One of the perils of being a professor is that it can encourage you to think you are clever. I’m sure there are other professions where this is true, but it is definitely the case here. This is the story.
As a life-long resident of the northeast and a person with specific view of the United States and its history I’ve always been dismayed by the prominence of the Confederate Flag as a ubiquitous icon in national life. There are various sides to this, the role of state flags that incorporate the Confederate flag and what they signify are one part of the discussion for example. Another side is that this flag also seems to be an adornment in the northeast – as a bumper sticker, yard decoration, belt buckle, etc. If it is not quite common it is hardly rare and the sight sets me on edge. If you are from Georgia or South Carolina and need to let everyone know that your Connecticut plates are merely a matter of convenience, why not have the name of the state or even the state flag on your car?
This was all floating through my mind one day as I noticed a local memorial to civil war soldiers that stated they had fallen during “The Great Rebellion.” I decided that I would begin to refer to this war – the Civil War – in this fashion. It was simple, direct, and had the benefit that it is based on memorials to those who fought in a good war. It seemed perfect. With a single phrase I could recast my political sensibilities as a question of the forgotten historical traditions of the northeast, rather than me picking a political fight. It struck me as such a clever idea that I proceeded to indoctrinate my young son with the phrase.
And so it went until one evening when we were having dinner at the house of new friends over the summer. The parents in this family is couple had spent their adult lives working in international relief; providing education and services to refugees in parts of the world I won’t even go to as a tourist. It just so happens that one of them, John, is from Georgia. As the phrase “The Great Rebellion” slid out of my son’s mouth … suddenly I didn’t feel quite so clever. Turns out there is a little more to remaking the way people refer to the bloodiest war in our nation’s history.
Still, who is with me on the reclaiming “The Great Rebellion?” I mean, why not, it was quite a rebellion right? For those of you wondering, I do not actually teach U.S. history.
Joshua M. Rosenthal