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Nat Turner

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nat-t1

We recently passed the anniversary of Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion. And we should remember it and celebrate the bravery of Turner and his followers to fight back against the horrors of slavery.* However, not to be overly pedantic, but the idea, as this piece in Time suggests, that we should take Nat Turner’s “confession” to a white man as literal or even anything close to truth, is highly questionable. We actually have no solid evidence that what was written down was anything Turner said or even really if even represented Turner’s thoughts. The individual who published it was a slaveholder named Thomas Gray. As was common in the southern elite class, Gray had a lot of debt and needed cash. He may well have fabricated all of it in order to pander to southerners freaking out about Haiti coming to Virginia. I’m surprised Time didn’t at least note this. It’s not super helpful to simply repeat lines from the Confession as the true words of Turner without noting that they may well not be.

*And please no one say that Turner and his followers were bad people for killing future slaveholding white children. As if we have the right to judge slaves for fighting for their freedom because they didn’t do it in a way to gain the approval of 21st century white liberals.

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  • Colin Day

    Maybe southerners should have worried more about George Thomas (whose family’s plantation was near Turner’s rebellion) than Nat Turner.

    And Turner, way to let Thomas live.

    • Murc

      I wish we knew more about Thomas. He destroyed or just didn’t save most of his lifetime correspondence.

      I’ve always found him useful to push back against neo-Confederate “we’re just honoring people of superb military prowess” narratives. Because the fact that the state of Virginia spent decades trying to pretend Thomas didn’t exist puts the lie to that very easily.

      • Colin Day

        Hey, Thomas’ own family tried to pretend he didn’t exist.

    • msdc

      And Turner, way to let Thomas live.

      They didn’t “let” him live, of course; he and his family fled before the rebels reached their farm.

      It’s nice to see that we’re willing to grant Turner and his rebels full moral agency over their actions (or, in this case, invent it) when we approve of the children in question.

      • Colin Day

        It’s not so much moral approval as pointing out that Thomas helped achieve the ends that Turner sought.

        • msdc

          Which Turner would have happily nullified if he and his rebels had shown up a little earlier.

          • CatoUticensis

            “Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.” – Frederick Douglass.

            • msdc

              A strange non sequitur, as it says nothing about Turner’s intentions toward Thomas; in any case, the Virginia General Assembly responded to the rebellion by killing a proposed emancipation plan (which, to be clear, would never, ever have passed) and tightened the slave codes instead.

  • Murc

    And please no one say that Turner and his followers were bad people for killing future slaveholding white children.

    Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Erik. It’s possible to write approvingly of Nat Turner’s rebellion without endorsing literally everything he did. And “it was okay to kill children ’cause they were just gonna grow up to be evil anyway” is a vile sentiment.

    • wjts

      No shit. It’s hard to read that as anything other than “nits make lice”.

      • I would say you are significantly ignoring the power dynamic at play in 1831 Virginia.

        • Cheerful

          If the ethics of killing children are to be judged simply by the power dynamics of the period, than there is a lot of children killing that could be excused through history. At the moment that an adult is standing over a child with a machete, who has the power?

          You are unwilling to render any criticism of the actions of the slaves at the time, even simply to take their tactics as distressing but justifiable in the context of the uprising. To read your reference to “killing future slaveholding white children” implies that the killing was not even distressing but entirely justifiable and a step forward in a progressive direction. I doubt that black people at the time, or any time, would have the same opinion. Actually, the only people I have read state that killing the children was a good thing, or at least completely outside the boundaries of criticism have been liberals, mostly white.

        • nixnutz

          “Hatchlings make gators”?

    • Indeed. I think most people are capable of recognizing the context of the situation, and the terrible things that were done to Turner and his people, while still being horrified by the murder of children.

      • N__B

        Try turning that sentence the other way: I’m horrified by the murder of children, but I find it difficult to judge the actions of Turner given his context. Why should he care about the children of slavers?

        • This.

          • Pseudonym

            Killing kids may be bad, but holding that against Nat Turner would definitely be bad?

            • CatoUticensis

              given that the kids he didn’t kill would almost certainly go on to fight for the preservation of slavery (excepting George Henry Thomas), i’m going to go with ‘yes’ on this one.

              • Pseudonym

                I tend to think that trying to justify the killing of kids by convicting them of precrimes is generally a mistake, but I find this entire comment discussion rather (for lack of a better word) silly.

        • DrDick

          That I can buy into, and is the way I read Erik’s comment.

        • Mayur

          Simply put: because your enemy denying your humanity imposes no justification for denying it to yourself.

          Killing children is wrong, period. People in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have deemed it so.

