My Civil War students read Robert E. Lee’s “Proclamation to the People of Maryland,” which he wrote as the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River about nine days before the battle of Antietam. Upon hearing it read out loud in class, I suggested that Lee’s reference to the Confederacy’s sisterhood, via historical and cultural connections, to Maryland sounded very similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments regarding his countries ties to Crimea. Below is an excerpt of Lee’s Proclamation followed by one of Putin’s recent quotes.
…The People of the Confederate States have long watched with the deepest sympathy the wrongs and outrages that have been inflicted upon the citizens of a Commonwealth, allied to the States of the South by the strongest social, political and commercial ties.
…They have seen with profound indignation their sister State deprived of every right, and reduced to the condition of a conquered Province.
Believing that the People of Maryland possessed a spirit too lofty to submit to such a government, the people of the south have long wished to aid you in throwing off this foreign yoke, to enable you to again enjoy the inalienable rights of free men, and restore independence and sovereignty to your State.
In obedience to this wish, our Army has come among you, and is prepared to assist you with the power of its arms in regaining the rights of which you have been despoiled.
This, Citizens of Maryland, is our mission, so far as you are concerned.
No constraint upon your free will is intended, no intimidation is allowed.
Within the limits of this Army, at least, Marylanders shall once more enjoy their ancient freedom of thought and speech.
We know no enemies among you, and will protect all of every opinion.
It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint.
This army will respect your choice whatever it may be, and while the Southern people will rejoice to welcome you to your natural position among them, they will only welcome you when you come of your own free will.
R. E. Lee, General Commanding.
Compare Lee’s words to Maryland to Putin’s comments from March 4th:
“This is legitimate and corresponds with our interests of protecting people who are historically tied to us, who have cultural ties to us, who have economic ties … This is a humanitarian mission. We won’t dictate anything to anyone but of course we won’t stand aside if people are threatened.” — Vladimir Putin
What do you think? Are these two situations similar?