Scholar studies the Border Wars of Kansas and Missouri

Luke Harman

The Border Wars Conference kicked off Thursday night with a keynote address from American Civil War scholar Michael Fellman in the Kansas City Public Library.

Fellman, a professor of history emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, addressed the crowd with his long yet appropriately named lecture title “I Came Not to Bring Peace, but a Sword; The Christian War God,” and “the War of All Against All on the Kansas-Missouri Border.”

He shared his expertise in the guerrilla warfare-style which characterized much of the border war conflicts. It also examining the “darker corners of humanity” in terms of the religious justification and revised morality of the “ordinary people” who contributed to the war-time atrocities.

Incorporating modern uses of a “just” religious war, Fellman while highlighted the crusade metaphor used by George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, as well as the British military leader Oliver Cromwell’s personal belief in being “God’s messenger in Ireland.”

Fellman’s address involved vivid description of individual atrocities in the shape of guerrilla warfare, robbery, arson, mutilation and murder in what coined “an endless cycle whereby the ordinary people effectively buried their consciences.”

He argues that acts of hubris, on behalf of both the Missouri and Kansas regimes, sought executions and the dehumanization of their enemy. These were “religious-fueled revenge killings from band of avenging angels” through the Christian obligation to “quench the enemy of darkness,” he said. The Christian commandment that condones killing was blatantly ignored and systematically veiled by cries of “blessed are the peacemakers,” Fellman said.

The rejection of all authority and the sentiment of black slaves in the South being considered “sub-human’”was also an area which Fellman felt carried religious foundations; “No God, No Law, No Master,” as Fellman said.

Bringing the topic back into a modern perspective, Fellman critiqued the “War on Terror”as a tactic of bathing the American flag in liberty to achieve a “just” war. Fellman states that “God and justice are interlinked within the Civil War” and that the light versus dark, day versus night conflict was similarly “justified.”

He concluded with a quote from Union army division commander John B. Sandborn, who in 1886 claimed that “during war human nature bursts forth in displays of tyranny; Christians and non-Christians alike.” Fellman’s key message of outlining how perfectly ordinary Americans revised their moral and religious beliefs to justify extraordinary violence with relative ease was well received and he concluded with a standing ovation from the audience.

Fellman was also joined by UMKC assistant professor of history Diane Mutti-Burke who re-iterated Fellman’s argument that Missouri and Kansas citizens need to “break down the artificial barrier” and develop a distinct interlink between the historical recording and knowledge of the Border War conflicts in both states during the American Civil War. The Kansas City Public Library aslo needs to be used as a middle-ground for this debate throughout the duration of the Border-Wars Conference. [email protected]