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 Civil War Issues

Misc. Issues - Listserv Responses

Section Index

The following texts are contributions of mine made on an e-mail-listserv related to a seminar on the Civil War. The books referred to can be found on the Civil War Bibliography.

  1. Momentum in War
  2. Democracy and the South
  3. Is the Great Sympathy only a Conspiracy?
  4. Definitions of Democracy
  5. Historiography and Narration
  6. Archer / History as Entertainment
  7. Reenactments and an Assumed Lack of History
  8. Racism
  9. Europe as a Construction
  10. Southern Identity
  11. Imperialism
  12. Insurrection

  What's Related  
  Subseq. Pages - Essays & Papers  

1. Momentum in War

In the course of last discussion there was the question of what party would have been the stronger one, North or South.

The South had the objective to merely defend itself, to retain its territory, while the North had to conquer the South or at least its most important strategical points.

So at first sight, there seems to be a strategical advantage on the side of the South: Defense requires less resources than attack. The defender knows his territory best, while the aggressor has to move into more or less unknown territory. So it seems that the South was in the better position.

This, to me, seems like a grave but understandable fallacy. To explain this, it seems best to talk about momentum. If you just defend yourself, you leave the momentum to the attacker, you are pushed into reacting to an outside force. Re-action may be the more easy part, and it may be more difficult for the aggressor to make a move against a strong defense. But this is a classical siege situation - no matter how strong the defense, reaction is inferior to action. Once the initiative is lost, the momentum is lost, control over the situation is lost.

If an aggressor attacks a territory and wins, this is a loss for the defender. If the aggressor loses, it is back to square one. Every successful move of the aggressor leads to a loss for the defense, every successful move for the defense can only mean to gain time. If this time isn't used to start a counter-offensive, if defense isn't turned into action, it is just a matter of time - and resources - for the attacker to win. Attack IS the best defense. Even better even to prevent the conflict to occur in the first place.

The psychological momentum can also be strengthened by attacking strong targets first, the method used by Alexander. The strongest positions are usually the least probable attack points, and if such a position falls, the psychological impact on the conquered party will be the more devastating.

The attacker has nothing to lose when he burns conquered territory. It is not his. He can be ruthless while the defender has to protect his country. This, however, only works when the supply chain of the attacker is working. For Napoleon in Russia, it wasn't, neither was it for Hitler. Russian strategy in both cases was - more or less - to let the enemy come in - at infinite costs for the population - and to widen his front and thus weaken the attacker's defense. The larger the front, the more impossible is it to be upheld. You need infrastructure and resources, both can be easily disturbed by partisans. So attack isn't always favored. The classic example is the invasion of Italy by King Pyrrhus, he won his first battles, but at highest costs for himself, and he didn't have the supply chain to reinforce himself.

Thus momentum, isn't the only factor, a second one is distance. The invasion in Normandy is an example where distance was overcome successfully, Viet Nam one in which distance was deadly.

Every city a party loses weakens the line of supply and reinforcements. The only way for the South to win would have been to either start an offensive of his own or lure the attacking armies that far into his territory that they would have outlasted their resources. The latter but would only have led to a stalemate, perhaps to a subsequent peace treaty. A strong defense can also exhaust the attacker, and if the attacker cannot make territorial gains, he will sooner or later have to rething his approach. But the South was already hit by the blockade, if the North had not won so definitely, the South would have risked much more damage due to economic war.

Of course, there cannot really be definite rules for who wins and who loses. In today's world, the rules are also much more strongly determined by technology and propaganda.

For a thorough and revealing look at military tactics, I would recommend John Keegan's The Mask of Command.

For a practical approach, I would recommend the Civil War scenario for Civilization II. ;-)

May 7th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

2. Democracy and the South

Thinking back to the beginnings of democracy, the possibly earliest and most shining example will be the Athens created by Solon, Kleisthenes and Perikles, and even (to a certain extent) the Roman Republic before Caesar and Octavianus. These states, however, were only able to define themselves as democratic by applying a very strict definition of who would belong to that demos, to the people.

