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Everything Old is New Again

I tire of the romanticism attached to the Civil War, particularly to the fawning genuflection to the South as if it were the side standing up for some sort of lost virtue. The secession documents clearly enunciate that the war was entirely over the desire, not just to keep the institution of human bondage in the South, but to extend it into the Western frontier. Instead of learning the deeper lessons of that conflict which still wages today, it gets prettified into ball gowns, dress uniforms and battle field re-enactments. It was a war not simply over the ability to own another human being but a war over the most grisly type of capitalism. Its demise benefited all workers, free and formerly enslaved.

Slaves were the single most valuable commodity in this young nation, and we all know how the rich view giving up even the tiniest fraction of their wealth for the common good, let alone their greatest asset and economic advantage as this country grew westward. And therein lies the tipping point. While morality did enter the equation, the timing was driven by competing economic models for westward colonization.

Yet for all the faux sentimentality, the yearning for an antebellum that never existed, there is reason to re-examine that conflict now. For we are facing a new civil war, and one that finally lays bare the wound that still festers in this not-so-perfect union. The future of this nation hinges upon who decides the economic model of the 21st Century: one of wage bondage, indentured servitude and debtor prison or of a worker rebellion that puts a harness on out-of-control corporatism and establishes a more equal relationship between the classes, between the individual and the corporate. For what the previous war failed to accomplish was extinguish an ugly and mistaken faith in a stratified social and economic order. That cruel economic model that once threatened to spread like a cancer to the Pacific is back, though in modern garb, sentimentalized by royal weddings, phony principles and false hopes. The only difference this time is there’s no power on our side but us.


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Apr. 18th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
"We've spent a century and a half turning (the war) into a gigantic North-South football game in which everybody was a hero," Steven Mintz, Columbia University history professor said. "In other words, we depoliticized the whole meaning of the war. And insofar as it was captured, it was captured by the descendants of the Confederates."


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