Lee with stars and bars

A Book Review

I just finished reading A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman. The book ended up being far more fascinating than I anticipated. I read it, and then I immediately read it again.

Why was Foreman’s book so interesting?

  • I saw that the problems that Britain encountered during the American Civil War remain relevant to America today. As a great power, Britain confronted and stumbled over the same problems this country now faces. Whenever people start fighting thousands of miles away, both the combatants and many Americans often insist that America must take sides. Yet, like us, when they tried to figure out what the fight was about, the Brits encountered real difficulties. And, just like ours, their news media was too biased to be of much help.
  • I learned, perhaps even things she had not intended, more about the history of the war. Conventional wisdom says the South had the better generals. Yet I saw that when the South chose to attack the North, the South lost. Generally, Southern generals had the advantage of fighting a defensive war. In addition to the ability to being able to fight from prepared positions, the defense has more subtle advantages. Because defenders are on their home turf, they know the territory, they can gain better intelligence from the locals, and they can rouse the ferocity that comes from defending ones homeland.
  • What made General Ulysses S. Grant successful? He did not attack tentatively. His predecessors had seen the huge causalities and grown fearful. Is that not what any ordinary man would do? Yet the sooner a war ends the sooner people stop dying. Therefore, even though he grew somber and sad because so many died, Abraham Lincoln had to find generals who could withstand watching thousands die frightful deaths and still order their armies to attack without relenting.
  • After so many years we forget the implications of Americans fighting Americans, but Abraham Lincoln understood. His wife, Mary, had a several half-brothers who served in the Confederate Army, and these were killed in action.  Another brother served the Confederacy as a surgeon, and that must have been nightmarish.
  • I swiftly grew interested in the characters Foreman describes in her book. Through the lives of many people, Foreman describes the diplomacy, the South’s struggles for supplies, and the battle scenes in sufficient detail that we can begin to appreciate how even those on the other side of an ocean could be so affected by that great war.
  • With an extraordinarily long (and interesting) epilogue, Foreman continues the story, describing how America and Britain finally resolved the conflicts between them stirred up by the war. In addition, she describes what each of the characters she mentions in her book did after the war.

So why did the Brits choose to stay out of the American Civil War. The British decision to stay out of the war hinged on the moral issue of slavery. Even though they desperately wanted the South’s cotton for their textile mills, the Brits condemned slavery. Therefore, because the Brits could easily have broken the North’s embargo of the South, it may not be an overstatement to say that the United States owes it present unity to William Wilberforce, the man who led the battle to end the slave trade.

So what do the word “gay” and the Rebel Flag have in common with heresy?  Let’s consider one thing at a time.

That New Meaning For The Word “gay”

For the sake of propaganda, homosexual “rights” activists have succeeded in replacing the word “homosexual” with the term “gay” (See the etymology here.). Yet few seem to appreciate just how inappropriate this word swap has been. I suspect those most aware this problem have the word “Gay” as their surname (see here and here).

Think about that. How would you like to be called Gay?

The Distorted Meaning Of The Rebel Flag

When I reblogged Southern History Month 2014, I did not anticipate a positive response. In their unending effort to peddle political correctness, race baiters have transformed the once proud Confederate battle flag into a symbol of racism.

Was the Civil War ultimately about slavery? Yes. Without the issue of slavery, the United States may still have had a Civil War, but then the country would have divided along entirely different lines and for entirely different reasons.

Look at the picture above, at the beginning of this post. In the version of PowerPoint I use, Microsoft did not provide a picture of the “Rebel Flag.”  However, they did provide a picture of the Stars and Bars. Look it up if you must (here), but that is a picture of what actually was the Confederate Flag. What we call the Rebel Flag is shown in the picture below.


The painting above depicts the remains of Army of Northern Virginia as it surrendered at Appomattox Court House. And yes, that picture shows what we now call the Rebel Flag. That flag was actually Army of Northern Virginia battle flag.

What the picture shows is the Union troops honoring the Confederate troops as they surrendered their arms and their battle flags. Whatever we may think of that flag now, the men who fought the Confederate soldiers respected them and their flag as one soldier honors another.

The South paid a frightful price for the Civil War. The Union troops at Appomattox Court House saw that price. They saw the thousands of hatless, shoeless, famishing Confederate soldiers before them, and they knew those Confederate soldiers had surrendered only because they had no other choice. Under the flag they carried, those Union soldiers had killed a quarter of Southern manhood, burned and pillaged the South, and left those who survived half starved. Such is war.

Because the Confederate Army had fought bravely and honorably, the Union troops answered honor with honor.   That’s what that picture shows.


Just as we have twisted the meaning of the word “gay” and rendered a once proud battleflag into a symbol of racism, we have turned heresy into something almost opposite, something to be proud of.