In Athens, all citizens were eligible to partake in the matters of the Polis, the state (i.e. politics), citizens being males only, and with the exception of slaves, strangers or non-Greeks (metoikes or perioikes).

Taking into account the reception of antique texts and philosophy during the formation of the Union, there cannot be much of a surprise that, firstly, the rather antique society was in use and, secondly, that the Southern States still - with good conscience - declared themselves democratic.

But the argument Donald makes doesn't center much on politics but on military tactics. A soldier of the South seems to have insisted on his free will much more than a soldier of the North. That shouldn't be odd - taking into account the composition of the Southern Army.

An army consisting much more of farmers and landowners tends to be more aristocratic than an army of factory workers. A rich plantation owner would have much different demands than a simple soldier. Such men would join an army only if they could themselves hope to fill a high-ranking position.

If soldier deny orders that seemed unreasonable to them, that may sound reasonable at first sight, and it may even be appealing to call such a thing democratic. But the term democracy may rather be a very strong euphemism here.

An army consisting of thinking citizens may be the ideal, but such a thing would actually require something like a compulsory military service (Wehrpflicht), and everybody having attended Bundeswehr will probably agree that you don't really become a soldier with that, and that the things you get to know about warfare are rather on a boy scout level.

It is very dangerous for an army to rely on free thinking. That may work for a militia, it may server for a trek of settlers, but for a military operation like defending or enacting a secession and leading a civil war, such a measure cannot really be called deliberate, rather born out of circumstances. This is not democracy, it is ochlocracy.

Furthermore, McPherson mentions such disciplinary problems (that's what "democracy" is the euphemism for in this case) as being FOUGHT AGAINST also by the South, and with even more severe measures taken than by the Unionist army (p. 51). He also - quite bluntly - makes a point that if it had indeed been the case that (both!) armies would have had these problems, the ensuing "carnage", as he calls it, could never have happened.

McPherson also makes an interesting point which leads back also to the question of democracy: In stating the different conceptions conceived from 1776:

  • in the South, resisting an unfair and tyrannical government
  • in the North, preserving a nation conceived in liberty from dismemberment and destruction.

It should also be taken into account that the object of the abolitionist movement at first was to send the slaves back to Africa, to Liberia, the state for liberated slaves (cf. Uncle Tom's Cabin). Racism and racial discrimination wasn't news to the North. (This facet of the Abolitionist movement can perhaps be said to be as racist as slavery itself, in denying blacks access to the WASP community).

But the war also helped to change these views in the North, so that by 1864 most Northern soldiers included blacks into their concept of liberty (McPherson 116).

The thesis that "the South died of democracy" seems to be quite interesting and appealing at first, but I don't think it can be upheld in the general context, in the definition of democracy (especially with the Declaration of Independence in mind) and the tactical requirement for leadership in warfare. (Leadership doesn't mean tyrannis, and the reference made by Donald to Xenophon isn't displaced at all, as Xenophon in his Anabasis and Kuroupaideia describes the ideal leader as a wise and educated individual).

May 15th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

3. Is the Great Sympathy only a Conspiracy?

Regarding the question of education in the military, I don't believe that any radically clear-cut answers would work in every case. Of course, armies can be effective when the mass of the soldiers is uneducated and just following orders from their superiors. This, however, presupposes a higher education and - even more - experience on the side of their commanding officers.

This is the critical point I was trying to make. The commander cannot be everywhere. An army isn't just a uniform bulk of soldiers governed by some officers. Both antique and modern armies carry a chain of command starting from the top and going down to the very bottom, the smallest unit being comprised of only a handful of men. For these units to function both alone and in unison with the rest of the troops, even the group leaders need to be thinking individuals; still obeying orders, but also being able to react to new situations in the best possible way, without always having to consult their superiors. And once the commander falls, somebody has to take his (or her) place.

