No sooner did Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issue his proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month than the ideological canister fire began.

The proclamation is “incendiary,” huffed the Washington Post.  “Obnoxious,” sniffed historian James Mc­Pher­son.  “Mind-boggling,” griped former governor Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves and the first black governor in America.  And it was all for those ministers of Satan, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Thus began the latest assault on Governor McDonnell, who last appeared in these pages when the kooky left, egged on by the Washington Post, zeroed in on McDonnell’s thesis for a master’s degree at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.  The thesis, it was said, was antihomosexual and antiwoman, and McDonnell quickly explained that his homophobic, misogynistic views had changed since he penned the offending words in 1989.

So with his proclamation to honor Virginia’s storied past and such figures as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jeb Stuart, the moonbats knew they had him again.  Issued yearly until Democratic governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner killed it, the proclamation is tame stuff.  It merely recognizes a few simple truths, not least that Virginia’s Confederate history helps pay the bills with tourist dollars.  It said that we must “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and . . . recognize how our history has led to our present.”  In addition, “[T]his defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, . . . in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live.”

The problem?  The proclamation did not mention slavery.  McDonnell, the left implied, had to be a crypto-racist, a neo-Confederate, and most likely one of the Boys from Brazil.  With the left’s guns firing on Richmond, the governor ran for cover, reprising his retreat during the Thesis Attack.

The scholars at the Washington Post editorial page unlimbered this salvo: “But any serious statement on the Confederacy and the Civil War would at least recognize the obvious fact—that slavery was the major cause of the war, and that the Confederacy fought largely in defense of what it called ‘property,’ which meant the right to own slaves.”

The Post was also in a pother that the proclamation said Virginians “fought for their homes and communities.”  The paper sent an urgent message to James McPherson, the “dean of Civil War scholars,” who pronounced himself aghast: “I find it obnoxious, but it’s extremely typical.  The people that emphasize Confederate heritage and the legacy, and the importance of understanding Confederate history, want to deny that Confederate history was ultimately bound up with slavery.  But that was the principal reason for secession—that an anti-slavery party was elected to the White House. . . . And without secession, there wouldn’t have been a war.”

So nefarious was McDonnell’s deed that the state NAACP convened an “emergency meeting” to discuss his record of racial perfidy.  So said King Salim Khalfani, the Virginia NAACP’s war chief.

No one really knows what the “emergency” was, but we do know this: Not all “serious” historians agree with the Post and Professor McPherson that “slavery was the major cause of the war.”

No matter.  Instead of fighting back, McDonnell ducked into the bushes and apologized: “The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission.  The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.  The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War.  Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.  In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of ‘profound regret’ for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.”

And that’s only the first paragraph of McDonnell’s meandering mea culpa.  He then rewrote the proclamation to include a few words about the “peculiar institution.”

Now, anyone who has read deeply about the War of Northern Aggression knows exactly what it was about, which isn’t to say slavery played no role in antebellum political battles, or that slavery did not play a role in the war.  But it was not the main cause of the war; nor was it the principal reason the average Confederate or Union soldier took up arms.  Even McPherson admits as much.

But you can’t utter such truths in polite company, and in issuing the proclamation without a ritual denunciation of the obvious, McDonnell committed a mortal sin.

Slavery, of course, wasn’t the real issue for the left.  For 50 years, one of its major projects has been deconstructing American history by destroying traditional American symbols and replacing them.  As real heroes and patriots such as George Washington and Robert E. Lee suffer a constant campaign of calumnies, dubious characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and César Chávez enjoy canonization.

The left has largely achieved its goal, thanks to conservative politicians who run from the sound of the guns.