There are neither winners nor losers in a Civil War. The damage inflicted upon each other is a damage staying within the nation itself, the people killed are relatives and friends. Not even the slaves were truly winners of that war - their freedom was worth little until the Civil Rights movement took place a century later. What remains, is a waste of life and material - and a wellspring for historians and cultural reflections.
But there is something else which has been gained: Experience. America has obtained a history - not only has she reached the heights of her European ancestry, but the depths as well. Through slavery and Civil War, America has lost her innocence.
The Civil War has also shown how easy it can be to reach these depths - and how, through gross negligence, mistakes can be made which are not easily undone. It is even more startling that such a war could have taken place at all - a war amongst states which were believed to be united in their cause. Does this question the fundamental basis of the American nation? It could - if these experiences were ignored in the future.
History means responsibility. It doesn't mean to be constantly reminded of past mistakes, of the sins of the fathers and grandfathers. But history can be used as a means to predict future developments - to a certain degree. Circumstances will be different each time, but human nature more or less stays the same. Thus experiences made at a certain time at a certain place can also be of relevance somewhere else, somewhen else.
Within the Euro-American framework, democracy today seems stronger than ever before, and peace and cooperation between these nations seems to be a matter of course. But nothing is guaranteed when there aren't constant efforts made to secure that peace.
The Civil War lives on in contemporary culture and continues to inspire new works of fiction and non-fiction to take shape. Together with Viet Nam, it belongs to the greatest traumas of American culture - and such wounds don't heal quickly. Some of the rhetoric today is just for show, exploiting the Southern Way of Life as something from which profit can be made, some may be more severe, as the ongoing existence of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrates.
Wars are never just fought on the obvious military level. A military conflict is often simply the utmost external manifestation of something going much deeper. Neither are wars the same to all people. If the Southerners truly fought for their freedom, they surely forgot that the concept of freedom isn't attached to any skin color nor to any other kind of external features, whose interpretations are mostly artificially constructed.
The legacy of the Civil War could be seen as split in two parts - the restoration of the Union has succeeded, but the true emancipation of African Americans is still an ongoing process. Wars rarely end, the military confrontation may cease to take place, but the deeper levels often remain, either lying dormant till the next outbreak of chaos, or quietly shaping societal prejudices and inequalities. If the lives lost in the Civil War are not to be in vain, these problems have to be dealt with - in any culture, at any time. It is truly an ongoing story.
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October 27th, 2000