The chain of command perhaps is like a computer network. Of course all are depending on the main network servers and the network grid (or backbone) itself, but the faster and the more reliable and the more advanced all the computers the network is comprised of actually are, the faster and more reliable is the network itself. Each request to the server, to the network, slows the network down, the more independent the computers are, the more things they can do by themselves, the more effective the entire structure.

It is no coincidence that neither Athens nor Rome had large amounts of slaves in the army, their armies were comprised of active citizens. The South, too, had slaves only for secondary military purposes. Thus the perfect soldier doesn't seem to be one without an ability to think - judging from the practical example. (Although I sometimes wonder about the actual IQ of some members of armed forces, but that's perhaps just an individual observation...)

The education I'm talking about of course doesn't imply college education, it doesn't mean a soldier would have to be able to read Latin or Greek. It is rather practical education, some basic understanding of history and science I'm talking about. And given the demands of short-term mobilization, a highly literate population should make it easier to provide for competent soldiers and officers.

A democracy seems to produce a different kind of army than a tyrannis. However, I would call both the North and the South basically democratic (the question of slavery of course complicating this drastically), as both provided for representation of their CITIZENS.

To speak of democracy in the army, I consider a dangerous misnomer. Democracy and military leadership somehow exclude each other, not because the military would be less politically advanced, but because military decisions demand for immediate action. A democratic system would rather impede action and slow an army down. That doesn't mean that it would be dictatoric, but rather oligarchic in structure as all officers and sergeants would work together, supplementing each other. To speak of democracy in the case of the South is a euphemism for a lacking sense of duty and responsibility, a lack of structure and planning, and a lack of leadership. I believe the question of who was more democratic than the other to be pointless (again, slavery excluded. Once included, the case would be won by the North).

The sympathy for the South may have resulted from a sense of sympathy with the Southern Brothers, on the case of the South, from a sense of betrayal. Slavery - apart from being morally and also economically wrong - was the integral part of Southern society. So it doesn't seem surprising that Southern voices are somewhat partial. That these sympathetic tendencies can also be found, may be due to some other elements: The ideals of the Southern (somehow British?) Gentlemen, the easy-going way of life (opposed to the Northern industrious hectic) - and the undeniable fact that racism in the North was at least as present as in the South at the time (maybe today also). The South had slavery. The North maybe just wouldn't use it - as slavery hurts the economy. The moral sentiments have come rather late. Large plantations, like in the South, wouldn't have made sense in the North either. So the opposition betwenn North and South is a rather delicate one.

Neither would I believe in a grand conspiracy for sympathy with the South, just because I distrust conspiracy theories. The much I love The X-Files, conspiracy theories seem to be a special form of urban legends, at least in the case of large conspiracies.

Romantic sympathy for the losers? Maybe. But I would rather think it is a case of preserving the Union by acknowleding the differences and using them in a constructive way.

May 22nd, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

4. Definitions of Democracy

"The real weakness of the Confederacy was that the Southern people insisted upon retaining their democratic liberties in wartime. If they were fighting for freedom, they asked, why should they start abridging it? As soldiers, as critics of their government, and as voters they stuck to their democratic, individualistic rights."
(Donald, last page)

As can be seen in this quote, Donald equals democracy with freedom and individualism, and as said further in the footnote which has been referred to, he includes "all antiauthoritarian, individualistic, 'leveling' tendencies".

(Again, I am reminded to the famous sentence "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", Pres. Clinton obviously defining "sexual relations" in a way different from what the usual understanding of this would mean. This may be judicially correct, however, the sense gets lost here somehow.)

Donald subsumes some properties under the term "democracy" which cannot be said to be anything but mandatory constituents. He is only able to speak of democracy in this case by defining it in a different way. This may be possible in mathematics and physics, that you could define your system of reference first and then make your calculations depending on that system. There you could invent new terms as you go, you'd only have to root them to physical evidence. With language and history, it is a bit different.

