The war’s relevance (or lack of it) in the 2011s is likely to be the subject of considerable pontification over the next three-and-a-half years as the Civil War Sesquicentennial is observed in different ways.
Undoubtedly with a few solemn ceremonies, even more black-and-Progressives protesting any commemoration of the “evil,” slave-owning Confederacy, a smattering of battle reenactments more concerned with crowd-control than blood, and the inevitable recurring analyses in the legacy news media, intertubes and elsewhere.
My own take is simple. The war remains eminently relevant.
It certainly isn’t as front-and-center, even in the South, as it was when I was a child in the 1940s and 1950s. A lot of the interest seemed to die with the collapse of segregation. Some of the war memory had been a prop for the discrimination and oppression of black and other minority Southerners all along.
Good riddance, of course, to segregation and to the unthinking glorification of some Southern war personalities—as the losers of any war may indulge—yet the war still speaks to us. And not just to descendants of the participants. There are, after all, fewer of us all the time, as steady immigration (legal and illegal) changes the country’s demographic makeup.
Several comments, back in April at the blog Civil War Gazette, echo my thinking: The war is relevant today as the chief historical expression of a continuing refusal by some Americans to knuckle under to a strong and strengthening federal government.
The modern expression of that is found in the protests of conservatives and libertarians such as the Tea Partiers who seek to slow down federal regulation and put Uncle Sam on a tax-and-spend diet, even as the Liberal Democrats in power grow the bureaucracy and government’s continuing reach into our lives in an attempt to right the wrongs they see.
It’s a common notion that our times are more politically-polarized than ever in the country’s history. But that can’t be. When could it have been more polarized than in late 1860 when South Carolina, angry at Lincoln’s election and fearful of what he might do, withdrew from the Union? Followed, within a few months, by most of the states of the old Confederacy.
Arizona, for instance, is doing its best to legally develop its own enforcement of the U.S.-Mexico border, since Washington has largely stopped trying and, instead, seems to be embracing an open border. The Southern border, anyhow. But no one expects Arizona to secede.
And right there is another way the war is relevant today: We know things could be a lot worse than they are. Because the war shows us they were one hundred fifty years ago.