Consider how G. K. Chesterton began his book, Heretics.

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word “orthodox.” In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox. He had no pride in having rebelled against them; they had rebelled against him. The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law—all these like sheep had gone astray. The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right. If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man; he was a church. He was the centre of the universe; it was round him that the stars swung. All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical. But a few modern phrases have made him boast of it. He says, with a conscious laugh, “I suppose I am very heretical,” and looks round for applause. The word “heresy” not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word “orthodoxy” not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right. For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical. The Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy. The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, whatever else he is, at least he is orthodox. (from here)

Civil War References








  1. I don’t think I ever described myself as a “limited government conservative”, Keith. I tend more toward the classification of “Constitutional Conservative”, although the essence of constitutional governance is that there are limits on the power of governments at all levels. Nonetheless, I do not necessarily equate “limited government” with the idea that government has little or no proper, lawful role in a complex, populous democracy. Where you, Tom and I probably are on common ground is that we think that that role is one that must flow from the founding documents. Where we differ is that I probably regard the Constitution of 1789 (or 1787) as providing, through the genius of its drafters, a degree of flex to accommodate itself to new conditions and circumstances.

    I think the rest of your comment is a reading comprehension problem. I was not equating constitutional conservatism (of which I am an adherent) with perverted Islamic jihad. Quite the contrary. I was, instead, making the point that “conservatism” in a religious context is something quite different than conservatism in a secular political context. This was part of my observation that my impression of Tom’s views are that he mixes religion and political philosophy in a way that I find debasing of religion and not particularly helpful in a political context.


    1. It appears this thread has gone off into an interesting diversion. On Monday, I will do a post on the relationship between fundamental elements of American Conservatism and our Christian heritage. Among other things, that post will serve as a rebuttal to your previous comment and, to a small extent, your latest.


  2. Your last comment blazingly illustrates another major difference between our disparate “conservatisms”: the place of religion in secular political discourse. One, of course, can be some kind of “conservative” in a religious context. Bin-Laden and his murderous brigands can be said to be conservative Islamists, I suppose. But my political conservatism is very much an American (derived from 18th Century English) conservatism based on a constitutional secular government and economic theory. It has nothing to do with my discernment of Scripture. I am well immersed in religious studies and I, frankly, can discern virtually nothing about the operation of the US government under the Constitution from the New Testament. I suppose Jesus could be said to have had collective tendencies in how He organized His ministry and to have admonished us to observe strict distancing from the secular authorities in matters of religion. But even those thoughts are a stretch, because His Kingdom is not of this world and he was not a political figure (despite the efforts of his enemies to make him appear to be to the Roman occupying forces).

    I happen to be religious, but I could be just as politically “conservative” if I were an atheist. I suspect the same could not be said of you. When I read your posts and see how many of them oscillate between and blur lines between religious and political themes, I get the impression that you view God as a Republican (of the modern, not the traditional stripe). You certainly often lapse into strong implication that Socialists, liberals and Democrats are not proper Christians. I don’t believe that, having known many raving leftists who are (as far as one can ever tell from the outside looking in) model Christians or strongly observant Jews. You may not believe that either, but many of your posts forcefully suggest that political “conservatism” as you see it, sprouts from correct Christian theology and actions.


    1. Citizen Tom and I disagree on this aspect. I am a lifelong non-theist. Technically, I am an atheist, though I do not hold that hostility to Christianity that so often characterizes atheism. I personally demonstrate that one can be a limited-government conservative, including respect for the Christianity that was involved in the country’s founding, without actually being religious.

      And yet you look no more like a limited-government conservative to me than you do to Citizen Tom. To you, apparently, “conservatism” is an adjective you can use to lump folks like those of us in the Tea Party with Usama bin Ladin’s jihadists. As if the desire to restore the Constitution to an important place in US government, creating once again a limited-government republic, was somehow comparable to the desire to implement a planet-wide totalitarian religiously-dictated caliphate.

      Bizarre … but I’ve been intrigued by your thought patterns for a long time.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle


      1. With respect to politics, I doubt with disagree as much as you think. I think that I will discuss that in a post I hope to publish on Monday.

        Where we disagree is about religion. I understand you are not hostile towards Christianity, and I am happy to reciprocate. Admittedly, non-theism or atheism doesn’t make any sense to me. I was once an agnostic, Because I have no idea how to prove God does not exist, I chose not to call myself an atheist. Instead, I just dropped the subject of religion and went about my life, and I suppose not bothering to care is even more foolish than atheism.

        What puzzled me then is something my mother say. She said I still a Christian, but she did not explain. In retrospect, I now realize my mother was wiser than I once thought. Unlike the rest of the family, however, she was put off by debate. Even a little hostility from a teenage son was enough to silence her.

