13 April 2011

Have We Reconciled?

This is a perplexing question, as it relates to the WBTS. In some ways, yes. In others, no. I, like many of you, recently (and for the 3rd or 4th time), watched Ken Burns' PBS documentary, The Civil War. Even though I have several criticisms of the Burns' film, I still find it a fascinating piece of work and very educational. I've always thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, despite its shortcomings. One of the more moving parts of this film comes near the end, as shown below. Pay close attention at about 30 seconds in and listen as historian David McCullough narrates the moving "reenactment" of Pickett's charge at the 50th anniversary reunion at Gettysburg. I believe one can detect the emotion in McCullough's voice as it sounds like he almost chokes up in recounting the emotional event. I don't think he's acting. I don't mind admitting that I too was moved with emotion in hearing McCullough recount the story.

As two readers recently commented on their ancestors' presence at the charge, and their desire to honor their bravery, I thought it would be appropriate to post this clip of the Burns film. The reaction of the Union soldiers, seeing those men come across that open field, is quite moving and is a vivid reminder and confirmation that the often maligned "reconciliation perspective" of the WBTS is real and historically accurate. I thought it would also be appropriate in framing the question I raise in the title of this post.

Also note in the film clip, the 1938 news piece on the 75th reunion at Gettysburg. At about 5:50 into the film, the words, "the wounds have healed" appear in a paragraph on the screen. But have they? The regions are still divided politically - and over similar issues. As Professor David Blight has noted:

Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history? (Emphasis mine)


Many Southerners still feel (rightfully so) that their heritage and ancestry is fair game for insulting, defaming, poking fun at, and unfairly criticizing for a situation that both North and South had a hand in creating. The battle and debate continues (on blogs, forums, and in print) over perspectives and causes. Certain bloggers love to poke fun at what they refer to as "Moonlight & Magnolias" (how clever) art by such renowned and respected artists as Mort Kunstler. Those types of posts typically go like this: Post an image of a piece of art that portrays the "M&M" perspective, then sit back and watch readers post juvenile comments poking fun at not only the artist, but those who buy such pieces. (And, by the way, those who are major funders of Civil War publications). A few days later, up comes a post about how "divisive" the Confederate heritage crowd is. Uh-huh.

Academics (and others) further accuse the Confederate heritage folks of dividing and pitting certain views against others all the while claiming their own "neutrality" and then at the same time declaring "victory" in the narrative war. How does one claim "victory" while at the same time denying there's any real divide and claiming "neutrality?" Am I missing something?

So I ask, have we reconciled? And can we even have the discussion without providing evidence that we haven't?

10 comments:

Lindsay Horne said...

This is a "little" off topic, but did you see the cover of Time on the April 18th issue? The whole article focuses on why we (as a country) still argue over the causes of the Civil War...while I have not read the article in its entirety yet, I am looking forward to seeing what it says.

The subheading says "North and South shared the burden of slavery, and after the war, they shared in forgetting about it. But 150 years later, it's time to tell the truth."

Wonder what that "truth" might be??? Interesting...

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Time does not enjoy a reputation for fairness and objectivity. I doubt their opinion would carry much weight with most people. These old "mainstream" publications are dying off quickly. Not soon enough for me.

But, no, I did not see it. I did read something from CNN along similar lines.

Lawrence Underwood said...

Richard, your last paragraph sums it up well. No, we have not reconciled the two cultures. We have learned to get along after a fashion, but it is tenuous.

msimons said...

Folks in North don't remember in the SOUTH OLE TIMES THERE ARE NOT FORGOTTEN! I have not forgot that Abe destoryed my family's SC Plantation, or that my CW family member was a broken cripple man the last 20 years of his life before he passed in 1933. Grandma said don't forget but the Bible says we got to forgive.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Mike.

Chaps said...

IIRC, Shelby Foote had a great point in Burns' documentary. He said that the real "settlement" of the War was between the peoples. The South acknowleged that it was probably best that the country remained one while the north acknowleged that Southerners fought bravely and honorably for a cause they believed in. Academics, mostly northerners, have reneged on that settlement.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Chaps: Professor Clyde Wilson put it this way:

"They [Southerners who supported the Confederacy] would ever after be staunch supporters of the United States, as they have proved many times over ever since in countless ways, including their persistent over-representation in the combat arms of the national forces. All they asked in return was an acknowledgment that, if they had been wrong in the pursuit of independence, they had not been dishonorable and that they had fought a good fight that could be appreciated as a part of the pride of all Americans. Until rather recently that little has been granted, but America is now in the process of reneging on its part of the bargain."

Interesting that I recently read on one academic blog (poster by a history professor) a suggestion that those who were of this old mindset should be watched by DHS and TSA. Good Lord.

Anonymous said...

From Susan Hathaway:

Thank you for your paragraph concerning "Moonlight and Magnolias". You summed up my views exactly, and it easy, at times, to feel alone in these sentiments. When I see posts like those, it never ceases to both baffle and infuriate me.

(Susan - I edited the comment because it's really not necessary to get that specific about who does this. There are several bloggers who are guilty, I don't want to single out anyone in particular. I hope you understand.)

Susan Hathaway said...

I understand completely, and thank you for using discretion that I should have.

Lindsay Horne said...

Agreed, Time isn't always the best resource for sure. What was included in there, which I found terribly fascinating, is pictures of CW reenactors positioned on battlefields as they look today. Very telling, being that so many of our precious battlefields have been transformed into something a CW vet wouldn't recognize.

I hope if nothing else, this brings awareness about the need to preserve these national treasures. Still haven't had time to read the article though...