          • Criticizing slaves desperately trying to achieve freedom, slaves whose own children had no rights to be people or even to live, is embarrassing. This is liberalism at its very worst.

          • N__B

            Killing children is wrong, period.

            I agree. And if I were being held as a slave and knew that any children I might ever have would be born slaves, I might well kill anyone who I thought was connected with slavery.

            I’m not excusing the killing of children. I’m saying it’s a predictable outcome of treating people like animals: they will do what they believe is necessary to escape those circumstances.

          • nixnutz

            People in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries have deemed it so.

            This is a lie. Look at it from Turner’s perspective. If you were an African slave or Native American of that period, who had seen your children brutalized and murdered for centuries why would you conclude that White society had any taboo against killing children. They just didn’t.

            Trying to constrain the resistance of oppressed people to a standard that’s higher than the day-to-day treatment they receive from their oppressors is an important part of how these systems last as long as they do.

            • cppb

              Thank you. This is just the inverse of the common defense of white liberals who owned slaves as “products of their times.” Just as pretending that no one knew slavery was wrong until the 1860’s erases the millions of non-white people who somehow managed to figure it out (not to mention the white abolitionists), claiming there was a norm against killing children erases non-white children, who were absolutely not subject to that norm.

              • i8kraft

                Sorry, I had a little trouble following. So we are judging people as products of their time, then?

                • tsam

                  When we’re judging from our post emancipation, educated frames of reference, we don’t really get to assign our contemporary and wholly different values to people who were chattel their entire lives.

                • i8kraft

                  So you’re saying not that anything is justifiable in the context of a slave in a rebellion but that nothing that he or she does can be judged by people who haven’t been in that position. You’ve stated it better than Erik has (if indeed it is his position) and I can respect it, but I profoundly disagree, and given further extremes than the murder of children (what a thing to type) I think you’d agree with me.

          • Alvin Alpaca

            Hiroshima

            • rea

              Well, yes–sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Don’t enslave other people’s children if you don’t want your own to be massacred. It is not that killing children is right, it is that it is inevitable.

              • AMK

                This. Revolting slaves killing white children is no more “right” than the white slavers killing black children…..and nobody here is going to defend that in any context. But being the animals they are, people constantly immersed in the kind of all-encompassing culture of violence and dehumanization that comes with slavery are going to be violent and dehumanize others–particularly children.

        • Thirtyish

          I’m horrified by the murder of children [ETA: and people] but I find it difficult to judge the actions of Turner given his context. Why should he care about the children of slavers?

          Agreed.

    • timb

      What Murc said: the mores against child murder are pretty damn universal and not just he product of 21st century liberal.

      Erik’s desire to try to defuse a critique of Turner revolt could have been phrased a million ways, instead he gave the Leninist defense re class enemies

      • Cheerful

        To the extent we have a right today to judge any person who lived in the past based on their actions I don’t see why Nat Turner should be exempt. And stating that killing children is forgivable under the circumstances is different than saying it is not bad.

        Unless the argument really is that nits make lice and white Southern children of the day should have been killed.

      • DrDick

        the mores against child murder are pretty damn universal and not just he product of 21st century liberal.

        But which never applied to black children before 1900 and seldom after.

      • Thirtyish

        What Murc said: the mores against child murder are pretty damn universal

        Uh, not really. And Erik has echoed my own sentiments well enough here already, so he hardly needs my defense.

        • Not to mention that this construction ignores the Confucian ideal of prioritizing the lives of the old over the young. It’s not nearly universal as all these people are saying, outside of the issue of Nat Turner.

          • i8kraft

            Fair enough. Are Confucian ideals relevant to 1831 Virginia?

            • No. But to say that killing children is universally deplored only makes sense if we are talking about Europe and European-centric cultures.

            • tsam

              I’m sure slaves read Confucius voraciously

            • Pseudonym

              The idea of one’s moral responsibilities arising out of one’s place in the social hierarchy seems rather relevant.

              • Origami Isopod

                More like, the idea of what society owes one has always risen out of one’s place in the social hierarchy. The lower the place, the more disposable you were considered.

          • AMK

            If you can find an actual East Asian person who would throw a child off a cliff to save a senior citizen because of the “Confucian ideal,” I’m Tsar of All the Russias.

            I recall that at the height of the Fukishima disaster a few years ago, when it looked like there might be a full-scale meltdown, the older workers at the nuclear plant and the Energy Ministry all volunteered to suit up and throw themselves into the breach so the younger people with kids would not be exposed. This was inevitably explained in terms of their strong Confucian values.

