Newt Gingrich has written an alternate history in which the Confederates win the Battle of Gettysburg.
It would, of course, be offensively silly to blame contemporary white Southerners for the institution of slavery or for the Civil War that grew out of that institution. But whether the guys flying the Stars and Stripes are the good guys shouldn’t be a matter of debate. Openly pandering to wish-fulfillment dreams about the defeat of the armed forces of the United States by the forces of a rebellion mounted in defense of slavery ought to be unthinkable for someone still active in American politics.
Just imagine the firestorm if a still-active Democratic politician had written a novel with Santa Anna as its hero. Yet the moral case for sympathizing with Mexico in the Texan succession fight or the Mexican-American war is far stronger than the case for sympathizing with the CSA.
That Gingrich can get away with it says something ugly about his section, and his party, and the tame press.
Update: This post has attracted lots of email, almost all of it politely but firmly disagreeing. Amygdala makes the same point most of my emailers do: imagining an alternative future isn’t the same as wishing that said future had come to pass. That’s surely right: Len Deighton’s SS-GB, set in Nazi-occupied Britain, is one of the best pieces of anti-Nazi fiction I’ve ever read.
But all the reviews make it clear that Lee is not merely the victor but the hero of Gingrich’s fantasy, and none suggests that the CSA victory is portrayed as in any way unfortunate. As Publishers Weekly notes, the “portrayals of historical figures like Lee, Meade, James Longstreet and Richard Ewell betray a certain bias (the Confederate men are noble and wise, the Union leaders hot-tempered and vindictive).”
Against the background of Lost Cause mythologizing (including John Ashcroft’s apparent belief that the government-in-exile set up by Confederate-leaning Missourians in Texas during the Civil War was the legitimate government of Missouri) it’s a little hard to swallow the idea that Gingrich wasn’t doing, or encouraging his readers to do, a little bit of wishing along with his imagining.
Second update Professor Bainbridge cheated: he actually read the book. He reports that I’m wrong. I stand corrected.
My apologies to Gingrich for questioning his patriotism and to my readers for wasting their time.