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The Spirit That Drove Us to Civil War Is Back: Looking Closer at that National Nightmare

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This series -- attempting to show how the political crisis in our times is in some ways a replay of the run-up to the American Civil War -- requires that we see that event for what it was.

As a people, we remain intensely involved in that time in our history, though we do not have a clear understanding of it. As a nation, our relationship with that war is unhealthy.

We Americans tend to celebrate the Civil War.  We tend to romanticize it as with Ken Burns' Civil War series, using the hauntingly beautiful "Ashokan Farewell," played on the violin, and as with films like "Gettysburg," with its uplifting music accompanying the slaughter of Pickett's Charge.

But that sentimentality tends to obscure the reality that this conflict was a national nightmare -- perhaps the ugliest event in the civilized world in that period -- killing more than half a million American men out of a nation of 27 million. It inflicted wounds that have still not completely healed, as anyone can tell who lives in the South and sees the role played even now by the Confederate Flag.

One way we avoid confronting the darker meanings of that national trauma is by thinking of the coming of that war as a given, as if somehow it was inevitable, that it had to happen.  We don't bother to ask ourselves: Why did this issue of slavery get dealt with so poorly, at such disastrous cost? Why didn't they work it out? Is one side more responsible than the other for the calamity?

Taking that war as a given obscures how something dark and dangerous, at work in the political culture, drove us toward catastrophe. It wasn't just because of objective circumstances, rationally considered, that such carnage and national wounding came to pass.


Since, as I maintain, the same dark and dangerous forces are at work in America today, it is important that we peel away the mythology and the sepia-toned gauze and look harder at that war and why it happened.


A good place to start will be looking at what the war was really about, a subject that the South has obscured with deception --and self-deception--for a century and a half.


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Andy Schmookler, recently the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District, is an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher.  His books include The Parable of the Tribes:  The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.   His website is at www.nonesoblind.org/index.php .

 

Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The (more...)
 

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The greed and voraciousness of the government conn... by Karen Kwiatkowski on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 8:15:22 AM
I have seen the Blinding of AMERICA for a longtime... by Debra Rincon Lopez on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 11:22:39 AM
The Civil War was the testing ground of 'modern' w... by yunus Luebben on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 11:55:50 AM
"A good place to start will be looking at what the... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 1:47:15 PM
It is discouraging to read your asking me when I w... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 2:46:00 PM
  First, while certainly the two regions had ... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 2:48:10 PM
We can see these elements forming a pattern at dar... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 2:51:27 PM
We disagree, I think, on general terms of discours... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 3:34:40 PM
I don't claim that, after four brief pieces, I'... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 4:50:27 PM
Here's the main point I'd like to make.  Th... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 4:52:53 PM
I am not trying to inhibit, just giving you a resp... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:04:03 PM
Making a persuasive argument is indeed my aim. If ... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 6:35:55 PM
But the propositions will not be provable. ... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 4:54:33 PM
"Better to have primitive, sketched out versions o... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 10:59:48 AM
And having noted it,  I can only hope that wh... by Andrew Schmookler on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 11:22:22 AM
Perhaps you don't recall I have had almost entirel... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 11:47:03 AM
Thank you for providing that context and history.&... by Andrew Schmookler on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 12:39:38 PM
One other thing that may be relevant to say here. ... by Andrew Schmookler on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 12:40:35 PM
What was missing was the context for what I found ... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 1:07:05 PM
If defining "spirit," evil or not, "proves" hard, ... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 1:51:28 PM
I've got to take off for an event where I'll be in... by Andrew Schmookler on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 2:41:16 PM
and I think you are right to move from outmoded, o... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 5:04:12 PM
bin laden reminded all what a small earth we have,... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 5:04:39 PM
Andy, I know what you mean when you speak of "spir... by E. J. N. on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 3:56:57 PM
I could not agree more with this that you say, E.J... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:10:31 PM
This connects also with the psychological brokenne... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:11:54 PM
This, in turn, connects with the brokenness of c... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:12:32 PM
" Greed is part of that deep pattern.  So als... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 4:01:35 PM
As I said, I'm building here on many decades of wo... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:18:19 PM
And the worst deception is the self-deception of t... by E. J. N. on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 2:40:34 PM
Thank you for your comment, E.J.N.  I'm looki... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 3:52:48 PM
I I became aware of your way of looking at things,... by Jerry Lobdill on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 8:12:12 PM
I very much appreciate your encouragement.... by Andrew Schmookler on Friday, Jul 19, 2013 at 10:08:45 PM
I think you are the right track to help folks unde... by E. J. N. on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 1:51:50 PM