Democracy means the rule of the mass (Gk. dêmokratía; < dêmos: people, mass; kratein: to govern), of the people. It means certain peoceedings like elections take place, and that the leaders and bureaucrats are elected for office for a restricted term. Democracy, however, doesn't mean a society of equals. It *may* mean equality before the law (isonomía), and individual interests may be served better in such surroundings than under a tyrannic government, so would be freedom. But it doesn't mean that freedom and individualism are cogent constituents of a democracy. What he describes as antiauthoritarian and individualistic, is just the striking opposite of democracy.

A democracy has authorities, the difference being that the would have to be elected. But once a person gets elected, he or she gets authority. And a truly democratic people would bow to that authority, because he/she was elected by the majority of voters. The US President has executive power because it has been given to him BY THE PEOPLE, i.e. by the voters, he has been trusted with his office and power and has to be able to use it. Only in the case of great mischiefs and abuse of power would it be possible and just to overthrow and reject a rightfully elected president and government. What he describes has two names: ochlocracy (mob rule) and anarchy (lawlessness) - individuality for him is a euphemism for these both.

Democracy defies individuality at a certain point. Democracy means nothing else but the dictatorship of the mass over the minority; the progress in it is that all other systems do it the other way 'round, so that the basis for legitimation is greater within a democracy. Also, for creating a majority, quite some effort is needed, so that abuse is less frequent than it is in other models.

But one thing democracy has never been is being applied to the military, for pragmatic reasons which I laid out in my previous contribution and which will thus not be repeated.

Democracy also is defined by defining "mass" - by defining the voting population, something Donald doesn't really negate, he marginalizes it in above quoted footnote as "such political manifestations as the extension of the suffrage". He ridicules the sad fact that not only Blacks were not allowed to vote and partake in democracy at that time, but neither were women - both portions of the people being the property or at least under subjugation by the male MINORITY. Thus he may be right to also reject the term "democratic" for the North, but how much truer would this have to be for the South?

Democracy today isn't antiauthorian either, neither is it individualistic. At least I wouldn't ascribe such properties to practices like political correctness or the circus elections have become. On the contrary, a truly democratic society will head towards homogenization, towards shaping the rest of the population after a certain model and by thus creating a new majority. The American Middle Class society has become the norm, and with it certain ways of manner and thinking. But democratic it is. Democracy and individuality are not the same.

Freedom may be a part of democracy, but freedom would be a very tricky term for the South, out of obvious reasons. Donald bases his theses upon a selected perspective, clinging to a strange and, methinks, wrong definition of democracy. This may support his theses, so that he actually arrives at a logical conclusion, but the beginning is flawed, and so the argument may be thought-provoking but void.

May 29th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

5. Historiography and Narration

As you may have noticed, I sign my mails with

"God cannot alter the past, but historians can.
- Samuel Butler".

This may have its comedic aspect, and it can be read as a joke also, but it is rather quite a true account of historiography itself.

What is history? Is it political history, or economic, religious, military, domestic or international, the history of people or of organizations, the history of events or of single individuals? Is it natural history - or just the history of humanity? Doesn't natural history belong to our human history as well? Is man a part of nature or not?

"It is only from our knowledge of the subsequent history of Western Europe that we can presume to rank events in terms of their world-historical significance, and even then that significance is less world historical than simply Western European, representing a tendency of modern historians to rank events in the record hierarchically from within a perspective that is culture-specific, not universal at all"
(Hayden White. "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality". 9f)

When you look at how the subject of "history" is organized at Humboldt-Universitšt, you may get a glimpse at the sub-structure which has been derived sometime long, long ago. History is divided into antiquity, the middle ages, contemporary history etc.: History is divided by chronology. History is divided into geographical departments: British, German, Slavic history etc. Asian and African history are not considered "true" history because they are being taught by different faculties. Thus they do not exist in this approach, history is German, European, hardly even American. But Americans don't have a history anyway...