            • Origami Isopod

              If you can find an actual East Asian person who would throw a child off a cliff to save a senior citizen because of the “Confucian ideal,”

              Why, it’s almost as if mores change over time, and scriptures or philosophy is reinterpreted to support those mores.

          • Jean-Michel

            Not really clear how “Confucian ideals” do this. Reverence for elders, filial piety etc. are not posed in Confucianism in terms of “priority” or value but as mutually interdependent hierarchies. Indeed to a great extent children are idealized in Confucianism–see Mencius’s concept of “innate goodness,” which holds up children as innocent and uncorrupted models of virtue (“A great man is one who has not lost his infant heart”); his most famous argument for the concept is the concern a stranger would feel upon seeing a child about to fall into a well (in other words, concern for children = innate goodness). The emphasis Confucianism places on the procreative imperative (which trumps filial piety and obedience to elders–see the anecdote of King Shun’s elopement in the Mencius) is also hard to reconcile with an especially low prioritization of children. If this is a reference to infanticide, that’s too complicated to get into fully here, so I’ll just say that for most of history there is little reason to believe that the incidence of infanticide in Confucian societies (which was far from uniform to begin with–even in China itself there was and is huge regional variation) was substantially greater than in “The West.”

      • Drexciya

        What Murc said: the mores against child murder are pretty damn universal and not just he product of 21st century liberal.

        Universal, indeed.

      • Origami Isopod

        What Murc said: the mores against child murder are pretty damn universal and not just he product of 21st century liberal.

        I’m coming in late here, but … really, no. Infanticide is and has been a thing since time immemorial. Child abuse, even severe child abuse, was not looked upon a a crime until the end of the 19th century. Children were regarded as the property of their parents, to dispose of (sometimes literally) as they wished.

        • btfjd

          Slavery is and has been a thing since time immemorial. Slavery, even torture and rape of slaves, was not looked upon as a crime until the beginning of the 19th century. Slaves were regarded as the property of their owners, to dispose of (sometimes literally) as they wished.

          Can’t have it both ways. We now see slavery was a hideous immoral practice–kind of like infanticide. We have a right, even a duty, to condemn both.

    • Chetsky

      I remember once reading something written by a Palestinian, to the effect of

      If the Israelis would give us F-16s we’d be quite content to stop using backpacks full of bombs.

      The laws of war are written by those who have something to lose. When you literally have nothing to lose (really, what -did- Nat and his comrades have to lose? what? what?) -why- would you abide by -any- law of just war?

      • Murc

        why- would you abide by -any- law of just war?

        Context is, of course, always important, but I have real problems with “we’re in a shitty position, and that makes anything we do justified.”

        • Chetsky

          I wrote a lot, but decided, this is more effective.

          http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/09/slave-tortures-mask-scolds-bridle-or.html

          http://museumproject18.weebly.com/torture-and-abuse.html

          After reading it, think again: your wife’s been raped, your daughters taken way to be raped, your sons to a short a brutal life far, far away. Oh, and they have you in one of those various restraints. You’re going to read St Thomas Aquinas (which you cannot, b/c it’s a crime to teach a slave to read) and forgive your slavers.

          Riiiiight.

          • Bill Murray

            which you cannot, b/c it’s a crime to teach a slave to read

            This wasn’t a crime in Virginia until after (and because of) Nat Turner’s Revolt

        • “Shitty position” is rather euphemistic here.

    • Please delineate precisely which tactics escaped slaves should have used to they could get the approval of white liberals in the 21st century. Maybe we can use the time machine to go back and tut-tut their actions. Why couldn’t they have just used nonviolence!

      • Murc

        Please delineate precisely which tactics escaped slaves should have used to they could get the approval of white liberals in the 21st century.

        Well, the ones they used to get your approval certainly seemed to work. I don’t understand why your moral approval is fundamentally more legitimate than my position that murdering children is generally not to be approved of. You get to render moral judgments, so so do I. The only difference is we can’t both be right.

        • My moral judgment is strictly that 21st century liberals shouldn’t be judging 19th slave rebellions for their tactics, as has happened on this site more than once when I’ve brought up Turner.

          • Murc

            My moral judgment is strictly that 21st century liberals shouldn’t be judging 19th slave rebellions for their tactics

            Except to approve of them, as your post does. It was not neutral. It rendered judgment.

            • I neither approve nor disapprove. Except for pearl clutching liberals. I do disapprove of them.

              • Murc

                I neither approve nor disapprove.

                Your writing does not reflect this.

              • Pseudonym

                And we should remember it and celebrate the bravery of Turner and his followers to fight back against the horrors of slavery.

