Monday, June 21, 2010

The War of Northern Aggression

Amber and I made a day trip to see the family in Virginia on Saturday, and while were there we went to a Civil War battlefield. And that got me thinking.

Why is the South so much more obsessed over the Civil War than the North? The North doesn't really care all that much about Civil War history, but in places like Virginia and South Carolina (I don't sense it as much in North Carolina), Civil War stuff is everywhere. Given that the North actually won the war, wouldn't you think it would be the other way around? Why does the South want to dwell on its defeat so much?

Ah, but this is how human nature works. Yes, it's convenient that there are all of these battlefields all over the South. But more than anything else, people just tend to think more about their defeats than their victories, especially when death and destruction is involved. Just look at World War II. What do most Americans remember most about World War II? Chances are, it's not the United States' ultimate victories; it's the attack on Pearl Harbor. Until Michael Bay makes a movie about D-Day or the Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear bomb attacks, I won't be convinced otherwise.

Tragedy and defeat tend to stick with us and envoke strong emotions, and this leads us to create all kinds of memorials, holidays, "ceremonies", and so forth. Seems kind of silly, really. Why do we torture ourselves this way? Why not dwell on the positives in life? Is it because people think doing so would disrespect those who died as a result of World War II, September 11th, etc.? People are afraid that if they don't do enough to honor those who have died in Iraq, for example, that they'll be looked upon as "bad people". Certainly that's part of it, but I think there's more.

Here's another question. Why do we erect memorials and devote NFL halftime shows to innocent September 11th victims, but not (at least to the same degree) to innocent victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters? Here's what I think: people want revenge. You can't enact revenge on Mother Nature, but you can enact revenge on Al-Qaeda. Going overboard in our memorialization of war or terrorist victims is kind of a way to spur feelings of "Let's go kill those bastards!" among Americans. I guess this is how humans deal with defeat: we want justice.

Of course, it is not my intent to trivialize the events of Pearl Harbor or September 11th, or those who died on both those days and the wars that followed. I'm just using those examples to illustrate my point. Now we can get back to talking about the Civil War: the reason the South cares more about the Civil War - or as they sometimes call it, the "War of Northern Aggression" - is because they lost. Loss makes people more proud of who they are, and I guess that's why you still see Confederate flags everywhere in the South. "We may have lost, but we're still proud to be Southern! The South will rise again!"

As a native Southerner (sort of - does Florida count?), here's my take on all this:
- Civil War history can be interesting in doses and makes for a good History Channel show or two, but I don't consider myself a "history buff". That goes for all kinds of human history, not just wars. I'm more interested in physical history than human history.
- I have no hard feelings toward Northerners. But I still don't care for the Yankees or the Red Sox.
- Confederate flags are often interpreted as racist symbols due to their association with slavery, so I think we should come up with a better symbol of Southern Pride. Instead of flying a Confederate flag, how about flying a checkered flag instead?


Sherri Fillingham said...

I think there are a couple of reasons that the South focuses more on the Civil War.
1) It was fought in the South. Gettysburg is the only major battle north of the Mason-Dixon line; Antietam the only other major battle in the territory of the Union. And you can't tell me the Civil War isn't a big deal in those areas.

2) It is - win or lose - the act that gives them a sense of regional pride. New Englanders take great pride in their place in the Revolutionary War. The old "Washington Slept Here" jokes are actually true - in that region, people followed the paths of men like Washington, Franklin, Adams, etc. Things only get muddy when those Founding Fathers were in Virginia, so bring in the slave issue. For those in the southern midwest, they celebrate the legend/history of the cowboy. Some regions appear to feel the need to have an identity and the Civil War was when the south rose.

As for why we honor those who died at Pearl Harbor and 9/11 versus those who died in Katrina, etc., I think there is also a sense of feeling those that died in the attacks of man were where they were supposed to be, and attacked. For those who are killed in storms, especially, there is often the "if they'd had any sense they would have gotten out of there" response. I think you see a difference, as a result, when dealing with Katrina. The anger swirling around the mayor, etc. afterwards was along the "if you'd done your jobs right, they could have gotten out of there" lines in many cases.

While individuals in society often dodge personal responsibility, we as a society still prize it. If someone doesn't take precautions against a storm and loses their life as a result, many will say that that was the risk they took by staying.

That said, we also do want revenge - or at least that "nyeh, nyeh" moment. For an attack like 9/11, we go after whoever we think was to blame. For storms and other natural disasters, we often simply rebuild what we'd lost exactly where we lost it - no matter how stupid that might be. It's our chance to stick out our tongues at those who injured us and get some of our own back.

(And if you ask me about WWII, it is D-Day I would immediately come up with.)

Very thought provoking post - and I love the checkered flag concept.

And congrats on the board election.

Eye of the Frog said...

Florida is not a Southern state:

James Allen said...

You obviously have never been to Palatka.