Monday, July 01, 2013

“The Civil War” and “Mad Men” (Part I)

Gettysburg, the greatest battle of the Civil War, took place from July 1-3, 1863--150 years ago. Gettysburg involved 160,000 men, and around 8,000 Union and Confederacy soldiers lost their lives, with tens of thousands wounded. The battle was the turning point of the war, as the Union ended Confederate General Robert E Lee's invasion of the north.
Gettysburg 50th Anniversary Encampment
In an earlier post entitled “Civil War: 150 Years On,” we marked the Civil War’s 1861 beginning by quoting documentarian Ken Burns (“The Civil War,” PBS, 1990):
This is the most important event in American history. . .Everything today has a connection to the Civil War: How we're configured, racial issues, social issues, political issues. We're debating the role of government now — the Civil War saw our first big federal government. [emphasis added]
In response, we noted:
Burns claims the Civil War high ground of a noble quest for equality under the leadership of a strong Federal government, and Burns mourns America’s unnecessary division, resting as it does on no-longer-legitimate white male supremacy. But Burns and fellow Democrats fail to appreciate that Federal government control over our economy and lives, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, is no longer the solution; it has instead become the problem.
The Civil War, to simplify, involved three parties: northern whites, southern whites, and blacks. The war after the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves (1863), and the Reconstruction period that followed the war, involved northern whites and blacks on one side against southern whites. But Reconstruction was a chaotic, deeply unsettling period, and out of the disputed 1876 presidential election came a realignment of forces--whites against blacks. As Walter Russell Mead wrote:
The Compromise of 1877 not only traded the election of [Republican] Rutherford Hayes for the end of military occupation in the South; it abandoned the North’s effort to ensure equality for freed slaves in the South.  The South gave up slavery and dreams of re-secession; the North abandoned [national] efforts to regulate civil rights[, allowing] the South to disarm Blacks (many Civil War veterans), deprive them of the vote, and install a system of racial segregation guarded both by law and mob violence.  The mass of southern Blacks were kept uneducated and tied to the land. . .
In the 1877 realignment, white Republicans came out on top nationally, white Democrats gained control of the south, and blacks lost.

By 1913, Democrats had regained national power under progressive but segregationist Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, originally of Virginia. Wilson’s first year in the White House coincided with the Gettysburg battle’s 50th anniversary, a grand occasion that brought the Union and the Confederacy--northern and southern whites--together (see encampment picture). According to Wikipedia:
The 1913 Gettysburg . . . June 29–July 4 gathering of 53,407 veterans (8,750 Confederate) was the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion, and "never before in the world's history [had] so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions" (Chief Surgeon). All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited, and veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended. [T]he peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie. President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor."
Forgotten during the 50th anniversary: the ex-slaves whose terrible plight triggered the war, along with their descendants.

It would be another 50 years--to the time of the Civil War’s 100th anniversary--before whites of both parties would finally join to provide blacks their full rights to equality under the law. In the 50 years since the civil rights revolution, since Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech, race continues to play a role in national divisions, surprisingly even after the election of a black president. Once again, listen to Ken Burns:
Race is always there in America. It's always something we don't want to talk about. Do you think we'd have a secession movement -- a faddish movement -- if this president wasn't African-American [sic]? Do you think [we’d see] the vitriol that came out of some elements of the tea party?
Bill Pence, director of Hopkins Center Film and co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, makes clear Ken Burns isn’t just some run-of-the-mill documentarian whose words about right wing racism can be glossed over. Two years ago, Pence introduced Burns as
arguably the most influential film director of our times — and that includes feature directors such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Burns turned millions of people onto history with his films and also showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves. He has invigorated our sense of appreciation for and understanding of our country’s history.
When Burns talks, people listen, especially on the subject of racial history.

But Burns stops short of the all-out, “Republicans are racist” screech of progressive Theo Anderson, writing for the pro-labor In These Times. Anderson provides a rich portrayal of how the left wishes America to view the Civil War, 150 years later:
The South’s alternative vision of the good society was defeated in the Civil War, and our 20th-century history [is] progress toward greater tolerance and equality[:] regulations on corporations in the early 1900s; women’s suffrage in 1920; a social safety net in the New Deal; the Supreme Court’s rejection of Jim Crow laws in 1954; the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s; the gay rights victories since the 1970s. . .
What has recently come to the fore within the Republican Party, but has been building within it for decades as the religious right’s influence has grown, is a new Confederacy: a nation within a nation, certain of the degeneracy of the usurper “United States,” hostile toward its institutions of education and government, and possessing a keen sense of its own identity as a victimized, righteous remnant engaged in spiritual warfare. . . America’s divisions involve fundamental questions of trust and truth: What authorities do you believe? Whose definition of truth do you accept?
For the Confederacy that now dominates the GOP, truth is solid and fixed and divinely embedded in the structure of the universe. Humanity’s responsibility is to accept and believe the truth rather than test ideas against actual experience. The Confederacy’s obsession with “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution—a twin of biblical literalism—is the classic example: truth must be eternal, universal. . . The new Confederates . . . have their own fount of truth. FOX News is the obvious example, but decades before the rise of FOX. . .conservatives had been quietly building their own media and networks for “truth” telling.
Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 150 years later, we are still divided.

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