Are we still fighting the Civil War?Posted: May 14, 2010
I have been watching “[A History of Us](http://www.pbs.org/wnet/historyofus/)” on the History Channel – a multipart series about the history of America. Last night I began watching the chapter on the Civil War and while it is impossible to summarize something as complex as the Civil War in a single blog post, there were a number of facts shared that I found intriguing. Intriguing in how they reflect how little has changed in this country on such a fundamental level
1. The South was fighting for the right to be free of a strong central and federal government. They wanted the freedom to make decisions for themselves. They desperately wanted to maintain the status quo that enabled great wealth to amass in the white power-class, and to fight federal laws, programs and regulations that sought to broaden equality and thus redistribute wealth to minorities.
2. The South certainly had the tactical advantage in the War. They only had to hold territory, while the North had to march in and take it from them. In other words, the North had to fight a war of occupation, and we all know how well those wars turn out. The North had a secret weapon though: logistics. Because of federal standards, regulations and subsidized investments in infrastructure, the North had managed to develop an incredible network of interconnected railroads. This meant the North could deliver troops and supplies to the battle front more quickly and easily than the South.
3. The Federal government’s investment in infrastructure didn’t stop with the railroad. It also went towards developing a vast near-instantaneous communications network powered by the telegraph. Run by the military and made available to the public and private industry, the network enabled tactical information to be gathered and processed centrally, and then have orders broadcast to generals throughout the theater of war so that they could act in a more concerted manner. The public also used this network to help fuel the growth and expansion of industry.
4. The South on the other hand fought against receiving money to build railroads and telegraph lines. They instead relied on private industry to address what they thought was none of the government’s business. The result was a network of privately operated, disconnected railroads that all operated using different gauges. The South’s rail network was 1/3 the size of the North’s and during the course of the War the North laid an order of magnitude more track than the South.
The reasons why the South lost the War are many, but without a doubt two key contributing factors were the South’s inability to move goods, troops and material quickly and cost effectively, and the inability to communicate and coordinate effectively at a tactical and strategic level as a cohesive army.
The irony of course is that the South, in pursuit of its freedom from a government that it felt was taking away too much money and freedom from its citizens, lost to the very same. And to add insult to injury, the South lost because it simply failed to see the long term benefits of the very principals its was fighting against.
What is notable to me is how little has changed in the core values of conservatives, and how on some level it appears that so many still seem to be fighting a war that was lost well over a century ago.