                But with a very neutral celebration. ;-)

          • Colin Day

            My moral judgment is strictly that 21st century liberals shouldn’t be judging 19th slave rebellions for their tactics

            But are they judging the rebellion in that way? People might say that the rebellion was justified without agreeing to all of the tactics.

            • Cassiodorus

              Or to say you can understand the use of the tactic without saying it’s proper.

            • tsam

              Hindsight. It’s a high high horse.

              • i8kraft

                But hindsight is how we judge all history. It’s one thing to say a person can’t empathize; it’s quite another to say that moral judgments of the past are impossible.

                • tsam

                  Not to say they’re impossible, but rather that circumstances allow for a variable level of condemnation, no?

    • JMV Pyro

      I think this entire thread’s a pretty good example of one of the key points where liberals and leftists tend to diverge: whether or not violence against perceived innocents (children of the oppressing class, etc.) is justified in a revolution.

      Murc’s position is a solid “no”, while Erik’s is “it can be potentially justified given certain contexts and the status of the oppressed class.”

      I’ll be honest and say that I side more with Murc, but Erik’s position is more complex then just a flat endorsement of killing innocents.

      • Gregor Sansa

        I get that Erik’s full position is more complex. But what he said was:

        And please no one say that Turner and his followers were bad people for killing future slaveholding white children. As if we have the right to judge slaves for fighting for their freedom because they didn’t do it in a way to gain the approval of 21st century white liberals.

        He was saying that others have no right to disapprove of any of Turner’s actions, while he himself has the right to approve of some of them. That’s untenable.

        I don’t know the situation. Was killing the children justified by the needs of war — for instance, would they have escaped and provided intelligence to counterattacking slavers? Or was it impossible to care for them without sacrificing military goals? If so, I think you could make a strong argument that the killing was justified, at least for children over the age of 6 or 7. But there really is no justification for killing a baby. If we can approve of the rebellion overall — and we certainly can! — then we can deplore some of the things he did in it.

        • aidian

          There’s a case to be made for killing that baby. If, considering the social context of the time, it’s most likely that the baby will grow up to be a member of or agent for the slaveholding class unless taken and raised in an entirely different environment, and you’re in no position to ensure that environment, then the choice is to kill the baby or allow it to become the enemy. Better to kill it now when you’ve got the chance than to have to do so in 20 years when it can shoot back.

          • Gareth

            Are there any modern babies that it’s acceptable to kill? If not, when did baby-killing stop being moral?

            • I again refer you to Peter Singer.

              • btfjd

                Or Josef Mengele.

            • tsam

              Ask today’s confederate apologists.

              • PohranicniStraze

                I’m not seeing any confederate apologists in this thread, but I am seeing a lot of child-murder apologists. Not something I really would have expected here.

            • tsam

              So it was Turner who was responsible for the deaths? Or was it the ancestors who enslaved and persecuted generations of humans? It’s easy to make these moral judgements from the perspective of a person who has experienced nothing compared to a slave. A person born into captivity. A person who spent his whole life being brutalized and tortured. But by all means, let’s talk about right and wrong from the perspective of the poor slaveowners who dint do nuffin

              • i8kraft

                Is it alright to speak from the perspective of that slave owner’s child who literally “dint do nuffin?”

                • tsam

                  Of course it is. But how are we supposed to understand what motivates a lifelong slave? All they knew was their life of slavery. We can look back and disapprove all we want, but are we really capable of empathizing with a at Turner?

                • i8kraft

                  We are completely incapable of empathizing with slaves outside of moral absolutes. Beyond that I suppose it’s personal what qualifies as a moral absolute.

                • tsam

                  I guess I’m saying there’s a distinction to be drawn (a valid one, IMO) between pretty much anyone living today and an early 18th century slave. How we judge Turner’s actions should be different from how we judge slave owners. Child killing, as a moral absolute is horrifying. But watching children be murdered, after having spent your entire life surrounded by death and suffering makes these moral absolutes different, don’t they?

                • i8kraft

                  I suppose my thought is that if the context affects it, it isn’t a moral absolute. Given how respectful our conversation has been (and I sincerely thank you for that) I feel I should fill out this comment more, but I’m not sure I have more to say.

                • tsam

                  I get what you’re saying and I’m nobody to be saying I’m right and you’re wrong. I just try to picture the life of a slave, and for as far as I am capable of such a thing, I feel like I’m in no way equpped to expect values similar to my white, modern set of values. So I don’t feel like I’m in any position to judge Nat Turner. And if we’re being honest, there’s a difference between us and slave owners back then too, but then they knew slavery was mostly gone from the North of their nation, and that the abolitionists were starting to win the battle. They had the tools to make such value judgments, whereas slaves were deliberately deprived of these tools, for the purpose of keeping them enslaved.

