Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Civil War Isn't Over

The North didn't help the South bury its dead, and they've never forgiven us.

I watched an American Experience program on the Civil War dead the other night -- a repeat I think -- on PBS, and it really struck me how long our institutional memories are. When the institution is the Southern culture, it's easy for those in the north to miss. I've lived in both the North and the South before settling in California, and I've visited both since.

In front of the South Carolina state house, today.
First, my premise: the South never forgave the North for the crushing defeat it suffered in the Civil War, and a key reason is that the North -- the Union, in fact -- made a concerted effort to bury its Civil War dead, but refused to do so for the Confederate dead. The North felt contempt for the Southern soldier, at least at the time, and so the South was left with a few women's groups to make an heroic but ultimately failed effort to bury the Southern dead.

From living in Japan and studying its history and culture, I learned that the nine-year occupation after World War II led almost to a love affair between the former deadly enemies, one that persists to this day. We very nearly crushed Japan in the war and bombed it -- with conventional as well as nuclear weapons -- quite nearly into oblivion, and yet the occupation healed so many wounds, much as the Marshall Plan did in Europe.

Gettysburg National Cemetery: for the Union dead only.
The Union occupation of the defeated Confederacy took an opposite tack, to humiliate and punish the South, and we are suffering the consequences to this day. Not burying the Southern dead when the North had the chance must have rankled and cut deep, and I'm sure that fierce anger persists, at least that form of it that makes the Southern man feel low and humiliated, enough to still cherish the Confederate flag. I'm not expert enough to tie the Civil War and its aftermath to the Southern economies of today -- or to the inherent and persistent racism -- but it doesn't take a Nobel laureate to figure out that the Southern states lag far behind the North and the West Coast in economic growth.

Check out this article by Jonathan Cohn are the North-South divide (blue-state-red-state, if you will):
By nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states. It’s impossible to prove that this is the direct result of government spending. But the correlation is hard to dismiss. The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. (The fifth is New Mexico, which has turned blue.) And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and Hawaii. The numbers on infant mortality, life expectancy, teen pregnancy, and obesity break down in similar ways. A recent study by researchers at the American Institute for Physics evaluated how well-prepared high schoolers were for careers in math and science. Massachusetts was best, followed closely by Minnesota and New Jersey. Mississippi was worst, along with Louisiana and West Virginia. In fact, it is difficult to find any indicator of well-being in which red states consistently do better than blue states.
A big piece of this separation between Southern red states and Northern and Western blue states is the principle of states' rights, which is code, in my view, for the persistence of nostalgia for the Confederacy. States' rights mean we don't need no stinking affirmative action, we don't need the Negro voters, and we don't need Washington (the Union) coming down here and tell us how to run our bidness. Stay out.

The result is clear from, as an example, Texas. Cohn goes on:
Romney and Ryan like to say that giving states more autonomy would encourage innovative and efficient solutions to social problems. But what their agenda would really do is undermine modern standards of economic security, creating among the red states a region in which government doesn’t even try to guarantee that everybody can pay for basic necessities of life. It would do nothing less than change the postwar definition of what it means to be an American.

The quintessential blue state is, of course, Massachusetts. There, health care is available to almost everybody, regardless of income or preexisting medical conditions. Welfare benefits are among the most generous in the country, and the state spends hundreds of millions on public housing each year. These programs don’t always lift people out of poverty or protect them from financial catastrophe. Still, Massachusetts’s residents get a lot more help from their state government than people who live elsewhere in the United States. It is reliably at the forefront of efforts at the state level to do what the federal government will not.
...Today, Texas doesn’t even try to provide the kind of protection for its vulnerable residents that Massachusetts does. It has more uninsured residents than any other state in the country; its lawmakers have repeatedly refused money from the federal government to expand health insurance for kids. Its welfare program is among the nation’s stingiest: Eligible families get less than $300 a month, about 19 percent of the federal poverty line. The Texas state housing budget is a mere $5.5 million—a tiny fraction of what Massachusetts spends, even though Texas has almost four times as many people. “There’s no other state money allocated for housing,” says John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, “unless you want to count prisons.”
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia's definition of states' rights:
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. Since the 1940s, it has often been considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation. In law, states' prerogatives are protected by the Tenth Amendment.
It doesn't take a political science degree from Harvard -- or Duke, for that matter -- to figure out that politicians, like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who support states' rights do so to employ a coded term that means we hate unions and still wish we could keep Negroes in their place. They do it to send a message, one that is not lost on the Southern states that support states' rights.

