In a recent interview, famed director Quentin Tarantino stated that the Confederate flag was “the American swastika” and that efforts to ban it, and symbols such as memorials to Southern generals, were long past due. In the first place, banning Nazi symbols, as most European countries and American universities have done, not only antithetical to freedom but counter-productive. It gives the extreme right wing “evidence” of a Jewish conspiracy to suppress their nationalist movements. But debating politically correct censorship isn’t the purpose of this article. Rather, it’s Tarantino’s likening of the Confederacy to Nazi Germany that is both offensive and historically wrong.
Since Tarantino has done films relating to slavery and the south, he probably fancies himself as some sort of expert on American history. I’ve seen Django Unchained and although it’s an entertaining movie, it’s hardly historically accurate. To me it seemed that Tarantino was the little boy who finds an excuse to say a forbidden word (you know the one I’m talking about) and keeps saying it again and again. I haven’t research it, but I wonder if the dreaded N-word was actually the preferred terminology in the early 1800’s. The movie Twelve Years A Slave, which is based on a historical account, showed that besides the inexcusable deprivation of the Africans’ liberty, masters were not necessarily cruel, since a slave represented a significant investment. It was Solomon’s exceptional misfortune (besides being kidnapped in the first place) to be enslaved by to the alcoholic psychopath Edwin Epps, whose addiction made him violent and irrational.
Tarantino probably believes the propaganda he learned in school, namely that the Union was good and the Confederacy was bad, when reality was far more complicated. Abraham Lincoln, despite being celebrated nowadays as an American saint, was quite unpopular in his day, and he closed newspapers and imprisoned writers who opposed him. As for his motivation in waging war on the South, consider the man’s own words, from a letter to Horace Greeley: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Lincoln was a white supremacist whose primary aim was to deport all blacks to Africa. Nowhere in his private correspondence is there any evidence that he ever gave up on this goal. It’s interesting to note that another historically oppressed people, the “civilized tribes” of Oklahoma, sided with the Confederacy.
One can easily draw parallels between the racialist philosophies of Nazi Germany and the antebellum US. (I say US because in the early 1800’s, few whites anywhere viewed blacks as equals, and many northern states had “black codes” that prevented freedmen from settling there.) However, there’s a vast difference between exploitation and extermination. If there’s a parallel to the Holocaust in America, it’s the horrific treatment of our native peoples, and toward this odious cause the generals of the victorious Union, in particular Sherman and Sheridan, were quite zealous. (I should note that Sherman was also a vicious anti-Semite who persuaded Grant to expel all Jews from his army.) American Indian reservations, where so many died from starvation and disease, can be likened to concentration camps. The biggest difference is that here in America, European microbes, such as smallpox and measles, did much of the dirty work for us, decreasing Native American populations by 90% or more. In any case, if there’s an American swastika, it would be one of the cavalry flags of the Indian Wars.