                • i8kraft

                  I guess we’ll just to have to disagree. They were in a literally unimaginable situation from my experience, but I suppose it’s also impossible for me to imagine a situation where there are no moral absolutes. If such is my privilege, I’m lucky for it to be so.

            • Pseudonym

              I believe it’s acceptable to kill a modern baby by throwing it under the wheels of a trolley, but only in order to save at least five pregnant nuns.

    • Killing children is indeed wrong, but evidently wrong enough that the US had no problem doing it (from a position of immeasurably more strength than Turner’s rebels) in wars fought within living memory. It’s a silly thing to single out.

      • i8kraft

        I don’t think it’s being singled out in any way. Because it’s the topic of conversation, it is being examined.

    • Howlin Wolfe

      Nat Turner was not a “bad person”, whatever that means in whatever context, except maybe sometimes, when he gave in to his meaner impulses. Like all of us. He was incredibly brave, given what I understand from information I’ve had available (not that I know a whole lot about him).

      And we can simultaneously be horrified by child murder, even that committed by the slaves in this rebellion, and not label Turner as absolutely “bad”.

      So I think this whole argument rests on a false dilemma.

  • Joe_JP

    If a few blacks in the 21st Century thought some other group of slaves were bad people for in their eyes gratuitously hurting non-slave owning women or killing young children, would that be okay?

    I personally don’t know enough about the situation but will keep my counsel here regarding judging, as much as I can, historical events. People who are victims are not perfect. At times, they might do bad things even in the course of fighting for justice. Some are in fact bad people.

    Again, not saying anything about this specific case, not knowing enough of the details.

  • libarbarian

    Don’t you need to at least win an engagement to be a proper rebellion?

    When you are crushed in your first engagement ( not with professional forces but with civilian militiamen hastily cobbled together… ) you should be labled an “attempted rebellion” at most.

    I’d say “doomed violent outburst by desperate men” would be more accurate still

    • By that standard, there were no slave rebellions in U.S. history.

      • Mayur

        Yeah; I think you have to give these movements their due. Unsuccessful rebellion is as good as you get outside of Brazil or Haiti.

        • Yeah, when you consider that these rebellions had less chance of succeeding than the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the sheer bravery involved is incredible.

          • msdc

            Yes, murdering that baby was truly a profile in courage!

            Your pre-emptive complaints about the approval of 21st century white liberals are starting to sound more and more like the ultimate in projection. Nothing could testify more to white leftist guilt than typing starry-eyed praises to the bravery of people who attacked unarmed children.

            • If only their rebellion was non-violent! I’m sure that would have worked far better!

              • msdc

                It couldn’t have worked any worse. Somewhere around four times as many slaves and free blacks (most of whom had no affiliation with Turner) were killed in the rebellion and the panic that followed. Many more were sold or deported to other slave states, and emigrations to Liberia jumped up after the backlash. Slave codes tightened controls against black literacy and religious meetings. The rebellion was an abject failure in every sense, except giving a perverse rallying point to people looking to get self-righteous about someone else’s pogrom.

                • i8kraft

                  But remember, we’ve been told that hindsight is inadmissable.

                • CatoUticensis

                  yes they should have just meekly accepted their servitude and waited on good liberals in the north to fix everything.

                • i8kraft

                  If you don’t accept child murder you’re pro slavery. Got it.

                • msdc

                  So just to be clear, you’re okay with Turner utterly failing to achieve his wildly unrealistic goals and getting hundreds of innocent slaves and free blacks killed in the process because At Least He Did Something?

                • tsam

                  Before that gets answered, I want to be clear that you’re implying that this was Turner’s motivation, or that all of his military training should have stopped him because he had no chance of winning, or…just what are you saying?

                • CatoUticensis

                  Hey msdc:

                  “Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.” – Frederick Douglass, “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress” (1857)

                • CatoUticensis

                  i8kraft: nah. if you try to judge a rag-tag group of poorly-armed people facing down a brutal, blood-soaked aristocracy that would subsequently goose-step the continent into a destructive war thirty years later after they had been subjugated, humiliated, tortured, abused, and had their families ripped apart to fatten that aristocracy, that makes you pro-slavery.

                  Also, “Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.” – Frederick Douglass

                • i8kraft

                  Yes, I read that quote earlier in the thread. As brilliant and important as he was, I don’t take his word as gospel. I hardly think it’s fair to call me pro-slavery for questioning the murder of children. If you do, I guess your world is more black and white than mine.

