One of the most cherished myths of Neo-Confederates is that the Civil War was unnecessary to free the slaves as slavery was a dying institution.
What they don’t point out is that:
a) the war was started by South Carolina slave-camp owners (aka “plantationers”), who had been agitating for the secession of the slave states almost since before the ink was dry on the Declaration of Independence, specifically to preserve the institution of slavery, and had been planning to invade Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua* in order to preserve slavery,
b) the introduction of cotton as a cash crop made slavery very profitable indeed by the 1850s, and
c) back in the late 18th century, when slavery actually was on the verge of dying out in the South, cotton – a very labor-intensive crop that grew in warm climates and which was in increasing demand in Europe – was introduced as a way to preserve slavery by providing an economic rationale for its continued existence. As historian Walter Johnson stated in March of 2013:
At the end of the 18th century, slavery in the United States was a declining institution. Tobacco planters in Virginia and Maryland had exhausted their soil and were switching to wheat. Wage labor was increasingly replacing slave labor in both the urban and the rural areas of the upper South.
And then came cotton.
I’ve wondered for quite some time about the intense efforts to preserve slavery in the United States, even during those times when it was increasingly uneconomical. Something was at work here beyond mere capitalistic urges.
I suspect the answer may lie in the fact that most Americans of African descent have much more European blood in their veins than do their distant kin still resident in Africa – and that most of that blood was put there pre-1861.
In a society as outwardly Puritanical (and in the South, highly militaristic) as that of the United States, where both men and women were expected to be celibate before marriage (though the prevalence of brothels and prostitution shows this to be a bit less expected of men), captive female slaves must have been seen by their owners as outlets for the owners’ lusts. Furthermore, with the ending of importation of slaves into the United States, slave-camp owners had an economic incentive to rape and impregnate their female slaves.
Gary Brecher explains how the power of male fantasies concerning women are what fueled the recruitment drives of various groups:
So if you’re that potential IS recruit in Tunis, you’re watching the news from Kobane, but you’re watching it your way. You don’t worry too much about the atrocity stories coming out about IS. Young men have a great tolerance, let us say, for such things. In fact, many of them have a great deal more than tolerance—something more like enthusiasm, and I speak from my own embarrassing experience of a celibate adolescence.
As for sex slavery, it can look very different, if you’re a celibate young man sitting in a Tunis café with no job, than it looks to a New York Times pundit. As William Butler Yeats said a century ago, noting the, er, unusual eagerness of young Irish Catholic males to get themselves killed fighting better-trained and –armed regulars, celibate young men raised in sex-segregated environments get very excited at the idea of war and martyrdom. My hand is the first to be raised here, my old bald head blushing. I’m not one of those old “bald heads forgetful of their sins” that Yeats described; I remember my sins all too well, even if they were mostly imagined. And the average young man in Tunis or Riyadh has been raised in an atmosphere every bit as devout and celibate as the one which forged the martyrs of Yeats’s Ireland.
If you really want to venture into this territory—and it’s very, very embarrassing territory, believe me—you should read an amazing book called Male Fantasies.
The author is an annoying German academic, and the writing is tedious as Hell, but the idea is amazing: A look at the fantasies about women that motivated the young men who joined the Freikorps, the volunteer military forces of Weimar-era Germany. The book argues, in its slow, earnest German way, that these fantasies are ordinary, but very creepy, male ideas leading direct from dumb-ass dreams about girls, to the fatal decision to march off with the Freikorps. And if you were to look for a 21st version of the Freikorps…Ladies and gents, may I present Islamic State?
*By the way: If you hate slavery, you should celebrate Cinco de Mayo as it commemorates the thwarting of French Emperor Napoleon III’s efforts to help out his Confederate allies by setting up a slave state in Mexico. He finally did take over the country, but the Mexicans fought back and overthrew his puppet Maximillian in 1867.