Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dangerous parallels? or instructive?

It seems to me that the situation in our country in the past few years has been eerily like that of the years leading up to the Civil War. Views that would have been considered moderate and entirely reasonable (e.g., the widespread southern belief in the inevitable demise of slavery, in the 1830's) have for a variety of reasons been pushed to the sidelines, drowned out by the voices of the extremes. Things are better at the moment [I write this before either party has selected their candidate for the general election of 2008], but with all the usual uncertainties factored in between now and November, who knows?

I have always believed that the War was inevitable; perhaps I still do. But in light of current events, I find myself thinking backwards more and more, to those alarmingly parallel tangles of emotion. Could anything have headed off the American Civil War? Should it have? And what lessons (one way or the other) does our knowledge of the run-up to that war teach us about the proper use of military force? As just one example, might Lincoln have acted differently after Sumter? 

I invite your comments with the hope that any who choose to enter the discussion will resist the temptation to make partisan points; let's stick to what we know of the events of 150 years ago, whose anniversaries are fast upon us. 

Note: if this is too macro- for some of your tastes, I'm also interested in:    the war west of the Appalachians, 1961-63; anything new about Albert Sidney Johnston; any new psychological/ character insights into U.S. Grant [let's get familiar and subjective here, as if we'd known him personally]; the geography of the Tennessee and Cumberland river basins and their relation to events in 1862; and that hardy perennial, How Ignorant Today's Young People Are of History (but, I am convinced, would want to know more if their imaginations could be tweaked--say, through intelligent fiction.)  I get the feeling there are some high-school history teachers out there. What do you think?

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