                • msdc

                  Yes, the Douglass quote was nonsense up at the top of the thread and it’s nonsense down here. (Even if you post it twice!) The actual response by Virginia slaveowners and legislators was varied and contradictory, but it ultimately resulted in tighter restrictions against slaves and free blacks.

                • msdc

                  (Even if you post it twice!)

                  Or, um, four times at various different points in the thread. Wow. Maybe not quite the silver bullet you imagine it to be.

        • SamChevre

          Don’t forget St Croix.

          Less high-stakes, because it was an “emancipation now, not later” revolt–but General Buddhoe deserves to be remembered as a successful leader of a slave revolt, who won with little bloodshed.

      • Matt McKeon

        The Armistad mutiny is an example of a successful US slave revolt. At least part of it was in the US.

  • LWA

    Judging long-dead people isn’t a particularly worthwhile endeavor.
    But taking lessons from them is.

    The lesson I take away is that very first thing that happens in war, any war anywhere, is that women and children are brutalized and killed.
    We like to imagine that a Righteous Cause will target only the villains with laser-like precision, but that never happens.

  • Bruce Vail

    There is an interesting tidbit about Nat Turner’s bible in the new issue of The New Yorker.

    Apparently, it will be displayed in the new Museum of African America History and Culture to be opened in Washington, D.C. next month.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/descendants-of-va-family-donate-nat-turners-bible-to-museum/2012/02/16/gIQA7KCAIR_story.html

  • Pretending that there is some “moral” compunction about killing children when parents kill their own freaking children on a regular basis is absurd. Killing is either wrong, or it isn’t. Killing children is not in any meaningful (or even “moral”) way different from killing adults. (Besides, you wouldn’t want to leave Junior Slaveholder an orphan, would you? That’d really be cruel!)

    Your species’ several thousand yrs. of recorded history is an excellent indication that human life (& the planet) is w/o value to any of you, no matter how you flap your gums & fingers in bogus outrage.

    • Hallen

      No, Donnie, these men are nihilists.

      Anyway, it would strain credulity to say I “care” about any of the kids that died–it was a long time ago, they’d be dead anyway–and while I could easily make a distinction between deliberate murder of children by soldiers or rebels, on one hand, and things I’m mostly okay with, on the other, but worked out to have the same kind of results (e.g. the burning of cities in the Civil War, the prosecution of the European and Japanese air wars in WWII, or the blockade of Germany in WWI and Japan in WWII), the main thing is, of course, that Erik Loomis has made a stridently childish comment and instead of clarifying or adding any real nuance to it, he’s doubling-down on it, all Trumplike, and insinuating that anyone who thought what he said was fucked up must hate black people. I guess that means it’s a day that ends in Y.

      Personally, I prefer to think that people having differing opinions about the moral culpability for or even the moral wisdom of killing children in a bid to overthrow slavery aren’t presumptively racist, but I dunno. I guess I’m the worst kind of liberal!

      • Erik Loomis has made a stridently childish comment and instead of clarifying or adding any real nuance to it, he’s doubling-down on it, all Trumplike,

        Fuck yeah!

        • Hallen

          I mean, I’m like 90% sure you have a baseball cap that says “Make America Great For the First Time, You Asshole.” In really small print, I guess.

          But, to be clear, I do say that as someone who genuinely appreciates your contributions as a general rule and agrees with you at least half the time, something like 85% of the time if you don’t count educational issues.

          • Origami Isopod

            I mean, I’m like 90% sure you have a baseball cap that says “Make America Great For the First Time, You Asshole.” In really small print, I guess.

            Hey, Loomis, if you’re printing those up, I’ll take a few.

      • i8kraft

        But if you take him literally, you just don’t understand what he said, and if you don’t take him literally, you can’t read. Obviously what he said is whatever he defends after the fact, and if you disagree, you’re stupid.

  • Killing children is not in any meaningful (or even “moral”) way different from killing adults.

    I have a strong (but possibly illusory) memory of reading that Peter Singer has given a moral case for allowing parental infanticide (in highly constrained circumstances).

    • Rand Paul put it well when he said that children are their parents’ chattel, not the states’:

      “The state doesn’t own your children,” Paul said in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

      • Serious Republican Maverick Rand Paul, you mean

    • Origami Isopod

      Overall in this thread I am on Loomis’s side, but I despise Singer for his blithe assertion that, in summary, it is more moral to do away with severely disabled people than it is to do away with a pig or a dog. Then again I am a dirty rotten speciesist.

