By Sonny Scott
Mammy used to say it: “You have to give the devil his due.” I was never quite sure what she meant, and I found that many of her sayings had multiple layers of meaning – and some I’m not sure had any meaning at all. This one has been echoing in the recesses of memory lately, and in the spirit of my interpretation, maybe it’s time to give the Yankee his due.
Ah, the Yankees…so many things we could say. So many things we have said – sometimes in language that in any other context would have gotten our mouths washed out with soap and our britches fanned to boot. Like him, love him, or trust him? Never! We can forgive him as the Lord God forgives, our Christian duty, as it were. But fairness compels me to admit, he has his gifts.
Despite the fact that I would never be friends with one, and wouldn’t want my sister or granddaughter to marry one, I have to admire his ability to organize and to govern – nay, to rule. It is his heritage from his Anglo-Saxon ancestors who couldn’t out fight my Celtic ancestors in single combat, but could organize armies, and out-wit the brawling clans. Time and again, he got his butt handed to him in pitched battle, but while the clans got gloriously drunk and boasted of victory in song and poem, the English were planning and equipping for the next fight. ampÉlan and ferocity win battles, but determination and persistence win wars.
After victory, the Englishman could be as brutal as necessary to enforce his will. In his cleverness, he enlisted the muscle of defeated Celts in his service and established the famed Pax Britannia, outstripping the Pax Romana in extent, if not in grandeur.
The English country cousins of the 18th century America chafed under the social pecking order of empire. Ambitious and gifted communicators, they boldly revolted – sagaciously choosing the most opportune time. Frontiersmen, workers, farmers, and land-hungry men with itchy feet thought their time had come with independence. It didn’t take long, however, for that quintessential son of Englishness, George Washington, to serve notice that there was a new sheriff in town. When farmers on the frontier exercised their rights as free men, and told President Washington’s tax collectors to go to hell, the General rode through the area, darkly threatened a few hangings, shot a few ringleaders, and the masses fell in line.
Sixty-six years later, ambitious men chafing under mercantile restrictions of the young nation, moved to replicate the feat of the Class of 1776. The heirs of the Anglo-Saxons (let’s call them Yankees) proved again to be master of organization. The rebel “nobility” depended on the military flair of the heirs of those old blue-painted warriors of the highlands and moors. Once again, the Celts kicked tail, but the Yankee retreated, organized, planned, and held on. After four years and more than a half-million lives lost, the spiritual descendants of Cromwell prevailed. The Yankee nation was established, and the Empire was born.
In the 20th century, the Yankee’s time had come. Britain squandered its resources in fratricidal bloodlettings on the continent, bankrupted itself, and withdrew from the imperial role. The Yankee picked up the mace.
Now, as the sun has begun to set on Pax Americana, let’s be as objective as possible. This clever, inventive, opportunistic creature inspires every emotion. We Sons of the South, born to the legacy of defeat, while professing to disdain him and all he stands for, flock to his standard, fight his wars, adapt his business methods and, too often, alas, his ethics.
He is perhaps history’s greatest hypocrite, larding his high-flown oratory with phrases from his Puritan ancestors even as he lined his pockets with the fruits of every unsavory enterprise from slave trading to war profiteering. But at the same time, he has been history’s most benevolent ruler. In the long and bloody history of empire, none has behaved less capriciously, exercised power with more self restraint, nor shared the fruits of prosperity with as many.
Now that the sun is setting on his empire, and the shadows of a new Dark Age encroach, it is time to give him his due. It is impossible to love him, but as for me and mine house, we will leave it to his Creator to judge him. We will stand respectfully as his flag passes by, and when his lamp of empire flickers out, we will mourn.
Sonny Scott lives in the Sparta community in Chickasaw County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.