Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The War Between the States

Today marks 150 years since the civil war began.

I'm not advocating that we celebrate or anything. It was a magnificently bloody war that could have been prevented several times over if certain people in power had done things a bit differently. Buchanan among them. As wikipedia so aptly puts it, "his efforts alienated both sides" which ultimately resulted in the secession of the southern states.

However, as awful a situation as it was, it remains one of the most integral parts of American history, and bears thinking about. It is especially applicable to those of us who call Virginia our home. Half of the war took place in Virginia.

We can see that many states were affected. Georgia hosted 27 battles. Tennessee, 38. Missouri, 27. North Carolina 20. Etc, etc. There was even an occasional battle as far west as Colorado. none of them even come close to Virginia. 123 battles just in VA. (That is to say, not counting West Virginia, since it split away at the time of secession.)

It was also difficult time in our history because we were not fighting a common enemy. We were fighting ourselves. Brother against brother.

That's the most tragic part.

I used to think I knew exactly where I’d be if I lived during the civil war. When I was 7 and 8 things were so clear cut. All we really learned about it as a Utah resident was that slavery caused it and slavery was wrong. I was union all the way, and proud to say so.

In fact, I was outwardly disgusted with the fact that anyone joined the southern army in the first place. The honest view of a child with an incomplete education.

And then I moved to VA. My values didn’t change. Neither did my beliefs. But my home did. Virginia is more my home than Utah ever was, even though I lived about the same amount of time in both. And now the question is different. It isn't to enslave, or not to enslave. It is Politics or Homeland. Where would I be?
There is so much more involved than just slavery. The civil war was as much about state government vs. Federal as it ever was about slavery. It was as much about leaving one part of the world to live how they wanted to as it was about slavery.

If the united states was bodily invaded by another country that claimed we weren’t living right, would we defend ourselves?

Of course we would, and it would have very little to do with whether or not we were right in our governmental choices.

The problem of the civil war was not so very different. Even if you firmly believed in the politics of the north, would you, or could you, take up a musket against your land and your people? Perfectly upright and respectable men could not. Robert E. Lee among them.

I used to think he was an idiot for that. But now I understand. The war has since been made a lot more personal for me. If it became necessary to choose between loyalty to my home, or loyalty to a political cause, which would I pick? Without being immersed in the political debates of the time, I can't honestly say what I would do.

I don't claim to know a lot about the state vs. federal government debate, and I don't claim to have a legitimate opinion on the right to secede or not. I honestly do believe that slavery would have eventually been abolished without the war. It was in Britain, and 60 years earlier. So I don't know how much good the war really did.

But it still happened. And living in a world where it did happen, where would I have been? What side would I have taken?

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