  • Drexciya

    This thread is revolting and not worth the serious responses people are giving it, so I’ll just leave Coates’ meditation on Nat Turner here and conclude with a song:

    I raise all of this to further buttress a point which I have pushed since I began this exploration: The American slave society, at its very core, was a system of existential violence. Perhaps it shocks us to read men so easily contemplating ethnic cleansing. But why? Is there really such a difference between the weight of the former crime, and the willingness to effect through sale the banishment of someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, wife, husband to oblivion? And not just to do so rarely, or under great duress, but to effectively hold it as a business model? I maintain that the systemic retailing of enslaved black people is only a shade away from systemic murder. If you believe that it is your right to destroy family whole families, why would you not believe it was your right to destroy a race?

    To understand Nat Turner’s rebellion, to understand a man who would usher women and children into oblivion, you must see a world in which black women and children lived under that same perpetual threat. Slavery was war against the black family. Most important, you must reject the expectation of a dehumanizing hyper-morality. You can not ask Nat Turner to be twice as good. Most black people are not.

    Well you can be milk-white and just as rich as cream
    And buy a solid gold carriage with a four-horse team
    But you cain’t keep the world from movering round
    Or stop old Nat Turner from gaining ground

    And your name it might be Caesar sure
    And you got your cannon can shoot a mile or more
    But you can’t keep the world from moving round
    Nor old Nat Turner from gaining ground

    • McAllen

      Thank you. This passage ought to shame anyone who clucks at Turner for being to harsh in his desperate war against brutal, dehumanizing slavery:

      Most important, you must reject the expectation of a dehumanizing hyper-morality. You can not ask Nat Turner to be twice as good. Most black people are not.

      • i8kraft

        That most people are not better is no defense. Most people are terrible, myself obviously included.

      • Cheerful

        who exactly is asking Turner to be twice as good? Isn’t is simply a question of pointing out that he, in circumstances where most people have acted badly, throughout history, also acted badly?

  • Matt McKeon

    I disapprove of Nat Turner because he was a fool. There was no way that African Americans in the antebellum South could win a military struggle for freedom. They lacked arms, ammunition and any way to acquire or manufacture them. They lacked allies, sanctuaries to retreat to, funds, and any way to effectively communicate or coordinate. They were outnumbered. Arrayed against them were local patrollers and law enforcement, state militia and federal troops.

    Killing children was a damn fool thing to do as well. It would have been smarter to use them as hostages.

    When Frederick Douglass refused to follow John Brown into Harper’s Ferry, it wasn’t because he was non violent, it was because he knew it wouldn’t work.

    • This reads as a totally ridiculous condemnation. Yeah, it wasn’t going to work. So what? These people are enslaved! The level of horror and desperation is not something any of us can understand. I guess the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto should also be tsked for being fools too.

      • Matt McKeon

        Millions of African Americans were enslaved, for hundreds of years. How many chose this elaborate way to commit suicide?

        Enslaved people resisted, but they used indirect and covert means, or made the unbelievably bold move to escape. When the odds offered any kind of chance, they would chose violence, as in Christiania, PA. Eventually 180,000 mostly former slaves, were a key part of the Union Army.

        They survived, which took as much courage as Nat Turner ever showed.

      • Matt McKeon

        And by the way, the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto were faced with either resistance and certain death. That was not the circumstances enslaved people in the antebellum south had to deal with.

        • (((Hogan)))

          Because the other slaves in the 1830s died peacefully in their beds, surrounded by their families.

          No, it wasn’t like the Warsaw Ghetto. It was like Dachau.

        • CatoUticensis

          yes it was. it was a certain death of torture, overwork, starvation, and terror. that you can’t see that is hilariously and embarrassingly awful.

    • Drexciya

      I’m pleased that you think enduring permanent intergenerational brutalization is a wise course of action for an enslaved person who was willfully denied the resources for anything else.

      What other bold kernels of truth has your podium afforded you?

    • tsam

      This was the first and only uprising that was doomed to fail from the start. You make a great point. I mean shit–why bother if you aren’t guaranteed victory?

    • Matt McKeon

      Just to give you an idea how fucking stupid Nat Turner was, it took the United States Army nearly two million men and four years of unrelenting combat to take down the slave holders society, with enormous loss of life. That’s how hard it was to win a fight with them. Nat Turner didn’t stand a chance and lead his followers to destruction.

      Nat Turner is the poster boy for what not to do. The blood shed was in vain and didn’t make a damn bit of difference to anyone.

      Americans love violence and admire a man with a weapon in his hand, especially at a distance. That’s the only reason I can think of for “celebrating” Nat Turner.

      • Good lord…..

        • Snuff curry

          Well, I mean, Loomis, remember the Alamo.