        What my mother meant was that i still retained the Christian moral values I grew up with. In that sense she was right. In my relations with others, I behaved as a Christian. On the other hand, until I chose to believe in Jesus and study His Word, I was not a Christian. I did not strive to obey Jesus.

        Anyway, I cannot save or condemn anyone. All I can do is proclaim the Gospel, and you already know the Bible. So if what I believe is true, the rest is between you and God.


  3. There are plenty of things I am “for”, Tom. In the narrow context of this blog, however, I suppose I often do take an “anti” position because I am reacting to something you’ve said that strikes me as either factually incorrect or illogical. When I used to do a lot of posting at another Virginia blog, I fully expected comments to be reactive, and many of them to be “anti” my position. that’s what keeps things informative and interesting.

    If you question my conservatism because I don’t “point to ethical lapses”, it’s because I have always considered the oddities of this site to be primarily caused by mental confusion, not because I have any problem at all with your general ethics system. I don’t feel I have to manufacture an ethical attack on someone personally to have a good discussion with them about ideas. I hope you don’t either.

    I don’t come across as a “conservative” to you, because you have developed your own self-image as a “conservative” with which my schema is incompatible. There’s not much for that. My conservatism is an older, more traditional political approach that lacks many of the hobgoblins that your conservatism seems to require. I find your brand of “conservatism” to be a modern, media inflamed, electioneering, slogan-driven, shallow and brittle construct. I’m sure you find my Burke/Buckley/Kirk conservatism terribly unexciting and drama-less, as it lacks your apocalyptic flights of doom-saying and tendency to impute evil or base motives to all who think differently.

    To leave this in favor of getting on to other things, however, I think we would agree with the idea that both our conservatisms agree that, in a democratic system, government is instituted by the People in large part to protect the liberties of the citizens. Perhaps we can build on that.


    1. As far as it goes, your last paragraph is okay. I would just omit the phrase “in large part”.

      Conservatism is an exciting philosophy. But it is not defined by me. Nor is it defined by Burke/Buckley/Kirk. What defines Conservatism is our attitude towards God and our neighbors.

      What makes being a follower of Christ Jesus difficult? Why does being devoted to the love of God and neighbor require faith and hope? Are there not real hobgoblins that oppose any such thing? Is there not our own pride? “I know what’s best.” Is there not the pride of our neighbors? “Who are you to disagree with the majority?” Doesn’t the pride of the self-styled great oppose the love of anyone but themselves? “Do you know who I am?” And finally is there not the pride of Satan, the unseen ruler of this world — for now?

      How many are there, like Satan, who would rather rule in Hell than submit to our Lord as an archangel in Heaven?

      Unlike the prideful, the Conservative does not make an idol of government. For the Conservative, government exists for other people, to protect God-given rights of his family friends, and neighbors. Because we each answer to God as His servants, we have no right to enslave another, not even to the will of the “majority.” Therefore, armed with faith, hope, and love, the Conservative works for a society of free men and women, and he counts upon God to protect and guide all who turn towards Him.


  4. I’m a conservative, Tom, and I have little trouble understanding my positions on most issues (in the spirit of confession, I’ll admit that my view of the death penalty is very situational and not particularly consistent, so even my rigid philosophical logic occasionally has its flaws. I am beginning to think that if you have trouble understanding my opinions (you don’t have to accept them, but I do try to use the language clearly) the problem may not be entirely with me.

    I’m not sure where you fit on the political spectrum, as you seem to be easily distracted by slogans and buzzwords. If you gain some kind of satisfaction calling yourself a “conservative”, have at it. These terms have little substantive meaning these days.

    BTW, what is the “lie” that you and Keith think I’m clinging to if not my TV viewing habits re the dukes of Hazzard? I went back up through the thread and found everything to be reasonably verifiable objectively except statements of opinion. Of course, opinions are opinions, and can’t be “lies” unless someone were to waste time lying about the content of his personal opinion. I doubt many people do that in blogdom.


    1. scout – To ourselves we can apply any label we want, and often that is what matters. With respect to politics, however, what others think does matter. And you don’t come across as a Conservative.

      Consider how you debate. Generally, you find something to complain about and focus on that. A Conservative might point to ethical lapses, but other than that he would consider the issue with respect to the principles of limited government.

      Because a Conservative considers what he is for important (not what he is against), he has no trouble making his own position clear. On the other hand, Socialists get worked up about who and what they are against.

      The Conservative believes government exists to protect the rights of family, friends, and neighbors. Socialists think government exists to give us things, and Socialists demand their “fair” share. What is a “fair” share? As it turns out, some citizens are more equal than others. So a “fair” share can be very difficult to define. But that’s what endless numbers of bureaucrats are for.


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