“Yankee(s)” and “Rebel(s)”

Posted on September 7, 2008 by

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A number of years ago, while working with a magazine editor in fine-tuning one of my articles, I encountered a problem. I felt (and still feel) that, unless used in a quote, it was unprofessional to use the words “Yankee(s)” and “Rebel(s)” when writing about the activities of the armies. Despite my feelings, the editor told me that it was the way that they did things (apparently in an approach to bring on the titilating sensationalism necessary to satisfy popular culture)… and subsequently, some of my words were changed (by no means to my satisfaction) to reflect their “way” of telling the story of the Civil War.

I also find that, in contemporary exchanges, it can be disturbing to hear these same words, as the use invokes some sense of anger or resentment on the part of the person using the words. Granted, it depends on the context in which the words are used and the use can be “quaint.” Yet, the words, used in another way, are like daggers aimed at “the other side”… which, by the way, happens to be dead. To this, I ask “why?” Why is it necessary to toss verbal daggers at the dead (actually, the memory of the dead)? What purpose does it serve other than to exhibit personal bias and apparent inabilities to look back at the war in an objective manner? Furthermore, I am left wondering if the “anger” invoked in such usage is actually “descended” through the generations or, instead, only been “internally manufactured” as a side-effect of developing a “memory” of the events and people of the Civil War.

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