Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story, a documentary series that grapples with the tragic death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman and the racial politics of the aftermath, debuted on the Paramount Network recently, and there’s one clip that’s been making the rounds.
The filmmakers interviewed Zimmerman’s buddy, gun shop owner Andy Hallinan, and he tried to make the case that the Confederate flag isn’t actually a symbol of hate, but of heritage. In attempting to make that (extremely wrong) case, Hallinan tries to claim the Civil War wasn’t actually about slavery. (Yes, really.)
— M’BlockU (@rodimusprime) September 11, 2018
Hallinan works through his “I’m not racist BUT” talking points, saying,
“The majority of people believe that [the Confederate flag] is a symbol of heritage, that it is a symbol of our history, that people think is associated with the South, and the South was fighting for slavery — that’s a common misconception about what actually took place. When you study the history, that was one thing that the war was about. People don’t go to war for one issue.”
That’s when the interviewer challenges Hallinan to name three other things the war was about. To which Hallinan replies, “Uh, I mean, I’m not a historian. I mean, you’re putting me on the spot for something I—you know.”
My dude JUST said, “When you study the history” and then immediately admits this is not a thing he’s done.
The interviewer presses further, “So we got one thing the war was about—slavery. What are two other things that the war was about?”
After some very awkward stammering, Hallinan manages a weak “In general, the war was about tyranny.”
Unfortunately, it seems Hallinan hasn’t really had his views challenged (you might say he lives in a bubble) because he was not prepared for another follow-up question.
“What is tyranny?” the interviewer asks.
“Tyranny is any time a government overreaches, and they control a life too much,” he WAY TOO CONFIDENTLY replies. Unlike Hallinan, you can probably see the handle of the rhetorical rake he’s stepped on rapidly rising to hit him smack between the eyes.
“Like slavery?” the interviewer asks.
And this is where Hallinan ends as he should have begun: speechless.
Obviously, the savaging on Twitter was bloodier than the Battle of Antietam.
But does Hallinan have a point? No he does not. Let’s go through it anyway though! The short answer to the question “Was the Civil War about slavery?” is “Yes.” The slightly longer answer is “Yes, DUH!” The even longer answer is “Yes, DUH because that’s what the Confederates said the Civil War was about.
The Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, gave a speech known to historians who have “studied the history” as the “Cornerstone Speech.” They call it that because in it, Stephens calls slavery the “cornerstone” (or “foundation”) upon which the Confederate government rests.
“[the Confederate government’s] cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like these guys liked slavery! Another indication that the Civil War was about slavery is that THE SOUTH WAS FIGHTING TO PRESERVE SLAVERY. That is what the Confederate government seceded over and that is what the Confederate soldiers were fighting to maintain. I’m sure some of the Nazi soldiers were in it for the paycheck, but at the end of the day they were fighting for Nazism.
All of this nonsense about the Civil War being some kind of fatalistic noble conflict undertaken by innocent Southerners who suited up in the home team jerseys as part of some intramural geographic conflict with the North is part of a propaganda campaign by the losers in the war. The Daughters of the Confederacy (and others) pushed this “Lost Cause” narrative after Reconstruction. That’s also where we got most of these Confederate monuments that keep getting ripped down by people who don’t think the losers would get to rewrite history.
Unfortunately the “Lost Cause” campaign worked pretty well. I grew up in Virginia and this was a fairly common way to frame the Civil War. I know people who went to public schools where it was called the “War of Northern Aggression.” I wrote a paper in high school about how the Civil War was about “a lot of things” and I was very wrong! The Civil War was about slavery! Period. Full stop. Not “states’ rights,” unless we’re talking about “the right of states to do slavery” and not “economic factors” unless we’re reducing the systematic subjugation of people to the economic output of their unpaid labor.
Slavery is often called America’s “original sin” and in many ways it is, but that reduces it some kind of inescapable stain, like blood soaking through the wallpaper in a haunted house. It’s not that, or it shouldn’t be. If slavery is a sin, then the correct remedy is to repent. Part of repentance is acknowledging the sin in the first place and the next is changing direction. I hope Hallinan’s very public schooling is more instructive than many of Virginia’s and that he gets some religion on this.