CIVIL WAR DIRTY SECRET? NOT QUITE.


It has long been fashionable for post-modern thinkers to “deconstruct” traditional “narratives” about historical events.  Generally, the purpose of the “deconstruction” has been to cast doubt on, or denigrate, the event or personage in question.  Example: Lincoln didn’t really fight the Civil War to free the slaves, therefore he’s not an noble as we had been taught in school.  There, America.  Another cherished myth of yours exploded.  Bwahahahahahaha!

However, in their rush to properly “position themselves in the stream of narrative,” the newfangled historians must often ignore evidence in previous research.  History News Network, for instance, presents an article which suggests that slavery was a dirty secret of the Civil War.  The implication is that previous historians either didn’t know, or ignored, evidence that the war was controversial in the North and that there was plenty of Northern sympathy and support for the South.

Except that this is all old news.  One need only read Samuel Eliot Morison‘s The Oxford History of the American People (1963) or Bruce Catton‘s three-volume The American Civil War Trilogy (1961) to get the full picture of the confusion, anguish and mixed loyalties throughout the United States before the beginning of the Civil War, the plentiful, often open North-South contacts and business dealings that persisted throughout the war, and the hot button that slavery was for both sides.  There was no question in the minds of these eminent historians that, at the end of the day, the South fought to maintain slavery in perpetuo, and that the North generally fought for the abolition of slavery as an abstract idea.  But living side by side with black people was something else again.; the average Northerner simply wasn’t prepared for the radical notion that “all men are created equal.”

So it is.  To me, deconstruction doesn’t seem to be very useful as a research tool.  I do, however, imagine it’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t have the discipline to do proper research or who is dying to prove past researchers wrong at any cost.  Ignoring older researchers who might be dismissible by today’s PC standards (both Morison and Catton were “white males” and therefore “couldn’t possibly understand”) seems an exercise in futility, if not actual dishonesty and fraud.

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About Michael J. Kubat

I'm a grumpy Czech-born clinical social worker who is vitally interested in the survival in the United States as a viable democracy and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
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