if he or she fights in an unjust war, does he or she share moral responsibility for the sufferings entailed by that war?

Thank you for such a thought provoking post.

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Lee April 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I honestly think the term “terrorist” should be withdrawn entirely from use. It’s a completely subjective word. People identify themselves as Jews, Republicans, Buddhists. No one identifies themself as a terrorist; therefore the term is exclusively a characterization of someone by someone else who doesn’t approve of the behavior in question. The most honest definition of terrorism is probably “someone who does violent behavior in the service of a cause the person characterizing the behavior as ‘terrorism’ doesn’t approve of.”

It should be noted that deciding not to use the word “terrorism” doesn’t mean one has to in any way endorse actions frequently considered terrorist. The Holocaust can’t meaningfully be described as terrorism, but this in no way diminishes the horrendousness of it.

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Lee April 15, 2010 at 1:11 pm

In my post above I meant to say “The most honest definition of a terrorist…” not “The most honest definition of terrorism…”

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