For the past three weeks, all sorts of worry has followed since I wrote my post about the misuse of history. My biggest worry is that I came across as being a racist, which I’m not. I think my big mistake was going into too much detail and letting the facts run away with me. Maybe my opinions were too intense for some, I don’t know. What I do know is that throughout history, history has been misused by persons in order to fulfill some sort of agenda. By the left as a stick to beat people with and by the right to foster hatred and sometimes false senses of national pride.
One controversial point I made in that post was that I thought that statues of Robert E Lee should not be torn down. I know that he fought for the Confederacy whose cause was the maintaining of slavery in the South. It could be argued that it was because of his brilliant generalship, that the US Civil War lasted four years. He embarrassed several Union generals in the early years of the war and even his defeat at Gettysburg led to Lincoln sacking the general who won the battle. It took General Grant who realized that while the Union may lose 25,000 men and the Confederacy only 20,000, the Union could afford to lose that number while the Confederacy couldn’t. Basically, Grant wore Lee down in a war of attrition. My point here is that Lee was a great general who just happened to fight on the side which was pro-slavery. He, like so many Americans, fought for the side his home state did. Tearing down his statues does not alter that fact nor should his statue be seen as some symbol to slavery because I never saw it that way.
A slightly more recent historical confusion came in the form of the Spanish Civil War. For those who don’t know, the Spanish Civil War was between forces loyal to the elected government, which was left of centre and included socialists and communists and the Nationalist forces led by General Franco. History has shown Franco to be a fascist dictator, supported by Italy led by Mussolini and Nazi Germany. When the war started, thousands of men and women from many other countries came to Spain to fight on the side of the Loyalists against Franco. Roughly three-thousand of these were from the United States who formed the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. The battalion fought bravely in many engagements and many were killed during the three years they fought in Spain. One historical point: The Abraham Lincoln Battalion was the first American military unit to have full racial integration.
A few years back, I commented elsewhere that I never agreed with former US President Ronald Reagan’s comment that the Abraham Lincoln Battalion fought on the wrong side. Many people agreed with my comment but one person asked me if I would have liked Spain to have become like the USSR if the Loyalists had won. I asked him to provide evidence to this and while his response was “You’re kidding right?,” he never provided such evidence.
To me, this is another misuse of history. I have read a historical ‘What if’ that said Spain would have become a Soviet satellite state because the Loyalists had backing from Stalin and during the civil war, Spanish Communists carried out Stalinist style purges on their own side. Maybe so, we can only speculate here but my question is: “What made those Americans and others from around the world go to Spain and fight on the side of the Loyalists if they were determined to set up a Soviet state?” One argument would be that they were fighting against fascism and that was a noble cause. With the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, there was a genuine fear in the 1930s of fascism spreading, even more so that Communism. Maybe they were simply fighting on the side that they thought was right and it is only armchair historians who have put in their own conclusions on the matter based on some historical knowledge. Thinking about it can drive me to insanity. Still, I don’t think that the Abraham Lincoln Battalion fought on the wrong side. Additionally, wrong or right, these Americans sacrificed a lot to go to another country and fight for a cause and isn’t that what America is supposed to be all about?