“Do you love this country?!” – disturbing reflections on Civil War “memory”

Posted on March 19, 2008 by

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Just last fall, I was at a reenactment where I encountered one of my old friends. Now, I need to set the scene, so bear with me.

Historically (funny word to use in this context considering the nature of Civil War “memory”), I have worn gray at reenactments. I reenacted Confederate maybe once or twice a year – but after a while I learned to hate being a part of the poor portrayal of the war to spectators. Not only are most battles poorly portrayed (I’ve been a part of some pathetic battlefield maneuvers that would have made the poorest Civil War era battlefield commander look brilliant) but so are many of the one- on-one encounters between reenactors and spectators when it comes to an exchange of dialogue (do I even need to bother to mention anything about the constant, “it wasn’t all about slavery” approach? On another note, I just realized that I need to add some additional remarks to the “reenactments” bullet in building blocks for Civil War memory). So, this year, in another capacity on sutler row (other than that as a reenactor), I was wearing Union blue. Needless to say, my “wearing of the blue” was difficult for my Confederate friend to swallow.

That evening, we engaged in an exchange over the nature of the war – specifically, he was taking jabs at my approach to the war when it comes to the nature of reluctant Confederates, disillusioned Confederates and Southern Unionists. Understand now that he was not taking to this lightly, so, from his perspective, this became a volatile topic of discussion. I didn’t want to engage in an exchange because I knew where it would lead. Nevertheless, he persisted. But, all of that aside, a nearby person with obvious Confederate sympathies stepped up to me and asked, “Do you love this country?!” I thought, at first, “What an absurd question to ask of me.” And I asked him (probably in disbelief), “What?” He asked again, “Do you love this country?!” With no need to hesitate, I said, “Of course!” He was appalled and started ranting and naming off all of the problems (in his opinion) that this country is facing, and actually, I knew where he was going with this even after the first time he questioned me.

I think what bothers me the most about this is that this is one of the prime examples of where Civil War “memory” has gone way too far (the “fault” lying with extremes to which a person can take personal “memory” of the war). It became more and more obvious to me, the more that he ranted, that he had embraced the idea of his connection to Confederate heritage. The connection, however, was not so innocent but reflected the modern illusion of a spirit of Southern Confederate nationalism. This is his escape mechanism or vessel upon which he can “ride” in order to express discontent/animosity/outright hatred when it comes to contemporary issues as they pertain to the U.S. government and governmental policy/legislative matters. All-in-all, it’ s rather disturbing, and also rather disheartening as we approach the Sesquicentennial. Have we really come a long way, or are we actually regressing as a people? I say “we,” but perhaps it is a select few who are grasping backward in time to what they perceive as better times and (though not at all the case in considering the disjointed nature of the Confederacy) a “better” government (“…old times there are not forgotten…”??? Nahhh, not “not forgotten,” just “reinvented” with a modern twist).

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