As long as this divide, which might have been repaired in the 1800s, lives on -- and there's no reason to believe it will fade anytime soon -- then we can expect conservative politicians to exploit this age-old resentment harbored by white Southern men and women. It's a sad reminder of the wages of sin, and the wages of war.

The Confederate dead in Oakwood Cemetery: If only the Union had helped...

Update. A recent Gallup poll shows Mitt Romney up by seven points. That's way off the average of national polls that show a more even race. But a graph of how that lead came to be is very informative and bears on what I've said in this post:

The South really holds different political beliefs, doesn't it? Where did that come from? 150 years ago? Could be, could be.


  1. Excellent discussion of the multifactorial 150+ years friction of North v. South. When we arrived in Alabama from Pennsylvania to spend the first half of the 60's, I was dumbfounded as a 10 year old to find the oddest thing beginning: a resurgence of racist pride among the natives of the area. Was really easy to link it to desegregation rulings and "interference" of states' rights by the "Union" government, but a lot more complex since there was such a high percentage of the southern whites I went to school with who had relatives in the war. Never met anyone in my first 10 years in Pennsylvania & Ohio who'd had relatives in the war, nor any since in Pennsylvania or California. That being said, I found no viable excuse for the manner which the VAST majority of the population obsessed on something that happened 100 years earlier and how they wanted to extend virtual slavery forever through poll taxes and literacy tests required of African Americans but generally set aside for poor whites. Since history has shown that the battlefield dead of invading armies are typically treated like so much garbage, I somewhat understand the Union's lack of concern regarding the war dead of the traitorous Confederacy. Our military currently is fairly over-represented by the former rebellion states and I find it interesting that the troops in Iraq & Afghanistan found blood feuds there dating back centuries, made fun of the situation in multiple published accounts, yet failed to recognize any irony therein. Vile politicians have done nothing but exacerbate the situation through using the coded messages you mention above after the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act. First George Wallace, before the KKK wing of the Democratic Party collapsed, followed by the Republic Party "Southern Strategy" pioneered by Tricky Dick and then every subsequent GOP national candidate since. Changing demographics over the next 20+ years will make for an interesting impact on popular and electoral politics since the pro-Caucasion policies of the GOP should keep it virtually lily white (it's over 90% white now) into the foreseeable future.

    1. Excellent comment. I too moved to the South, Hinesville, Georgia, in 1956. When my older brother was asked where he was born, his answer of Ohio was met with fists. I was nearby, and it shocked me. When I went to Mobile, Alabama in 1988, I was amazed that the town was essentially segregated. I marveled at the all-black Mardi Gras high-school marching bands (Mobile maintains it started the Mardi Gras parade tradition). White Mobilians screamed with delight but would probably never want them in their neighborhoods otherwise. Of course I generalize, but my time in the South never exposed me to anything but this continuing racism. Hopefully times and generations will change things, but just look at the GOP support in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas (a de facto Southern state) and we know things will probably change very slowly. There is much that is charming and rich about the South, but its political leanings isn't one of them.

  2. After the civil war all the wealth was transferred to the north from both the south and the plains states, Most people in those states work or worked for industries owned in the north or which were controlled by northern traders. Largely poor because of this, although better off then southern blacks. They have been beaten over the head about some supposed white privilege, which if it exist at all is the is counter balanced by the privilege to sweat for little, and die young

  3. Check out any country Global and American Cival wars never end they as in nature go dormant. The North is looking over the South because they see economic potential. The South still and always holds promise and regional enterprise.

  4. ........I was stationed in Texas during the early '60s at Corpus Naval Air and the Orange,Texas "moth ball fleet." I recently returned on vacation and found the attitudes of southern people there haven't changed, and I was referred to in every introduction as "a Yankee." I've lived in Prineville, Oregon - Darby, Montana - Toledo, Ohio - and Jacksonville, Florida.... but it seems like Texas is stuck in a time warp of 153 years ago.; attitudes there haven't changed.