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Rocky Mountain PBS is showing the Ken Burns film “The Civil War”. I just came upon it tonight, and don’t know if this is a one-night affair or if it will be rebroadcast again this month, this month – and April 12 specifically – being the start of the Civil War.
I first encountered this film on my honeymoon. We were winding down and spending the night in Taos, New Mexico in a chain hotel, eating Lottaburgers and purusing the cable channels when we found it. I had no idea what it was, but I was fascinated and entranced. On viewing it tonight, I find that I still am.
I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because Ken Burns obtained an amazing amount of photographs from the era and the battlefields. I have no idea where he found them all. Perhaps it’s because it’s simply a marvelously well told story that brings this important chapter in history leaping so vividly back to life. Perhaps it’s because the background sounds – crickets, frogs, cicadas, the cries of blue jays - take me back to my beloved homeland (I am, and will always be, a Southerner). Perhaps it’s because I fell a little in love with the late Shelby Foote the first time I heard his honeyed drawl. He was always one of the people I’d have at my dinner party, if I could invite anyone in history.
The War Between The States was (from a Southerner’s perspective) a war of honor and identity, with very little glory. It was an economic war, with slavery being the lynchpin of the Southern economy. It was futile for the South in the end, and caused a rift within the country that has never entirely healed. As I’ve said before, some Southerners still seem to be fighting the war, and I have always had a sense that the South is just biding it’s time, waiting for the right moment to rise again. There was a pridefulness about the War that I was aware of even as a child growing up in North Carolina 100 years later. I can still recall old men – grandsons of Civil War veterans – marching in their grandfather’s uniforms in a parade down Main Street once. I remember my father had to explain it to me – I must have been very, very small.
A few years ago, Kelsea and I did a bit of a Civil War tour as part of a trip to Virginia and Maryland. We went to Manassas, Loudon, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry, and a few other spots, exploring, learning and picking up the vibe of places where so many lives were lost. It was powerful and we’d both do it again, investigating some of the many other sites we didn’t get to see.
All this is feeling particularly close to home these days. Perhaps it’s because of a certain uneasiness in the world and the economy. Perhaps it’s because 1% of the people in the US are taking in 25% of the nation’s income, according to an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz in Vanity Fair. With the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and other Middle East countries recently, protesting inequality and injustice, I wonder if we in this country are not due for an uprising of our own, one that pits class against class, similar to our late Civil War. If such a battle were waged, who would triumph? And would the price of victory be too high for anyone to pay?
As I say, this film fills me with reflection.