The Bastille – all that for seven prisoners

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On this date 220 years ago, demonstrators in Paris stormed the Bastille, a Parisian gaol that had long been a symbol of royal tyranny. The event proved pivotal in the French Revolution.

Interestingly, though, there were but seven prisoners in the Bastille at the time it was liberated: four forgers, two “lunatics” and one “deviant” aristocrat, the comte de Solages. The Marquis de Sade had been transferred out 10 days earlier, according to Wikipedia.

The Bastille, in general, largely held common criminals, as well as people imprisoned for religious reasons and those responsible for printing or writing forbidden pamphlets. People of high rank were sometimes held there too, and so the building (which could only hold a little over 50 people) was far less sordid a place than most Parisian prisons.

But the secrecy maintained around the Bastille and its prisoners gave it a sinister reputation, according to Wikipedia.

However, the cost of maintaining a medieval fortress, built in the 14th Century, and garrison for so limited a purpose had led to a decision being taken to close it, shortly before the disturbances began.

By July 1789, the Bastille was manned by fewer than 100 invalides, or veteran soldiers no longer fit for service in the field. They were reinforced by fewer than three dozen Swiss soldiers. In addition to the handful of prisoners, they watched over gunpowder and and arms. 

Tensions had been on the rise in Paris for sometime prior to the fateful day. In the early afternoon of July 14, after fruitless negotiations between French citizens and the buildings garrison, between 600-1,000 French citizens attacked the stronghold, seeking gunpowder and arms.

After several hours, the fortress was taken. Approximately 100 of the attackers were killed along with one of the defenders, though several of the latter were later killed by the crowd.

The storming of The Bastille sparked insurrection and a spirit of popular sovereignty throughout France, and was a key factor in the downfall of the Capetian Monarchy and onset of the French Revolution.

Facts be damned, we need readers!

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There appears to be an uptick in anti-Confederate commentary lately which is notable only in that it seems particularly rife with incendiary inaccuracies.

Take this letter to the editor of the Myrtle Beach Sun News. In a piece titled “Negative association overrides all others,” Joe Peha of Myrtle Beach makes the following claims: 

  • Most of the other states and the world populace recognize the Confederate flag as a tribute to slavery days;
  • Most people that show the Confederate flag in public do so as an anti-black statement;
  • The Confederate flag is comparable to the Nazi flag;
  • The Confederate flag on our Capitol grounds proclaims to the world that South Carolina honors slavery and bigotry.

Instead of laying out the myriad reasons why Mr. Peha would appear to: a) know little to nothing about history or contemporary Southern culture, b) be a crackpot, or c) be simply looking to stir up controversy, a more interesting question might be why newspapers continue to print such claptrap?

Since historians have trouble agreeing on the causes and effects of the Civil War, never mind the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, it’s hardly surprising non-academics get caught up in arguments, as well. Reasonable people can agree to disagree on facts related to an event as tumultuous and divisive as The War Between the States.

But when individuals such as Mr. Peha pen statements as patently false as “Most people that show (the Confederate flag) in public do so as an anti-black statement” and that the reason we fly the flag on the Statehouse grounds is to “honor slavery and bigotry,” one begins to wonder toward what end newspaper folks are angling by running them?

It seems highly improbable that an editorial page writer at any daily Southern paper would be so poorly schooled on history as to believe the above statements. They also typically don’t print letters that are so devoid of facts that they can’t stand up to the barest of scrutiny.

That’s why one sees few letters to the editor, for example, from proponents of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Don’t think there aren’t folks out there who don’t believe that kind of foolishness; the paper simply makes the decision not to publish their misinformed screeds.

No, but they do print letters they know are false regarding the Confederacy because they understand that taking potshots at Southern culture is an easy way to gin up controversy that generates lots of attention, which sends to traffic to newspaper websites and makes advertisers happy.

What papers don’t see or don’t care about is the fact that by giving such misinformation their imprimatur, they’re effectively eroding their credibility, bit by bit, piece by piece.