Traitors and Enemies

Yesterday, we visited the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the Hudson River side of Manhattan. I discovered that the Intrepid was one of the aircraft carriers whose planes my father may have directed to refueling stations as a radio operator on Leyte Island during the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf (while the battle for the island was going on around him). We also toured the Growler, a submarine in use in the early 1960s.


While watching a video in line to get on the sub, I was struck by a section on the history of submarines. After talking about the lack of success of the Turtle in the Revolution (an attempt to find a way to break the British blockade), the story turned to another blockade of American coasts, almost a century later. The blockaders were explicitly compared to those British of the earlier war and were not named as anything other than “the enemy.” The hero of the segment was a “Confederate planter” identified as a “patriot,” a man named H. L. Hunley. My jaw dropped.


How could anyone, there, at a museum dedicated to the armed services of the United States, find it acceptable to refer to the United States Navy as “the enemy” and call a rebel against the country a “patriot”?

Talking about Asaiki Tamai and the kamikazi unit he organized in 1944, a unit that attacked American ships at Leyte, no one, for an American military museum, would characterize Tamai as a “patriot” or call the United States forces “the enemy.” Yes, the Confederates (among them many of my own ancestors) were absorbed back into the United States, but Japan, if not the 51st state, has been as close an ally as any for the US for over half a century now. In neither case is it appropriate to characterize an enemy of this country (no matter how much things have changed) as a “patriot” or to take the point-of-view of his nation and call the United States “the enemy.”


I probably wouldn’t have noticed this at all if it weren’t for the growing movement to redefine the Confederacy, making the rebels the “real” American patriots and casting the south as a Christian nation fighting oppression from a godless north. Even the Tea Party, it seems to me, would prefer to identify with Robert E. Lee than those Boston rabble-rousers—but still can’t: the rehabilitation of the southern cause hasn’t progressed quite that far.


But, as that short film shows, it is getting there. In fact, there is a concerted movement to make this happen, as Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hagu tell us:

belief that the Confederacy was an orthodox Christian nation has gained increasing circulation and acceptance. Once a marginal revisionist reading of the Civil War,… groups as diverse as the Sons of Confederate Veterans heritage organization, Christian Reconstructionist bodies such as the Chalcedon Foundation, and the League of the South now generally accept the theological war thesis.


Soon, if this line of reasoning continues, we will be hearing arguments that the wrong side won the Civil War, that it is the United States that we should be seeing as illegitimate, that real patriots are those who oppose it, or oppose its manifestation as a federal government, at least.


Whoops… it’s already happening.


Both Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, among many others on the Christian right, see our government as the enemy, and profess to want power in it to destroy it, to, as Grover Norquist exhorts, drown it in a bathtub. If they are patriots, it is not through loyalty to the United States. Hell, Perry has even hinted that Texas has a right to secede from the union.

That's not exactly patriotic.