The corruption of our language by the woke Left continues apace. Having changed the meaning of the word “science” from a system of inquiry and verification to signify whatever knowledge or pseudo-knowledge, verified or not, supports its political agenda, the Left has now turned its attention to “traitors.” We had a foretaste of this when John Brennan accused President Trump, a little prematurely, of being a traitor. But at least Mr. Brennan could claim that he was using the word, however dishonestly, in its proper sense of one who, while professing loyalty to his country, secretly treats with its enemies to the latter’s advantage. What the denizens of the woke Left now appear to be doing is regarding anyone who holds a different opinion from their own as a traitor—or “racist,” “white supremacist,” or any other boo-word that might come into their mind while they express nothing but their own feelings.
It might be thought that there is a better case for regarding Confederate generals as “traitors”—as The Washington Post, for example, now routinely does. Perhaps in imitation of such emotive language, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois recently claimed, quite falsely, that President Trump in his Mount Rushmore speech “spent all his time talking about dead traitors”—though the Confederate generals (who were not, in fact, mentioned by Mr. Trump on this occasion) were not so called in their own lifetimes, even by those who had suffered the most from their rebellion. Although there was some talk of treason when the Southern rebellion broke out, in retrospect and in the spirit of post-war reconciliation, their Union opposite numbers generally regarded them as men of honor who felt, as many others did at the time, that their principal loyalty was owed to their states and not to the United States, now disunited, which they had joined voluntarily and believed they could withdraw from in the same way. People then were capable of understanding the difference, in honor, between open rebellion and surreptitious treachery.
Not any more. Even today’s generals now appear to be such strangers to the canons of honor that they don’t know the difference. So we are forced to conclude, if a report in the Post is to be believed, that “the military’s top officer,” General Mark Milley, has taken it upon himself to describe the rebellion of the Confederacy as “an act of treason” in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Leaving aside the fact that he doubtless knew he’d better describe it thus to the Democrat-controlled committee if he valued his job, why didn’t any of the Republicans on the committee think to ask the following: if they had indeed committed treason, why did the victorious Union choose not to prosecute them for this crime? Indeed, they were more honored than despised by their erstwhile enemies, and many were received back into the Federal army that they had supposedly betrayed.
Of course we must make allowances for the fact that the whole kerfuffle over statues and base names is arising over a century-and-a-half after the rebellion because the Post and other new-minted propaganda sheets find it a convenient weapon in their ongoing war against President Trump, as well as a way to exacerbate racial division at a time when, so they suppose, this will work to their own political advantage. But it also ought to be a teaching moment for Republicans seeking a way to respond to the Left’s assault on American history, which, as we have lately seen, is very far from being limited to the original topoi of slavery and the Civil War. The New York Times’s “1619 Project”—explicitly designed as yet another anti-Trump missile—regarded the whole country, along with its laws and Constitution and its economy, as irredeemably corrupted by the institution of slavery, not just a few Confederate generals.
It should not be necessary, though no doubt it is necessary, to say that “honorable” does not mean and has never meant the same thing as “moral.” That bad people can also be honorable—although, as it should also be unnecessary to say, they often are not—has been the biggest objection to the whole idea of honor for centuries, and the reason why America and most European countries did away with their old honor cultures during the last century. But anyone who passes moral judgments on the past also has a moral obligation to try to understand it first. And you can’t understand the American Civil War—not to mention much of the rest of American history—without understanding what honor meant to those on both sides who fought it. The armed forces were, until recently, one place where a sense of honor survived the general wrack, but that seems to be the case no longer. If so, in the words of that guilty but much-honored slave-owner Thomas Jefferson, I tremble for my country.