Thursday, 26 April 2012
I just finished the first episode of Ken Burns "The Civil War"...an exceptional documentary on the topic, made in 1990---and I could not help but note the parallels to our time...not could I fail to observe the elements that also lack in our society.
The expression used most often for the Civil War period is "The Cause." There is much debate amongst historians about what actually caused the war, but anyone who automatically answers "Slavery" didn't study history much beyond high school. (That is NOT a compliment.) I'm also not impressed by the "State's Rights" answer...because that is just as limited. Certainly, slavery was a focus point---and the abolitionist movement was a driving force. But the Civil War was about determining not merely what our ship of state would look like---but where it would go, and how. The odd part is that it's not all that different from our current conflicts, where politics is concerned. The agrarian South was about agriculture---The North was about industrialization. Both required labor to fuel their industry---and both were possessed of uniquely myopic views of the other. The North favored stiff tariffs on goods from Europe---which would make locally made products more desirable because they were less pricey. The South wanted NO tariffs---and preferred to sell their cotton and others stuffs to the European market, where it fetched a far better price. (Cotton was a MIRACLE in that time. Most cloth was wool up to then---even summer clothes. Cotton was lighter, softer, and stood up better to washing. Unless you could afford silk from China, it was the Bomb.)
Because the North had more major cities and ports---not to mention factories to offer employment, it became a magnet for immigrants. The cites grew, as did the industry...but the way of life in the South was very different.
Now...fast forward to today. People wonder why so many people who are the 99 percent PROTECT AND DEFEND the 1 percent. Maybe for the same reason that the unlanded, ungentrified Southerner fought the Civil War. It certainly wasn't about slaves---since most of them didn't own any. I think the answer to the why is both more complex, and more simple than most imagine. The North was a haven to the Nouveau Rich, people from humble roots, who made their fortunes with "new money". In our current society, the AGE of your boodle is not relevant. Money opens just about Every door there is. It's hard for us to imagine a world where simply being wealthy wouldn't have been "enough" to give you a place in "Society". When the Robber Barons of the Industrial Age found themselves excluded, they made THEIR own society...using the money the "old school society" folks found vulgar, and tacky. It's harder still to consider the view of Southern Gentility---existing cheek and jowl with African Slavery. The landed families were the "cream" of their society...and for them, land was more important than cash, because land could GET you cash...and position besides.
(And before anyone goes there, The North was NOT Abolitionist Paradise. They did not go into the war to free ANYONE---and as recently as the American Revolution practiced Indentured Servitude...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indentured_servant which differed from slavery legally---but was still pretty damned awful. Most of the people who were indentured servants were sold by their parents, before they came of age, in exchange for passage, food, clothing, and training in a work skill. The indentures could be as long as seven years---but if a "master" felt the servant had not given "good value", could extend the indenture---without the consent of the servant. Technically, it was not forever. Your children (if you had them) could not be sold...but women could have their indentures extended if they became pregnant. But you DID have a master. They did not own you---they owned your labor. And call me cynical, but I am betting they worked the IS just as hard as any "slave". You could also be beaten or punished---and they also frequently made their "bonded servants" wear collars made of metal and leather so they could be identified as "property". So I am not buying the "benevolent Yankee" stereotype.)
So you have to ask...WHY did the North go to War with the South? I've looked over the various theories...but it's like Bill Clinton said.."It's the Economy, Stupid!".
What makes me uneasy is listening to the rhetoric that caused the Civil War. It doesn't sound very different from the stuff we're hearing now. "State's Rights" sounds compelling...until you kick the hornet's nest. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Dred Scott. (Most of us heard the name in high school history.) The crux of his case was that when his owner moved from a Slave State, to a free state, he should no longer have been considered a slave. The court at the time handed down a GODAWFUL decision---that Scott HAD no rights---and had to remain property. But it took THREE amendments to the Constitution to give Black MEN citizenship, and the right to vote. (Black women had to wait til the 19th amendment passed 40 years later for that.)
Now...the whole States Rights thing. Interesting notion...but MAN it can screw the pooch. We have 50 different sets of standards for something like Adoption. Legal in one state doesn't translate into legal elsewhere. Let's say you have a baby in NJ while you are married. If your spouse can prove (With a DNA test for instance) that the baby isn't his, and you divorce, he doesn't have to pay the child support. But in Pennsylvania, all offspring are assumed to be the "product of the marriage", DNA be DAMNED. If a woman has a child while married, so long as no divorce was granted, her ex gets the child support.) THAT boys and girls is an example of States Rights in reality. Now some argue that if you don't like the laws ,you can move elsewhere. Hey...FINE idea...except for two things...one is MONEY...and uprooting to a different state is not cheap. And Two...most people don't know they don't LIKE a law...until it's too late.
Another example. In NJ, when a girl becomes pregnant, she automatically is considered an adult. Sounds nuts, right? Only...what are the OTHER options? Say a 15 year old girl becomes pregnant. Her parents decide SHE must have a baby...or an abortion. Forcing her to abort is wrong...but forcing her to have a child she will then be made to either raise herself, or put up for adoption is also wrong. The law is based on the idea that in NJ, parents can't make a decision that will effect their child PAST the age of 18. If you force a 15 year old to have a baby, or an abortion against their will, you are crossing the line. Some people LIKE the statute. It also means that you can't be forced to support your child's kid. Some see that as a plus. But take your pick. Other states will not let a minor have an abortion without parental consent. They can have babies, of course...even if mom and dad don't like it.
My point is that our country is seriously BI-POLAR at the moment. No compromises---no pulling together for common good, or goals. The last time we hated each other this much, we actually had a WAR...and that troubles me. We are lazy, selfish bastards these days. We don't want to go to war...we just want to CONTROL other people...what they do, how they live, even how they think. That doesn't work too well. I wish we could get behind ONE issue...all of us. I wish we would make a commitment to SOMETHING other than "I GOT MINE". We somehow went from a Nation United, to fifty crazy bastards, screaming at each other, calling each other names---and spinning our wheels. but going no where.
So people...if you could pick ONE thing...what would it be? And maybe you could explain why you think that one thing is something we ALL need to do? Yes, you're taking a chance. Maybe you will be challenged. If that happens---great. It means someone actually HEARD you...even if they don't agree. Make your case. We'll listen.