Thursday, 23 December 2010


I watched the Ken Burn's epic documentary series. Twice. I read Shellby Foote's monumental three volume history. And numerous others. I chose to do a paper in it when I was at uni.

It's out of my system now, but I was a bit obsessed with the American Civil War. 

Not as obsessed however as many Americans  - as evident from the 150th anniversary this week of the secession of South Carolina from the Union. This obsession is probably a good thing - it is the skeleton in the closet of the American Dream. It's relatively recent and it still poses unresolved issues - an itch that needs to be scratched - whilst us Brits in typical fashion chose to politely sweep our own - equally defining - civil war under the carpet.

But their obsession seems to be for so many of the wrong reasons: Naivety - the romance of Rhett Butler and crinolined Southern belles and a romantic lost cause. Unabashed racism - and the lie that slavery in  the antebellum South was some sort of benevolent paternalism. Or sheer ignorance of how history works -  individuals and groups may say they are doing something for a stated reason (states-rights or  crusading abolitionism ) - they may  genuinely believe they are acting for these reasons - but it still doesn't make it objectively true.

My favourite Southerner -  Steve Earle -  cuts through this nonsense in a couple of minutes in a song intro that puts many academic analyses to shame. As Steve says 'it never sees to amaze me - the pinko-shit you can sneak in to a bluegrass song':

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