1. The Civil War in History
From a European perspective, Americans are often said to be lacking a history. Those studying American history are derided as having little to do, and historiography still tends to be more Europocentric in many aspects, as in the case of the French Revolution - which is seen as a rather original and unique phenomenon of utmost importance, while the events and literature paving the way for it are being found not only in English Enlightenment thought but even more in the events of the American Revolution. In this case, American history proves to be linked to European history, but also, and perhaps more than usually acknowledged, is European history linked to American history, one could perhaps speak of a Euro-American history.
But it is not the American Revolution this paper is about, at least not in its main stream of thought. The American Revolution created a chimera, a synthesis of old and new elements - a synthesis into which certain conflicts were already implicated, but also a synthesis offering hope for betterment and positive change, a synthesis of both optimism and pragmatism.
The American Revolution created an America which was fused together out of very different areas, differing in cultural heritage and cultural norms, differing in economy, territorial properties and also differing in the basic mind-set of their inhabitants. E pluribus unum is the optimistic approach, aiming at a working union of states, aiming also at the creation of one American nation, of one American democracy, of one American justice. But only a blind approach could possibly be surprised about the conflict which were to unfold between 1861 and 1865.
The American Civil War is no neat and tidy topic. It is not about a period hundreds of years away, it is not about dead people. The Civil War and the discourses it belongs to are still alive today - continuing to prosper, continuing to draw upon old material, continuing to create new material, continuing to haunt a nation which - not only overseas - is seen as incomplete, as a work in progress.
History is never truly local, never truly regional. History is never written in a vacuum, and even less is it made in a vacuum. History is always about roots and consequences - both can and will never be restricted to the place of happening. America was modeled on ideas originating from antiquity: The idea of democracy, whose mother is Athens, and the idea of empire, whose mother is Rome. But even these idealized progenitors have had a genesis of their own, originating not in empty space but in the history of their predecessors, be it Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians or Indoeuropean roots. Likewise, the history of one region can become relevant for another. Especially today, we can see dissolution and dissension all over the world, be it Yugoslavia, Italy, the Holy Land, the former Soviet Union or the glued-together parts of Germany. While every occurrence in history has to be seen as singular, there are still sufficient similarities and analogies which allow for a comparison.
America is not just a copy of Europe, it has developed into something quite unique, initially fed by European thought and history, but over time - mostly through immigration and expansion - including other cultural elements as well. And since World War I, at the latest, the United States of America have become a global player, influencing Europe in turn and also the world. American culture and global culture are intermingling already, the world itself becoming a melting pot of different cultures. But if cultures merge, histories, too, merge, opening the local and the regional to the global level, letting everybody share a common stream of ideas. This is globalization - in the best sense. And with borders gone, which is already the case on the internet, the most powerful promoter of global identity and global unity, with borders gone, everything other becomes one's own, and the Civil War, a truly American phenomenon, becomes an occurrence in world history, or, just in history.