`Gods and Generals` and the National Question

Ted Turner, executive producer of

“Gods and Generals,”
which premiered in
Washington this week, “didn`t set out to make an
antiwar movie,”
the Washington Post concluded
in its coverage of the event,  “but history is funny
that way.”
Not as funny as the Post, which
managed to miss the entire point of the movie—that, as
horrible as war might be and the American

Civil War
actually was, some things are worth
killing and dying for. [Washington`s Front-Row Seat
For History,
By Roxanne Roberts,

Washington Post, February 11, 2003]

Obsessed with the “VIP audience”
that attended the world premiere and hypnotized by the
celebrity of Mr. Turner, the Post was easily misled. As
a not very important part of the VIP audience, I was
not. In the first place, “Gods and Generals” is
not an antiwar movie; it`s just a very honest movie
about war. Its scrupulously accurate battle scenes lack
the tasteless carnage of Steven Spielberg`s

“Saving Private Ryan”
but nevertheless slam into
your soul the horror of war, no matter how well
justified. In the second place, the star of the evening
was not Mr. Turner. It was the writer, producer and
director of the film,

Ron Maxwell.

Mr. Maxwell, noted for his earlier
production of

based on Michael Shaara`s novel about
the great Civil War battle,

“The Killer Angels,”
has turned out what is known
today as a “prequel,” telling the story of the war from
its beginnings after Virginia`s secession down to the

Battle of Chancellorsville
in May, 1863, two months
before Gettysburg. The movie is based—loosely– on the

of the same name by Mr. Shaara`s son, Jeff.

I say “loosely” because Mr. Maxwell
essentially rewrote the book, which recounts the epic
through the personal stories of several major players in

Robert E. Lee
, Thomas

Jackson, Union war hero

Joshua Chamberlain
, and others.  In Mr. Maxwell`s
version, Jackson quickly emerges as the main hero, and
the others tend to dwindle in comparison. There`s a
reason for this: The real hero of the film is not so
much Stonewall Jackson himself as what Mr. Maxwell
argues he represents: A Southern civilization defined by

religious faith
and a ferocious determination to be
free of Northern dominance.

That`s the point the Post
managed to miss entirely, but you can bet your boots
others won`t. For perhaps the first time since D.W.
Griffith produced

“Birth of a Nation”
in 1915, Mr. Maxwell has had
the courage and the vision to make a movie that tries to
tell the Southern side of the war seriously.  It`s a
side that downplays slavery and race, a point the
movies` other critics are not going to drop.

It has now become a commonplace on
both left and right that the Civil War was really about
slavery and Abraham Lincoln`s righteous determination to
abolish it, even at the cost of

600,000 American lives.
That`s a huge historical
blunder that Mr. Maxwell`s movie corrects. As he has
Chamberlain explaining in the film, ending slavery was
never an

original war aim
of the Union, and as both Lee and
Jackson insist, it was resistance to Northern military
aggression that pushed Virginia and the Upper South into
secession, not a commitment to slavery.

Actor Stephen Lang`s performance as
Jackson, driven by intense religious fires, dominates
the movie.  Mr. Maxwell is perhaps on weaker ground in
having Jackson deliver a short sermon to a slave on how
slavery is bound to end. From what I know of Jackson, he
thought little about slavery, except to believe that God
had established it. Mr. Maxwell may be skirting
inaccuracy—and a certain amount of political
correctness—in trying to ignore what was a genuine
Southern belief that racial slavery was divinely
ordained, though Lee himself (played in the movie by
Robert Duvall) was a

good deal less attached
to the peculiar institution
than many.

But the director is certainly right
to say that for Virginians it was resistance to

call for 75,000 troops
to crush the “rebellion” in
the Deep South that led the

Old Dominion
and its Upper South sisters out of the
Union. Lincoln`s call for troops is what caused the
war—not secession, not slavery, and not

firing on Fort Sumter
. The prospect of an American
president sending troops to fight other Americans was
too much for Virginians—and most other Southerners and

—to swallow.

And that, as Mr. Maxwell`s great
movie tries to tell us, is what is really worth fighting
and the freedom that goes with it.
These days, when we`re told that

national sovereignty
is on the way out and Americans
are about to be dragooned into fighting yet another war
for other peoples` countries, it`s a point that no
American, North or South, can afford to miss.


[Sam Francis [email
him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection
of his columns,

America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The
Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available

Americans For Immigration Control