Wednesday, September 7, 2011

American History

Once again Ta-Nehisi Coates is bringing the knowledge to the intertubes. In these years of remembering the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Coates has done an admirable job of reminding his readers about the true cause of the Civil War (slavery), and the horrors of this peculiar institution. In one of his latest posts he helps define the slave society in the Antebellum South. In the first half of the 19th Century everything in the south was defined and shaped by slavery--the economy, people's sense of self, politics, the Mexican-American War, and much else.

It is cliche to state that Americans don't know their history. This is true. But this problem goes much deeper when it comes to remember the Civil War. We don't so much forget as we mis-remember. We mention slavery, but do not try to understand what that actually meant to the nation. We create stories of southern bravery and lost causes and skate over what that "cause" was for.

On some level, I'm hoping to stimulate an intellectual conversation about American History. But on another level, I am hoping to make this portion of our history more concrete, and less abstract. I believe the discussion should be respectful. I do not believe it should be antiseptic or dispassionate.  
When we talk about the Confederacy, we should always be clear that we are talking about a rebellion incited for the purpose of purchasing and selling children. When we talk about Pickett's Charge, Robert E. Lee, or whatever, we should always remember that it was valor in the service of trafficking. Perhaps that sounds too harsh. I don't know. I don't really want to be emotionally distant from this.


  1. Yankee.

    I'm reading Team of Rivals. It's phenomenal. And makes me want to talk about the Civil War and Honest Abe almost all the time.

  2. great book. i'm a big civil war history fan. if you are ever up for it, i recommend reading Grant's memoirs. great writing and lots of thoughtful stuff.

    it's true i'm a yankee when it comes to this. every Minnesota needs to remember our role in whipping the rebels. 1st Mn Volunteers!!