        • Pseudonym

          If only Nat Turner had paid more attention to his studies at West Point…

          • CatoUticensis

            too bad turner didn’t have the presence of mind to hire people from outside of southampton to train his forces! what a fool!

      • I’ve mostly stayed out of these comments because it’s a complex, fraught topic which I do think Erik kinda overshot a bit with his aside (we’ve had a long conversation about political violence in the context of John Brown and Erik’s view has shifted over time, so I’m still trying to assimilate it). However, if we’re going to talk about terrible analyses of historic events, claiming that Turner was a “fool” because the actual liberatory event was the Civil War is…just bizarre. First, there’s Turner’s actual epistemic situation: I think it’s possible that he should have known it was futile given the information reasonably available to him but it’s completely silly to think he should have known it would take a Civil War scale event to accomplish anything. Second, many people at the time, perhaps irrationally, feared or longed for a slave insurrection. The reaction to Turner’s rebellion demonstrates this. Third, I do think Turner was planning for s long, guerrilla type war which, even if futile, doesn’t seem hopeless.

        Finally, given the hopelessness, what should he have done? You’re implying that if you can’t win you shouldn’t resist. But that’s not merely a tactical or strategic concern: resistance to the unacceptable is a fundamental aspect of humanity. It is an expression of our human dignity.

  • tsam

    Am I REALLY reading OHNOES THE CHILDREN in relation to a slave revolt?

    • i8kraft

      You’re only reading it because Loomis treated it about as inelegantly as he could have. Intentionally? Maybe. He does seem to like to drum up conflict for the comment numbers.

  • Snuff curry

    Interestingly, Nate Parker bestows upon Turner a gang-raped wife and enslaved children in order to explain Turner’s rebellion. Fridging: when subjugation, torture, and genocide aren’t motivation enough.

    • tsam

      It had to be the toilet paper roll upside down that was the tipping point.

  • Brien Jackson

    It seems to me that the question of the morality of killing children is neither here nor there. The point is that using it to tsk-tsk Turner’s rebels is to equate them with the slavers and so, by extension, to defend slavery.

  • CatoUticensis

    “Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.”

    – Frederick Douglass, “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress” (1857)

    • CatoUticensis

      Also John Brown did more to end the peculiar institution than all of Garrison’s tedious writing and posturing. Don’t @ me.

      • i8kraft

        I suppose Harper’s Ferry is flashier than Garrison’s incrementalism. Bodies have certainly lined the path to freedom in the past, though they usually are not sufficient.

        • CatoUticensis

          Also fighting to keep Kansas a free state in the face of deliberate terrorism by a neighboring slave state. Brown was more than just Harper’s Ferry.

    • Drexciya

      Exactly. Good call. From that same speech:

      I know, my friends, that in some quarters the efforts of colored people meet with very little encouragement. We may fight, but we must fight like the Sepoys of India, under white officers. This class of Abolitionists don’t like colored celebrations, they don’t like colored conventions, they don’t like colored antislavery fairs for the support of colored newspapers. They don’t like any demonstrations whatever in which colored men take a leading part. They talk of the proud Anglo-Saxon blood as flippantly as those who profess to believe in the natural inferiority of races. Your humble speaker has been branded as an ingrate, because he has ventured to stand up on his own and to plead our common cause as a colored man, rather than as a Garrisonian. I hold it to be no part of gratitude to allow our white friends to do all the work, while we merely hold their coats. Opposition of the sort now referred to is partisan position, and we need not mind it. The white people at large will not largely be influenced by it. They will see and appreciate all honest efforts on our part to improve our condition as a people.

      Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

      This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

      Despite the relevance and obvious truth of the last paragraph, it’s the first that this thread most reminds me of. The fact that black liberation must be filtered through white sensibilities before getting acceptance and support exposes the superficial nature of their opposition to racism and the passive aggressive way that white liberalism acts as an impediment to black political action while anointing itself as an ally to it. It’s rarely surprising, but it’s always distasteful to watch.

      • i8kraft

        So not questioning the rebellion but only the most brutal tactics thereof is white sensibility filtering? Accepting the killing of the adults seems to refute your argument. One can accept the justice of the fight for freedom without accepting the worst parts of that fight. If you think not, then I shudder to think what you find justifiable in the modern world.

      • Cheerful

        I am curious, is there a quote from Douglass, or any other black leader of the 19th Century saying both that Turner’s rebellion was a good thing and that the killing of the children during the uprising was also a good thing?

        Is it possible to approve an uprising and still be troubled by some of the tactics involved? Or does approval of the end necessarily justify and require blessing all the means employed?

      • Origami Isopod

        Opposition of the sort now referred to is partisan position

        In modern terms, “divisive.”

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