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Stupid Misconceptions About
The South

by D.V. Bowden

From time to time, I hear people say the dumbest things about the South and the Confederacy. They really believe these things, because they have no understanding of the true historical facts. I'm going to use this space to address these statements from time to time. Here's the first installment:

Part 1: If the South Had Won,
We'd All Be Speakin' German!

"If the South had won, there would have been no strong United States to defeat Germany during WWII, and Hitler would have conquered the world."

This ridiculous canard is inevitably dredged up if one discusses the WBTS long enough, and even many good Southerners are so ignorant of history that they accept such a statement unquestioningly. To set things straight, a little history lesson is in order:

It is important to keep in mind that without previous U.S. intervention, there never would have been a WWII in the first place. Lincoln's war on the South created a powerful, centralised state, much as Otto von Bismarck worked to unified the German states in the 1870's. Later, when Europe was embroiled in WWI, the two sides, each composed of multiple nations and empires, had reached a stalemate. Neither side could achieve clear victory. Europeans had been fighting each other on the Continent for thousands of years. Political boundaries shifted often, and were seldom considered permanent. If the U.S. had not intervened, Germany and the Allies would have reached a compromise treaty, with moderate terms. However, Woodrow Wilson and his advisors were eager to get America into the war (all Presidents crave the importance and power that comes with being a "war president," and, as Randolph Bourne said, "War is the health of the state."). Just as Lincoln shrewdly provoked the South into firing the first shot at Fort Sumter, Germany was provoked into sinking the Lusitania, an incident which war propagandists turned into the outrage that Wilson needed to get U.S. intervention. U.S. men and materiel tipped the balance, and the Allies emerged victorious. Instead of offering moderate peace terms, the Allies took a page from Ulysses S. "Unconditional Surrender" Grant, and imposed harsh terms on the Germans at Versailles. This momentous mistake virtually guaranteed that there would be another war.

To pay the enormous reparations demanded by the Allies, the Weimar government inflated the German currency so that it lost all its value. The destructive hyperinflation created chaos--conditions were ripe for the rise of Hitler and Naziism. Hitler promised to restore order and German national pride. He rebuilt the German military, and launched a war of conquest against Poland and other countries bordering Germany. However, as historian Paul Johnson points out in Modern Times, Hitler had not intended to go to war in the West so soon. His original strategy had been an "Eastern strategy" to invade Russia, defeat Stalin, and use the vast resources of the USSR to build up his military might for an eventual confrontation with England and France. Because of the intricate tangle of treaties and alliances among the European nations, France declared war sooner than he had expected. Now faced with a formidable enemy in the West, Hitler put Russia on hold and signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin. Of course, Hitler never had any intention of honouring this treaty any longer than it suited him, and when things in the West seemed to be under control, Hitler double-crossed Stalin and attacked Russia.

Hitler's plans for world conquest were doomed from the moment he abandoned the non-aggression pact and invaded Russia, the place where armies go to die. Hitler, like Napoleon before him, underestimated the dangers of invading Russia. The brutal Russian winter swallowed up German soldiers and equipment, freezing them on the vast steppes. The Russians shrewedly retreated into the vast interior, regrouped, and mounted powerful counterattacks. Nazi Germany, now fighting a two-front war, had no chance to successfully complete Hitler's plans for conquest.

Remember, that prior to U.S. entry into the war, Hitler had failed in his attempt to conquer Britain, which was only a few miles across the English Channel. It is laughable to think that the Nazi's could have crossed several thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean and invaded the U.S.

As columnist Joe Sobran has written:

[T]here would have been certain logistical difficulties, for either Hitler or Tojo, in conquering North America across the oceans. Hitler couldn't even conquer England across a narrow channel, and little Vietnam proved too much for the United States. The idea of Tojo pillaging Omaha and Des Moines is absurd beyond belief. Yet many Americans imagined it during World War II, and even today some people find it plausible.

The point of all this historical exposition is this: when the Union defeated the Confederacy, the original, voluntary union of states was destroyed and replaced with a consolidated, centralised, nationalistic government. The U.S. government abandoned the foreign policy of non-intervention counselled by the Founding Fathers, and embarked on a policy of meddling abroad (see "Spanish-American War"). When WWI broke out in Europe, rather than sit it out, Wilson took the U.S. into the war, with disastrous consequences. U.S. power allowed the allies to impose harsh terms on the Germans at Versailles, which paved the way for German hyperinflation and the rise of Naziism and Hitler. Even then, the U.S. could have sat out the war, and there would have been no danger of a German conquest of North America.

If the South had won, the Confederacy would probably have followed the non-interventionist policy advocated by the Founders. The North, deprived of the Southern soldiers who have made a disproportionate contribution to U.S. military forces in every war since the WBTS, would have had to make much greater sacrifices of its own people to provide the manpower necessary for these foreign adventures. Furthermore, an independent South would have deprived the North of much tax revenue that it otherwise would have extracted from the region, making foreign war and adventurism more difficult to finance. Not to mention the fact that the vindication of the right of secession would have meant that if scheming rulers in Washington dragged the U.S. into an unnecessary war, displeased states could secede, and might even join the Confederacy. Pretty soon, Washington could have been left a tiny Federal enclave inside a free, peaceful Confederacy. Foreign adventurism could have been left to the empire nations, and we would have been spared a lot of grief.

If you're still not convinced, pick up a copy of Modern Times. Ponder whether there would have been a WWII without the Treaty of Versailles, and whether Hitler would have been successful in his conquests even if the US had decided to sit out WWII. Another great source is The Costs of War, a collection of essays on war by leading scholars associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and edited by John V. Denson.

An interesting side-note: Sci-fi and "alternate history" writer Harry Turtledove, author of the terrific The Guns of the South, has written a long series of alternate-history novels in which the South won the WBTS, fought another war with the North in the 1870's, and sided with England in WWI, which was won by the allies Germany and the United States. Very interesting stuff, and well-done.

Regardless of whether there would have been a powerful, victorious Union, or a smaller Union and a Southern Confederacy, in the end, the world would have been better off if the leaders of any American government had chosen to follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson in his First Inaugural Address to pursue a foreign policy of "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none..."

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