History is rather supposed to perform a thorough investigation of a small-scope phenomenon, say, the history of the crown of Charlemagne. Or the history of Charlemagne himself. Maybe even the history of the Middle Ages, but that's already a very dangerous field, and it is usually reduced to the history of events.

Maybe some of you are familiar with Heribert Illigs "Das erfundene Mittelalter". His thesis claims that the history between approx. 600-900 AD didn't happen and is purely fictional, ~300 years invented in a joint Byzantinian/Roman effort guided and incited by the Roman/German emperor Otto III. Charlemagne thus would be fictional, the motivation for this act probably being that Otto III. wanted to be the emperor of the Millennium 1000, awaiting the beginning of the reign of Christ.

Be the as it may, and though the thesis has its enticing and even logical aspects, it is not important now whether to believe in it or not. What is interesting, however, is the reaction of "established" historiography. Of course such a full-power assault on "known" history is a strange and even insulting experience. But the claims made by Illig deserve at least further consideration, much more since his 2nd book roots his thesis quite strongly in science. But the defense goes mainly into two directions:

  • Illig is not a "true" historian, but an art historian

  • he draws too heavily upon material usually not used by historians, or used only as a supplement (cultural/literary/art history, physics, architecture, astronomy, inter-cultural comparisons)

  • even if his material observations may be appealing, written sources suggest otherwise and are more reliable (Although it is a proven fact that perhaps more than 50% of all medieval sources are fake, the rest very probably not being true but just a better fake than the rest)

  • Although forgery was common at these days, although for instance the history of Popes is just founded upon one single source (!), although writing was rather a monopolized and centralized privilege of the courts and the monastaries controlled by the theocratic government

The main line of denfense reads like "don't take Charlemagne away from us".

Nobody today has ever met Charlemagne in person, yet he is accepted history. The Greeks believed the heroes of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssee" to be historical figures, just as some fundamentalist Christians believe in the historicity of persons like Adam and Eve, Noah or Abraham.

And seen in a greater contexts, these persons are historical. Fictional or not doesn't matter. Spartacus will forever look like Kirk Douglass, Gandhi like Ben Kingsley etc. The famous painting by Da Vinci, the "Mona Lisa", will still believed to be a painting of Mona Lisa, while it is rather a painting of Isabella of Spain.

Fact is NOT stronger than fiction. On the contrary, and even further: Fiction and fact cannot really be separated. The best sources for American Indian history is archeological evidence - and today's narrative histories. But archeology is not entirely reliable. There never was a "cave man". Man didn't live in caves only. But what he left in caves is what remains of him. You can only use the sources still available, the rest needs extrapolation.

The contrary is equally dangerous. Everybody having performed an internet search will know that it is possible to get thousands, even millions of search results; which is just as useless as not a single one. To have infinite material is just as complicated as having nothing; because: how to weigh it? How to canonize it? How to bind it together?

Historiography is always narration. Even chronicles are narration, they are selective: You only write something down into a chronicle (or diary) when you ASSUME it could be important. But a future observer may think otherwise. Still, what is left is the task to perform a SUBJECTIVE approach of selection on an already SUBJECTIVE material basis.

History is the abstract concept, being discursive in nature, not really separable from cultural studies and language etc. Historical works are works of fiction as much as they are of fact (see Hayden White again), they are works of interpretation and of a selective perspective, however broad it may be. The "real" Lee and the "real" Grant thus cannot really exist - Who would be qualified to determine what is real and what isn't? General Grant, as known to his soldiers, is a different general than General Grant, the president, he is yet a different person to his family. He is everybody's general, the perceptor - already being biased by what he himself knows and considers important - cannot really ascertain an objective image of the object perceived. "General Grant" is a construction consisting of finite and infinite elements. Finite elements could be local/temporal data, i.e. what a chronicle would list as fact. But this is just an empty skeleton.

