In the guise of a faux documentary produced by the BBS (British Broadcasting Service), “CSA: Confederate States of America” presents an alternate history of the United States, speculating on what might have happened had the South won the Civil War.
On one level, “CSA” is a parody of Ken Burns‘ “The Civil War.” The counterfeiting of historical ephemera, as well as sendups of period television programs such as “Leave It to Beaulah,” is spot on. One of the funniest segments offers excerpts from the D.W. Griffith classic, “The Hunt for Dishonest Abe,” in which President Lincoln flees justice in blackface disguise.
The BBS documentary is aired with commercials that utilize slave imagery, most of which are based on real products from the post-slavery era, among them Sambo X-15 Motor Oil and The Coon Chicken Inn, a chain restaurant that remained open for business on Seattle’s Lake City Way until the mid-’50s.
Not since Spike Lee‘s “Bamboozled” has such an irreverent carnival of African American stereotypes been so irreverently sent up.
It is in this vision of an America that never abolished slavery that “CSA” is most successful. The alternate history is more problematic, mostly due to its adherence to the existing timeline of historical events. The country still enters into a war with Japan on Dec. 7, 1941, although in this version America launches the sneak attack. John Kennedy, an abolition-preaching Republican, still defeats Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, and is still assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Obviously, had such a cataclysmic upset as a Southern victory in the Civil War occurred, these events would not have occurred.
Less significant issues such as “Dixie” being the national anthem are nonetheless disconcerting. Since the song was written by a former slave, it would not exist had slavery not been abolished. More serious is the supposition that the genocide against the Indians would have been carried out by the Southern cavalry, when it was primarily a result of western expansion by the North.
“CSA” is best when inventing, not amending, history. The idea that Canada, by welcoming runaway slaves and pro-abolitionist refugees, would have become the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll while the culture of the United States would have been limited to government propaganda, is only one of many hilarious what-ifs offered by this often remarkable film.
On a peripheral note, the recurring hoopla against the raising of the confederate flag needs to be retextualized. First, the slaves were kidnapped and sold to one percent of the Southern population under the flag of the United States of America, mostly by Northern slave traders. so if slavery is going to be an issue here, it should be the American Flag, not the confederate flag, that is abolished. Second, the war against the Southern states began after the formation of the confederacy and succession from the Union. Some of the southerners believed the Northern aggression was just, and defected to the North. But most of them fought and died under the confederate flag, not to keep their slaves, but to save or avenge their homes and families.
Although it is commonly believed the purpose of the war was to free the slaves, the war had been in progress for three years before Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation. The war was a military action against the states that had succeeded from the Union and founded a new confederate government. The war started two months after the formation of the confederacy, and one month after Lincoln took office as president. Although slavery was one of the issues that led to the hostilities between the North and the South, it was not the deciding factor in the war. In fact, Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, proposed a thirteenth amendment that would protect the practice of slavery in those states that chose to practice it.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a declaration of war against all states or parts of states that Lincoln deemed to be in rebellion against the United States. Its references to the freedom of slaves are parenthetical to the major intent of waging war against the south. Lincoln’s immediate plans for the freed slaves are military induction and menial labor contracts, as is put quite succinctly in the following two paragraphs from Lincoln’s Proclamation:
“And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service”
The primary resistance of the slaveholder to the proclamation was the intent of the Northerners to reclaim the slaves they had sold to the Southerner, and to use them as cheap labor and cannon fodder in the North. We all know and agree that the ownership of another human being is vile and immoral. Yet the Northern slave traders, in selling them to the Southerners, confirmed their persons as the private property of the buyer, and, as such, the buyer resisted the demand to return his personal property to the trader who sold this property to him.
The people who fly a confederate flag rather than the old red, white and blue are honoring their dead, who fought and died under that flag when attacked by the Northern armies. They are not like the neo-Nazis who fly the swastika as a symbol of hate. 99% of them never owned slaves, but they lost a lot of relatives in the war. The confederate flag is a reminder of their resistance against the North in a war they never asked for and a war they lost. As it is an accepted fact that the victors are the ones who write the history of the wars, the South is doomed to be forever demonized by the slave-trading hypocrites who made their cowardly attacks against the homes and persons of those poor Southerners worked the land with their own hands and never in their lives had a thing to do with slavery.
Next time you see a confederate flag flying a full mast, try to look beyond your own sordid history and ask yourself what the North Vietnamese would do to a South Vietnamese who dared fly his flag of lost freedom, the flag he fought under when under attack by the Northern armies. You know what would happen to that poor former who would dare raise such a flag. He would be executed. Swiftly and without words. Don’t let that happen here. Sure, there are racist lunatics who use the confederate flag as a symbol of hatred, but Officer Tim Loehmann who shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio last year on the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination did not do so under a Southern banner. Over 75 unarmed people of color have been murdered by the police in the United States over the past five years – some in Southern states, some in Northern states. The flag of hatred, the flag of racism, has fifty stars, not thirteen.