The Exchange - Civil War
Since my daughters are homeschooled we have been watching the Ken Burn's documentary about the Civil War over the past two weeks as part of our study of history. That documentary is my favorite documentary and I've seen it three of four times since I saw the original broadcast.
But watching it this time with my daughters two things struck me as they never have before. First I was struck by the fact that despite having grown up in the South and lived here most of my life and dearly loving this part of this country of mine I am more certain than ever before that I would have gone north to Yankeedom to fight for the Union in that particular war. My religious and even my political convictions would have probably rendered any other outcome impossible. Certainly very unlikely. Even as a small boy I remember thinking I would never fight for any cause which threatened another man's enslavement. That being said I am still to this day amazed however by how mediocre, even disastrous, was the military leadership of the North in general, and yet how tremendous the political leadership of the North in particular. And yet with the South all things were as reversed. Their military leadership was little short of brilliant and their political leadership hardly worth the mentioning. An Army of giants built upon a government of misshapen and dwarfish, petty ideals. It makes me wonder if this was not as it was always meant to be. The world is as it is because they were as they were. It is hard, very hard, for me to imagine that war, as it was conducted, as it was concluded, not being as surely foreordained as the Birth of Man himself. Indeed it was a kind of Rebirth of America, if not even of Man himself, as a new thing. War is such a very strange thing, that washes away all of our past sins in a bath of blood to cleanse us and make us ready for the sins of tomorrow. It is like a womb of wrong we must begrudgingly inhabit, and yet without it the day of new life never comes. Tomorrow is never born.
The second thing that struck me this time, really struck me - like a hammer blow to my skull - was how much of all we are today was foreshadowed in that war. Battleships, a more true and just Republican democracy, mass communications and transport, concentration camps, warfare against civilian populations and terrorism, lightning attacks, modern espionage, modern cities and industry, guerilla and unconventional warfare, the machine gun, vast leaps forward in all kinds and varieties of technology, political reform, modern civil rights, political corruption and reform, leadership a century ahead of time, leadership centuries behind the times, and the incredible, if not outright suicidal bravery of the American soldier embarked upon that cause he and his leaders feel is just enough to fight for. It is hard to see the American soldier of the Second World War and the modern American combatant in Afghanistan and Iraq and not see him outlined in the Soldiers of the campaigns of the Civil War. That war, like many wars, but that war especially and in particular, just as with the Second World War, was a prophecy and harbinger of things to come which I doubt very seriously that we will escape before the turn of the next century, or beyond. If ever.
If history is a stream which never runs dry then the Civil War was truly the Mississippi of our nation's capital frontier. And an omen for the world to come.
It is like visiting the graveyard of your ancestors only to discover that those ghosts never stayed aground, but wander around you still, their burial more a memory
than a fact.
Anyway, it was a graveyard worth revisiting, and a memory worth the disinterment.
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