To someone, Grant may seem like a perfect anti-hero, perfectly human and even amiable in all his flaws and humanity; to others, he may seem a drunkard and filthy soldier with Lee being the perfect gentleman.

These stereotypes have their justification in history, when trying to see the whole picture, can only be descriptive - not prescriptive. Canonization, in literature as in history, is a dangerous path. During the course of the 20th century, such canonizations have started to be weakened in both subjects - new perspectives being added (As can be seen from topics like "music of the CW" or "blacks in the CW" etc.).

A final remark regarding the division of history into historical eras. This only makes sense when setting up a chronology. But the history of reception is just as important as the history of occurence. That's why it is still important to look at antiquity, as such examples may be more present than younger periods. Equally, it can be said that the Civil War isn't over yet. The events, the bloodshed, that's just the outer limits of the event. The discussion, the discourse, the reception goes on. That's why a Confederate Flag can still be an issue to-day.

June 5th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

6. Archer / History as Entertainment

Just some remarks on what we commenced to discuss regarding Archer's style of writing history in A House Divided.

The style and approach also used by Archer can perhaps be best approached by simply regarding the title of one of the documents for one of our sessions: "The Wilderness. What a Private Saw and Felt in that Horrible Place.".

Doesn't this sound a bit like tabloid newspapers, Jerry Springer, Oprah or whatever colorful and info-taining medium we could think of? History here is just a playing field of the entertainment industry. Whatever may be of any interest to a large group of consumers can and will be used to provide content to sell something. And content called "What a Private Saw and Felt in that Horrible Place" has three very attractive elements for the general viewing/reading public:

  • it is personal, it is about an ordinary person (a Private, not a General), alas about someone a normal human being could possibly relate to

  • it is about personal experience: it is not about abstract concepts or strategies, it is about the very human approach, a very human perspective

  • it is about conflict, about a "horrible place", something including both judgement and the promise of entertainment. Seeing the horrible from back then from the safe distance of the now

Archer's "A House Divided. The Lives of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee." is similar. The title itself is a common and catchy phrase by Lincoln, perhaps the most known ("A house divided cannot stand"). This time it is not about simple men but - equally interesting on the opposite end of the scale - about the lives of the famous. Grant and Lee are celebrities - and isn't it utmost entertaining to get inside a celebrity, be it John Malkovich or not, to perhaps catch a glimpse of fame?

This is a very old form of historiography, practiced since antiquity. Then it has been the biographies of Kyros or of the Roman emperors, but hardly about the "common man". The latter has become and is becoming increasingly possible with the internet - allowing the utmost smallest niches to be filled in an inexpensive and instantaneous effort (And most of the sources for the upcoming sessions is drawn from the Net).

I don't think Archer's book is only aimed at the young reader. It is rather aimed at the general public, a public is not necessarily interested in hard fact but rather in some sort of interesting tidbits in an interesting wrapping. That is not supposed to sound negative at all. I rather tend to not condemn such an approach, as it has its legitimation also. But in a scholarly surrounding, we should just keep this in mind: Where does the source originate from - Whom is it addressed to - Can it be that it thus is biased in a certain way - Is it the whole truth or just a piece of the discourse.

June 5th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

7. Reenactments and an Assumed Lack of History

After a weak of abstinence I'm back to the list bothering you with way too long e-mails. I'll try to be shorter this time.

What another course participant wrote as his explanation for the strange reenactments somehow has struck my nerve, and I would like to disagree with his points, strongly.

> American people have also a lack of history. 

This is a nice phrase, and it is a common point of criticism. Common points of criticism are like urban legends - they sound convincing, somehow, and are widely available; and after a while, they tend to be accepted, having become part of conventional wisdom. And some may - according to the principle of a "self-fulfilling prophecy" - achieve the status of reality. The tarantula in the exotic plant. The snake in the toilet. Tales of Alien Abduction following the pattern of the Betty & Barney Hill case or the latest X-Files episode.

