Ok, once again I’m caught watching non-history programming on the History (Channel). My official excuse is there was nothing else on except re-runs of old 80’s shows in TV Land, and some news program where people yell a lot. So I had UFO Hunters rolling in the background while I worked on Historical Marker entries.
If you are not familiar with that sorted bit of quasi-reality TV, the premise of UFO Hunters has a team of investigators (using the term loosely), or as they prefer UFOlogists, looking at specific cases with the aim to prove or disprove the existence of these craft long speculated to pass through our skies. So unless you figure on the “pop” history slant, this isn’t history. The “crew” is balanced by a notional skeptic, who’s job, I guess, is to keep some semblance of reality to the script. Look I don’t want to knock the guys. They have their TV Show and I don’t, so who’s top rail there? But the stuff is really just UFOtainment more than anything else.
But, listening to the dialog of the show, I was struck by the similarity of the logic in the exchanges between “believers” and “skeptics” of the UFO theories AND discussions with regard to a particular set of topics relating to the Civil War. Indulge me for a bit, and I’ll provide an example of what I mean. Here’s a clip from a previous show. Rather saucy, as the team is on the trail of some Nazi UFO:
Sorry, it is some 8 minutes long. So let me hit some high points to consider –
First we have this premise that structures (the “henge” thing and later in the clip a sanatorium room) are somehow extraordinary, and somehow connected to some strange phenomena. In other words, the ordinary, mundane sites are assumed to not be what they seem. I particularly like the lines about the “henge” being camouflaged and reinforced, since “strong forces were acting on it.”
Next we have the search for tangible evidence. The assumption here, if things are “strange” then we must have radioactivity! Later documents are shown, in part, with selected sentences highlighted for emphasis. No context, just delivery.
Within this dialog are seeded speculations designed to strike a chord with the intended audience. We’ve got Nazis working on that wonder weapon, using people from the concentration camp, and of course the time travel bit thrown in for good measure. Notice that even before proof of activity at the site, the believers in the group are already explaining how the craft functioned!
When plausible explanations are offered, the debunking of the debunking begins (I think about 3.45 or so into the clip). The henge is shown to be similar to a water tower base (which needed to be reinforced and protected by the way). “Oh, of course they are similar… people built it and camouflaged it to look like something else.” “If you are going to have a test rig you hide it in plain sight.”
And then the conclusions – Nazis benefited from extraordinary unconventional technology, which was only footsteps away from some “wonder weapon” that would save Germany, perpetuate the war, and led to the US defaulting on a ton of War Bonds (ok, I’m adding that last bit for effect).
On the other hand the skeptic summarizes his view at the very tail end of the clip: “Look, this is just like every other UFO case we’ve investigated. There’s always a witness – we can’t confirm the testimony; information that we can’t find strict evidence for; there’s always a door closed, there’s always an underground facility….”
I just see too many similarities in the logic applied here, on both sides, regarding the issue of Black Confederates. How often are we presented with something purported to be “evidence” that clearly is not what the presenter claims? Or is taken completely out of context to make it seem what it isn’t?
I see very similar assertions and starting point assumption errors made every time the claim is advanced for “tens of thousands” of Blacks serving in the Confederate Army. We are told to look for the equivalent of “radioactive traces,” if you will, among muster rolls, newspaper accounts, and other sources. We are told that the Black Confederates were so well integrated into the army that the evidence is “hiding in plain sight.” Good example, some time back a person who argued firmly the case of Black Confederates directed me to look at a muster roll for a particular regiment. The roll supposedly showed a freedman who served. Well there was a bit of a problem. The “muster roll” was actually a tally of men who were in a militia company formed before the war. The company was not taken to Confederate service until some time later. At that time there was no by-name tally on the rolls. I was told to “assume” since the records didn’t show to the contrary that the freedman must therefore have served at the start of the war. So absence of direct evidence is seen as plausible corroborating evidence. I don’t know about you, but my geiger counter isn’t budging.
And even before any tangible evidence is presented that large numbers of Blacks were wearing butternut, the “believers” will start offering speculation with regard to motive. Let’s see we have the “loyal slave” argument. We have the “fighting for their freedom” argument. And the ever popular “They believed in states rights too!” argument. And on and on.
At the end we are presented the conclusion that mass numbers of Blacks served the Confederacy, and that somehow absolves the Confederacy of the stains of slavery, and to a degree racism.
In a more recent UFO Hunter episode (for which the clip hasn’t made it to the internet), the lead investigator (sunglasses guy) makes a statement to the effect that “The wall dividing the physical trace evidence from the proof we seek is paper thin at this point. We just have to work a little harder to break through and prove the existence of extra-terrestrial visitation.” If I make some substitutions here does this ring a bell? – “the wall dividing the primary source evidence we’ve presented from the acceptance we seek is paper thin at this point. We just have to work a little harder to prove that Black Confederates served in large numbers and the Confederacy was only about states’ rights”
Personally, I echo the skeptic’s conclusion – In nearly all claims for “thousands” of Black Confederates we’ve investigated. There’s always witness testimony we can’t corroborate. There are always muster rolls that don’t match the claims made. There’s always a fleeting photograph in bad light. There’s always some other hint of a thread that leads to nowhere. So can we just come to the conclusion that tens of thousands of Blacks did not, after all, embrace the Confederacy and, based on the preponderance of evidence, instead went flocking to the Federal Armies as they marched into the South?