It was nearly a decade ago when I first saw it. I thought my eyes were surely deceiving me. Yet there it was, smacking me in the face. Right in the middle of a small circulation newspaper covering a suburb of Little Rock, Arkansas was the most glaring evidence that I was in a completely foreign culture…General Robert E. Lee and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the same page; both heralded for their heroic deeds! Surely I wasn’t the only person to notice the irony. Or was I?
As the years passed between me and my tour of duty in Little Rock, Arkansas, I thought surely that these wounds had come closer to healing, but recent events have proven otherwise. Perhaps in the larger cities, both in the north and the south, few people notice such things, but to the student of history, the wounds of the Civil War still cut deep.
There are undoubtedly those who don’t believe that I, a Kansas native, have any reason to speak of such sacred things as the “war between the states,” as it is called in the occupied territories. Indeed, many southerners I have spoken with in the Navy don’t know that Kansas became a state during that war, or that Bloody Kansas, the gory nickname given my home state in the early 1800s, revolved around the issue of slavery. In fact, for those who believe that the war was over slavery, I might announce proudly that John Brown was from Kansas, and he fought hard to give life to a slave revolt (of which no slaves took part). I would also draw attention back to my state’s history as “Bloody Kansas.” Raiding parties from pro-slavery Missouri attacked and slaughtered free-state farmers near Fort Scott, Kansas. To further prove my interest in the issue, I point to the fact that Kansas sent more troops to fight for the north than any other state per capita. Over 20,000 young men fought in the union army. Post-Civil War, the issue again rested in Kansas through Brown v. Kansas Board of Education. There you have it. I have surely proven my own vested interest in this discussion.
But herein lies the very reason for this essay. More than just being qualified to present my gripes in front of the nation is the fact that the nation still has gripes to lie down. The reasons for these complaints are hard to pinpoint. Some believe that the north failed to accept the south back into the union properly or that the slave issue was not completely resolved (the forty acres and a mule argument). Still others believe that there simply hasn’t been enough time between the war and the present for proper healing to take place. Personally, I believe that the relationship between the states was never on a very firm footing even before the war. How can a lasting, satisfying relationship blossom after a massive war undertaking when no such relationship existed in the first place? No other nation in the world, save perhaps for the precarious relationship England has with Wales and Scotland, has the same unsteady disposition between its individual provinces.
Barack Obama’s presidency started to heal the rift, but as his time came to an end, I fear that his became a contentious presidency as well. The issue of his presidency gets a little deeper than just the north versus the south, but in reality, his election and reelection has not provided any healing in this country.
While living in Arkansas, I noticed a great deal of cultural difference between my home state and my adopted state, though the two were practically within shouting distance. Separated only by an imaginary line, the two dominant American cultures still collide, giving weight to my argument regarding the lasting impact of the civil war. For example, let me explain my stance on the “flag issue.” I know it is a stereotype, but I did see a good number of trucks in the south with a shotgun in the window and a confederate flag bumper sticker. Who can possibly think that’s acceptable?
Freedom of speech pundits would attack my argument here, and perhaps they should take their fair shot, but the truth is this flag that I see in so many yards, plastered on so many tee shirts, and stuck to so many truck bumpers represents a lot that went wrong in America. How many more Yankees and Rebels would have had to die to preserve a country united under one flag instead of having stubborn pride in one no longer associated with anything other than a defeated temper-tantrum?
And then there is state-based pride, something that I also feel deeply within me. What I have noticed, however, is that even to this day there seems to be a more powerful pull to one’s home state in the south than in the north. For example: How many times has a Texan reminded you that they don’t have to be a part of the United States? This, of course, is the entire reason the south left the union. State by state they fell away, forming a loose trading and military relationship that lasted throughout most of the Civil War.
Had the south won, there is little reason to believe that the United States would have been around at all today. Instead, a limited number of states, however many that might have formed or expanded after the war, would have continued to exist, each forming small trading relationships when needed and rescinding them when not. America could never have been the powerful nation she is today if the south had won the war. Despite this reality, a southerner will still argue that the state should have more powers than the federal government.
I would also quickly add that the Confederate States of America could never have held the position the United States holds today. Despite some problems with his basic plotlines, Harry Turtledove quite wonderfully depicts what would have happened to the two countries had the South won. While I believe none of the southern states would have stayed true to the original formation, he does point out one very interesting fact: Every time a major war broke out in the world, the USA and CSA would undoubtedly have landed on separate sides of the issue. In the end, the states that make up the present-day USA would have destroyed each other. Only in the post-WWII world has Europe finally managed to displace many of the cultural issues that kept them at best unwilling partners throughout much of history. How long would it have taken America to do the same, considering the enormous differences in our own state-based associations?
I’m not just writing to bash my southern friends. What the south has in prideful belief in a failed rebellion the north more than makes up for in snobbish misrepresentation and, to some degree, rewritten history. If you have indeed remained patient with me this far into our cultural study, you will now see just how arrogant the north can be. Indeed, as a Yankee, I am so convinced that nothing could have won the war for the south, not even the entrance of England onto their side, that I freely verbally attack any southerner who offers me argument. I sometimes think of myself as the Kansas Yankee in King Clinton’s Court, desperately trying to show the ignorant people of this land how to ride bicycles. While many of my northern counterparts don’t share this extreme form of arrogance, it is none-the-less present…just ask any southerner who has sojourned to the north.
And then there is the idea that the North could do no wrong. Even as recently as last week, as I read about the issue of slavery, I realized that glossing over the issue of race relations in the North would be wrong. The fact is simple: blacks and other minorities in the North during the time of the Civil War were free, but not in any way, shape, or form, equal.
These are but a few of the reasons that the Civil War continues today. Southerners announce their affiliation by driving around a defeated flag, even in a growing, prosperous city such as Little Rock, while northerners continue their attacks with a failure to truly reconcile differences or understand their own shared history of racial prejudice. Perhaps these differences would never have been resolved naturally in any case, but the fact remains, no one is really ready for the Civil War to be over yet. We will continue to fight with words what our forefathers fought with guns. How much longer the war will continue no one can tell for sure, nor can they tell what will actually end the war for good. Suffice to say; it will most likely continue for some time, at least until this Kansas Yankee starts living like an American instead of like he is teaching King Clinton’s minions how to ride bicycles.