That Americans have no history is a strange and somehow appealing attitude. Yes, attitude, not fact. Euro-centric attitude that is. Let's do some math.

The United States of America have been around since 1776, i.e. 224 years. Is this the history of America? If so, then it is longer than the history of present Germany, which came into being somehow in 1949, or, to be more precise, 1990. For the state named "Federal Republic of Germany" has not been in existence before. What came before, was hell. What anteceded hell was the strange democratic interregnum of the Weimar Republic between 1918-1933. What anteceded this was the "Second" German Reich, in existence since 1871, created through blood and coercion. Before that, there was no Germany, unless you call the Deutscher Bund something like a nation state, which it isn't. So the territorial basis for the present nation was created in 1871, cut - rightfully - in the aftermath of 1918 and 1945. That makes Germany even younger than the US.

So, this of course is no pleasing answer. There have been Germans before 1871 you will say, and rightly so. But they were not inhabitants of a German empire. If they were inhabitants of anything, then of small states like Prussia or Saxony or Bavaria or Austria or whatever. If they were part of anything larger, then of the Sanctum Imperium, (Holy) Roman Empire. "Germany" does not exist in the more distant past, not as a unity that is. So we seem to have to transcend the nation state. But if we do this, the entire period of colonization belongs to the history of America as well. If that be Anglo-US, it is Jamestown, 1607, if it be European settlements in America, the starting date is something commencing with 1492.

What is history - what is being described by history? Is it the history of the nation state, of the territorial state, of the nation forming the state? In the first case, the US started in 1776. In the second case, somewhen during the Wisconsin glaciation when the first Asian settlers arrived, to be called Indians much later. In the third case, well, that's the most tricky point.

It is not coincidence that Alan Brinkley called his history of America "The Unfinished Nation". But what is a nation? Initially, a nation is nothing else but a tribe: early Indo-Europeans, Latinos, Etruscans, Greeks, Saxons, Scots, Irish, Francs, Cherokee, Anasazi, Guarani etc. Through "agglomeration" of territory,nations grow to include others in forming a grander unity like Germans, French, English etc. When they spread outward, do they retain their nationality? The Huguenots emigrating to Brandenburg, did they become Germans or didn't they retain certain French "features"? Which is their history? French history up to the point of emigration, then German history? Or both? Or none?

Does the Italian living in New York share the history of a fellow American who happens to be a Jew, a Polish, a Russian, and Anglo, an African, a Puerto Rican etc.? Are Native Americans part of the US nation? If so, doesn't their history add to the histories of all the other ethnicities in it? What about nations which are basically based upon religious borders like Muslim, Jew, Hindu?

Can there even be something like "the" history? Isn't it rather a history of histories, a giant discourse subsuming all the small histories of each inhabitant of a certain place?

Even if you should still insist on limiting the history of the US to the history of the territorial state (BTW, does Oregon have less of a history as it became part of the union much later than say Delaware? Shouldn't it be part of Oregonian history rather than American?), i.e., should you start with 1776, does this mean that the length of age means a lack of history? What is length? Is a longer history better than a shorter one? This rather sounds like a phallic discussion. Furthermore, if seen from the eyes of Iraq, Egypt, Athens, Jericho or Rome, what history would Germany have? None whatsoever.

On the contrary, seeing is believing. Judging the discourse of history merely by its sheer amount, America has quite some large history - taken into account the amount of books, journals, web sites, films etc. portraying this history.

What do I consider to be my personal history? Do I have to identify with German history? Of any period? I have nothing to do with the Third Reich. Neither with Bismarck. Neither with a bleeping emperor. The history of the GDR was forced upon me, and I take the liberty to reject its grasp, although I have to recognize its impact on myself. I feel more American than German anyway. What nationality do I have? Aren't these rather artificial categories anyway?

