Any Southerner worth their salt will know that a big part of the Southern culture is a "love affair" with the profession of arms. Such is the cultural attitude toward combat in the South that when the War for Southern Independence was looming, it was readily said that one Southerner was equal to ten Yankees when it came to battle. Service in the military is so interwoven with our Southern heritage and culture that if a Southerner hasn't served in the military in some fashion themselves, be it active duty, National Guard or reserves, then they need only look to their parents or grandparents to find this service in their family tree.
In the 1880s, through the end of the 19th century, when the federal government started providing money and/or land to the states for creating colleges and universities, the South jumped on this. These were known as "Land Grant Universities." Many of these schools were all male, military-style schools. Many "State" universities (Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, etc.) were originally known as "A&M" (for Agricultural & Mechanical) rather than "State," as they were designed to meet the technical needs of the agrarian South. Military training in an "academy" environment via Reserve Officer Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) was simply part of the life of Southern men when getting their higher education. Today, these schools have gone co-ed, with only a few keeping any remnants of their former traditions (Texas A&M is most notable), and the last truly military-style schools of note, although not part of the Land Grant system, are now co-ed (Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel).
Southerners are right to take pride in their tradition of military prowess. The South has provided key military leaders from colonial days right up to the present. The list of Southern military leaders is a list of who's who in American military history. Think of the men who made history in war: George Washington, Light horse Harry Lee, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan B. Forrest, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and many others great and small.
Two areas Southerners can take great pride in is our history of dominant service, and how outstanding that service has been. First, let's look at actual service of Southerners in comparison to the rest of the United States. In the American Revolution, while most history presentations focus on locations such as Lexington, Concord and Valley Forge, the Southern battles are largely forgotten. Even the British admit that the war was won in the South, where most of the American rebel colonist's victories came. The Southern colonies were the major players in gaining the 13 colony's freedom from the British.
Later on, in the Mexican War, the Northern states provided approximately 25,000 volunteer troops, while the Southern states provided approximately 43,000 troops for the American army. Southerners such as Lee, Jackson, and Jefferson Davis were all recognized as key factors for the resounding victory of the American forces in that war. Years later, during the War for Southern Independence, when Abraham Lincoln asked General Winfield Scott why the Army of the Potomac couldn't take Richmond, the general replied, "Because Mr. President, the men who took us into Mexico City are the same men keeping us out of Richmond."
In the 20th century, while comprising only about 25% of the general population, the South provided more than her fair share of troops for wars that truly served no interests of the South. Southerners made up 26% of the armed forces during WWI, 34% during WWII, 35% of the troops in Korea, 36% of the men in Vietnam, and an astounding 41% in the Persian Gulf War. In WWII, Texas A&M alone provided more officers to America's military branches than West Point and Annapolis combined (or any other university for that matter). Ironically, as the U.S. in general, and the government in particular, become increasingly hostile toward the South, Southerners have increasingly served the American Empire's military needs.
The second area to consider when assessing Southern pride in military service is what kind of honors have Southerners received. In WWI, Alvin York of Tennessee was one of the most highly decorated and recognized soldiers. In WWII Audie Murphy of Texas was the most decorated American soldier. Look at the highest honor the U.S. military can bestow on military personnel: The Medal of Honor (MOH). In this area, Southerners stand out, as a percentage, equal to or in excess of their numbers that have served in the military.
The U.S. Congress created the Medal of Honor during the War for Southern Independence. In that conflict, Congress awarded 1,520 MOHs, of which 118 (8%) went to Southerners serving in the Union army. Quite a feat considering that was probably all the Southerners that served in the Yankee military at that time (just kidding). Seriously, the number of Southerners was surely very low, so the percentage of Southerners receiving this award at that time was probably very high. A clear demonstration of the bravery and military prowess of Southerners.
While Southerners got only 10% of the MOHs awarded during the first 48 years of the medal's existence, this can be partially attributed to general bias against Southerners during the years after the War for Southern Independence, as well as many Southerner's lack of interest in serving the U.S. military from 1865 through the end of the century.
More telling are the last 88 years, or since 1912. Clearly 30% of all MOHs awarded were given to Southerners. The significance here is that this would be a time when the bad blood had died down between the North and South to a point where Southerners would be more willing to serve in the U.S. military. A generation had passed since the War for Southern Independence, and an 18-year-old serving in 1912 would have been born in 1894, and their father would have been born around the end of the War for Southern Independence, or after it. With the "skipping" of the one generation, which would most likely have been still rather resentful of Yankee Reconstruction, resistance to serving in the U.S. military would have died down and the military tradition of the South would have been resumed. With the resumption of military service, and the hard feelings over the war and Reconstruction most likely having died down, Southerners would be more fairly considered for the medal.
As stated earlier, the population of the South in the 20th century made up about 25% of the total U.S. population. The dominance of Southerners receiving the award in WWI (33%), WWII (22%), Korea (40%), and Vietnam (37%) shows not only a willingness to serve, but highlights the fact that Southerners have exceptional military prowess and they have maintained their military tradition as part of their culture.
While Southerners can, and should, take great pride in these facts, as a people Southerners need to start questioning the reasonableness of continuing to serve in a military force that holds no love for the South, its people or its culture, except as a resource for providing bodies for its war machine. While the Medal of Honor is presented to those who serve with the highest honor in combat, it is questionable if honorable service can still be obtained through being part of the military arm of the American Empire. Would an honorable Southerner have accepted the Medal of Honor for "outstanding bombing of civilians" in Serbia? I would hope not.
10 January 2001