Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Lesson Of The Civil War: It Can Happen Again

Image result for civil war images

This Memorial Day weekend I took a road trip with my wife and two kids – 11 and 14 – to Gettysburg, PA, the site of the bloodiest and possibly most significant battle of the Civil War.  More than 150 years after the last shot was fired, one can still feel the historic significance of the war that could have destroyed the United States.

Whereas the Revolutionary War birthed our nation, and later World War I and II would save the world, the Civil War preserved a country that very much could have split into two, limiting the prospects of survival by either side.

I love history and paid attention in school and I consider myself well read, but I have to say in coming to the Gettysburg National Military Park you get a real-life feeling for what took place on the battlefield and what the nation must have felt like at the time.

I also couldn’t help but feel the nation is still divided today.  The battle line may not be a physical one and there’s no one lightning rod issue at stake such as slavery was back then, but our red state, blue state approach to every issue is going to tear our country apart.  Half the nation hates the other half, led by a president with a greater negative rating than a likability rating.  At best, little gets done by the federal government, with far fewer bills being passed by Congress this year than just about any other time in history.  At worst, key issues like healthcare, immigration, and climate change do not go acted upon.  Individual states seek to legislate over things the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on.

This past holiday weekend we were supposed to honor those who gave their lives for freedom, who died, heroes, who risked themselves for the greater good of others.  But one has to wonder how many more wars must we make the ultimate sacrifice for?  Will we even head to another civil war?

The Civil War, at its center, was over slavery.  Southern states wanted to keep it legal and grow it.  They also wanted U.S. expansion west to include the use of slavery.  The Northern alliance would have none of that.  All of Abe Lincoln’s presidency was spent governing over a split country, dying just a few days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the North.

The Confederate States of America consisted of a rogue nation.  These states opted out of the U.S. to form their own country, elected their own president printed their own money, and fielded their own army.  But President Lincoln never acknowledged them as a nation – just as petulant rebels seeking to overthrow America.

What shocks me today is how many people still worship the Confederate flag.  The North won the war, but did not capture the hearts and souls of those they defeated.  It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that black Americans had full legal rights and protections that should’ve gone to them a century earlier.

It angered me that some stores sold Confederate objects, including magnets and T-shirts emblazoned with the southern flag -- the nation’s ugliest symbol that has come to represent hate and racism as well as rebellion and insubordination.  How can anyone justify displaying this ugly image, this vestige of a past we need to distance ourselves from?

Would a store today sell the Russian flag?  Would a store sell a Nazi swastika?  Would a store sell something that so many find offensive, oppressive, and is diametrically opposed to the values of the community?

One of the things that being at Gettysburg made me wonder and feel was about the town itself.  How did it handle being overwhelmed by what took place there? The town had about 1,800 residents when over 150,000 soldiers used it as a bloody battle ground, leaving some 6,000 dead and another 45,000 wounded, captured, or missing. They had to deal with an incident that combined the number of people killed in Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

The town not only had to bury thousands of people, it tried to tend to tens of thousands who were physically and psychologically damaged.  Everyone’s life was put on hold.  Commerce came to a halt.  People gave up churches, houses, hotels and restaurants to help the armies recover and recuperate.  What was it like to also have thousands of enemy soldiers right in their town?

One can see many story lines, as a novelist, coming out of this.  Could a young woman of the Union fall in love with a Confederate soldier she was tending to?  Could one of the black residents use the chaotic opportunity to kill some of the slave-holding Confederates in custody?  Who were the hero townspeople?  What could have happened if the battle was not won by the Union?

The city has forever been shaped by the calamity to befell it.  It’s built on tourism, with many buildings of that era the dominant architecture of today.  The town will forever be stuck in 1863, defined by the ravages of war, the hate of racism, and the fighting spirit of young men who proved their valor against other Americans.

By contrast, Pearl Harbor is not consumed by WWII.  It’s part of Hawaii, a beautiful tourist island.  Lower Manhattan is not consumed by 9/11.  Business and living go on as usual there.  But Gettysburg is a town that forever leaves us in the middle of a bloody war.

The Civil War, by most estimates, led to 620,000 deaths, which represented 2% of America’s population.  But there were evermore casualties and not a town in America was untouched by the war’s death and destruction.  The dead from World War II, World War I, Vietnam, and Korea combined don’t quite equal the number lost in the Civil War. Just 25,000 Americans died in the Revolutionary War.

I do hope we learn from history and all of the wars fought.  Enemies become friends.  

Peace lasts a little longer than war.  But we keep fighting and re-fighting wars because new generations follow the patterns of prior ones.  There are not many enduring periods where the U.S. is not engaged in a war.  We can’t get past two generations without a war.  

I was born during the Vietnam War.  My kids were born into the Gulf War II.  My parents were born during World War II.  Their parents came in between World War I and the Spanish-American War. In between formal wars you had other battles going on.  Today, we’re in an era of fighting terrorism.  Earlier in the nation’s history we battled Native Americans – the Indians.  And when we don’t fight war around the globe, we turn on ourselves with crime, racism, and mayhem.

President Lincoln perhaps said it best.  “America will not be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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