There is an interesting moment in this talk by Peter Carmichael where he fields a question by a woman, who is apparently concerned that he is being overly critical of the South and the Confederacy. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to hear the question. I know a little something about being accused of holding the Confederacy and all things Southern in contempt. It’s a strange accusation that I will never truly understand.
Anyway, take a listen at 47:30 into the video. I couldn’t agree more with Pete that it is a mistake to turn the Civil War into a “morality play of saints v. sinners.” At the same time I also agree that there is nothing necessarily problematic with shouting at the top of your lungs, “Thank God the North Won.” I am a fairly well read student of the American Civil War and I have a pretty good grasp of the factors that explained emancipation and Northern victory. I don’t believe that Lincoln and the North embodied all things good while Davis and the Confederacy were the embodiment of evil. History is so much more interesting and has a great deal more to teach than the vaguest of generalizations. I feel bad for folks who get overly emotional about this past, in large part because they almost always show so little understanding of it.
Of course, I am not disinterested when it comes to this moment in our history. How could anybody be given the issues at stake. At the same time I don’t believe that such a connection necessarily renders all claims subjective. There is such a thing as historical knowledge. I can say that with a straight face even as I exclaim that I am thankful that the United States won the Civil War. I say it as a someone who is proud to be an American and as someone who abhors slavery. Isn’t it strange that such a statement needs to be explained at all?