The new movie, The Confederate States of America, has gotten some press. I haven’t seen it, and I guess I don’t REALLY care about seeing it (with several reviewers saying that the best thing about it is the concept), but it did remind me of my own weird little questions about the outcome of the Civil War.
So, since this is my first entry, I’ll go ahead and say all the stuff that has to be said:
I’m not racist. I believe that people of all races should have the right to an even playing field; I believe that given such a field, some people of all races will do well on it and some people of all races will not do as well. I believe in civil rights absolutely. I believe that slavery (and particularly the slavery practiced in the Americas by Europeans) was one of the most despicable and horrific institutions ever created. Yup.
All that has nothing to do with my questions about the war. Stuff like: Was it worth it? Why did they fight? Were the Southerners really complete monsters, only fighting to maintain white supremecy? Were the Northerners noble knights fighting for justice?
I added the bit about “monsters” because I recently read Sarah Vowell’s book, Assassination Vacation, in which she idly wonders how Jefferson Davis could sleep at night. Not gonna bother with that now, ‘cause it’ll already be an annoyingly long post to ask the big question:
Was it worth it?
Without bothering to look up the numbers, I’m pretty sure that a lot of people died in the Civil War. Like, a LOT. And not just in the war, mind you, but after the war, when southern cities were destroyed, crops were devastated (crops are always getting devastated in wars), and the labor force was reduced. I really want to look up the numbers now, but I won’t.
There were a couple of stated reasons to go to war, but only one is remembered by the average yokel (i.e., high school history teacher). Screw “a house divided cannot stand” and such; everyone on the street knows that the war was to end slavery.
But, and here’s where people start to call me names, wouldn’t slavery have ended anyway in a generation or so? [That movie I haven’t seen plays as if it were conceivable that slavery would still exist, condoned by a modern government, in 2006. But I ain’t buying it.]
I know that slavery still exists, but it no longer exists with the authority of any government on the planet. At least, not any government that any OTHER government would trade with. And though I’m not sure when the last country stopped allowing slavery, I bet it wasn’t much past the end of the Civil War.
So my guess is that 20-50 years later, there would have been no slavery in the south. I know what you’re thinking, 20-50 years of slavery is a disgusting thing to allow. How could decent people allow it for even a day?
But the North, and the US, HAD allowed it since the very beginning. And they weren’t about to stop it if there weren’t a war. The idea was to stop new states from having slavery, and the tide would have turned against the South soon enough. But not immediately. It wasn’t as though Lincoln got into office saying that he would end slavery, right-quick.
So now we have to weigh the deaths of X amount of people (from North and South), plus the destruction of land and resources on a scale that some hicks are STILL pissed off about it, against continuing the horrible practice of slavery for another generation or two. The South would have eventually been brought into line, because eventually no one would deal with a country on that scale of repugnance. And the North may have grown strong enough eventually to force it without arms.
So I think it’s worth asking the question whether it was worth it. Oh, were you expecting an answer? Sorry.