The problem with the Civil War is the problem with any war, but writ large for our Civil War … namely: people always do things for a mixture of motives.
If they are doing something we want them to do, we pick out their ‘good’ motives (ie the ones approved by everyone) and emphasise those. If they’re doing something we don’t want them to do, it’s the other way around.
Those who have served in the military know that it is not, actually, made up entirely of idealitist, self-sacrificing heroes, all keen to risk their lives for their country. But we must tend towards pretending that they are, rather than acknowledging the less glamorous reality, because, if the rock meets the hard place, that is how we want them to act.
So we applaud – or we should – a group of uniformed soldiers walking through the airport waiting area. We go up to a person in uniform – or we should – and shake their hand, and say, “Thank you for your service.”
We don’t, at that point, wonder, if they are in uniform because they had no other choice. [My best childhood friend fell in with a bad crowd in his teenage years and ended up having a judge allow him to choose between five years in the Marine Corps, or five years in Huntsville State Prison. He chose wisely.
An enlisted man’s cynical expansion of the initials ‘NCO’ [non-commissioned office, ie the sergeants] is, or used to be, ‘No Chance Outside’.
I advise some of the young people I tutor, who are clearly not going to university, to enlist in the military and get a transferable skill (and, although I don’t say this to them, be in a place where the life-ruining temptations available to an 18-year old aren’t quite so available).
But we necessarily tend towards pretending to believe that everyone doing military service is doing so out of a desire to defend the rest of us, giving up their lives if necessary to do so.
The average young German soldier in WWII was not eager to exterminate Jews and conquer the world – he was, in his eyes, defending his country. So also the average young Japanese soldier.
And in the Civil War, the barefoot man with the musket wasn’t fighting for an abstraction called ‘slavery’, or even to defend his own slave property (he had none), but to defend what he saw as his native land – keeping in mind that before the Civil War people said ‘the United States are’, not ‘the United States is’, and the concept of secession was not yet a couldn’t-be-argued issue. (Although it should always be an arguable issue.)
He was no traitor, fighting for a foreign country against his own, but exactly the reverse.
Of course he had to be defeated. But hardly anyone at the time saw the average people of the South as evil white supremacist traitors.
For one thing, the views of the average white person about Blacks, were the same, North or South. [Remember that had they remained loyal to the Union, Lincoln would have allowed to keep slavery.]
That’s why Southern whites were soon running their own affairs again – after swearing an oath of loyalty to the Union – and why the American military was, not too many years after the war, again staffed by many Southerners.
It’s an enormous pity that the Southern slavocracy didn’t see the writing on the wall of world history, and follow their British cousins and allowed themselve to be bought out. They could probably have driven a hard bargain.
I haven’t seen the relevant study, but it’s probably the case that if the Southern Blacks had been given a stake in production, via the sharecroping system, overall output would have risen.
It’s also a pity that the victorious North did not give every Black “40 acres and a mule”, so that they would have had a measure of economic independence. An even more imaginative measure would have been the establishment of an independent Black Republic in part of the South – although this would not have been psychologically easy, having just fought a war around the principle that national boundaries are sacred and that once a country has incorporated some territory, it must never ever let it go.