I could go on, as you probably might have suspected. Maybe later. No, this is not a threat.

But I agree with my colleague in one point: These re-enactments are a strange thing.

June 26th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

8. Racism

I'm about to join the Sister Souljah discussion, and I don't do it in hostile intention. However, I am about to criticize the text quoted.

Somebody made a nice comparison citing the concept of Paradise, but that's rather Judeo-Christian, not primarily Catholic. In fact, similar thoughts are wide-spread in seemingly every culture, best seen perhaps also in Greek/Latin conceptions of a Golden Age, a Heroic Age etc. (Vitruvius). What it comes down to, is the proverbial talk about the "Good Old Days".

But the "Good Old Days", if they were ever real, are neither defined by skin color nor discriminating between races. Evoking such an image for African Americans - with the history of Africa in mind - is a rather abhorring act of over-simplification, although a very compelling one if you're in search of identity.

I think Pres. Clinton is right: Sister Souljah really seems to be an anti-white racist. That I mean in a rather neutral sense at first. Racism at first means accepting the existence of "race" as a cultural term. If post-structuralist theory speaks of the "construction of race and gender" etc., nobody really means that there would be nothing like a difference in skin color, certain facial or anatomical differences. Of course "Caucasians" look different than Semitic or Chinese or Japanese or Apache or Ethiopian etc. The concept of race in a cultural term, however, means that there exist certain features ADDED ARTIFICIALLY to the value-free biological category. "Race" in a cultural sense means that a person is different from another if they are different in racial features. Difference then leads to segregation, not unity, with that, discrimination in all forms - and all directions - can happen.

Of course it might seem odd to accuse a Black activist of racism. It seems even more oddly in the light of what Black people had to endure during slavery and apartheid etc. I don't, not even in the slightest way, intent to diminish their suffering in any way. But I've already made a segregational remark. "Their". So do I have made an overgeneralizing remark. "Black people". It was not white people alone taking part in slavery. Slaves were caught by Africans and sold to Europeans. The same with Native Americans - they could only be "conquered" through utilizing internal quarrels between the Indian tribes.

Native American, African and Early European culture is tribal. To speak of an African identity is pure nonsense, as someone else also pointed out. This reminds me also of the Abolitionist action to get rid of these freed slaves by shipping them to the newly-founded state of Liberia. But most Blacks didn't want that. And most wouldn't want to do that today. Not merely because of monetary reasons. But because they had become something different: Americans.

Apart from the ridiculous and over-simplifying character of the so-called Ethno-Racial Pentagon (Caucasian, African, Hispanic, Asian, Indian), the term African-American is not such a bad thing at all: While it still stresses the nonsensican term "African", this is (not only lexically) subordinated to "American". And in a multiculturalist society, "African" traits surely are able to enrich the whole society, in both ways.

The gift of African to Euro-American culture can probably be best seen in music. Jazz, Blues, Rap are only the obvious examples. But Rock and Pop have generally been influenced by American rhythmic tradition. Lately there was a report on CNN showing traditional Africal tribal garments being exported to the States, possibly not only to Blacks.

What Sister Souljah may understand as "Black Pride" may surely lead to Black Prejudice. As the formerly (and somehow even still now) suppressed, Black Americans should understand that such a road can only lead to destruction, not only of others, but of oneself primarily. Take a look at Germany. Every "normal" German will at least hesitate to utter national pride. German national identity has been decisively hurt between the phase of utter pride and prejudice in the past. As a result, Germany, formerly known as leading in arts and sciences, has become a pale copy of the American Dream. National segregation instead of international and interracial unity will only lead to loss of potential.

Lately I had a discussion with a Professor from Bangladesh. After hours of talking, what he revealed to me was unbelievable. He told me that he believed there to be only two nations in the world able to shape the future: The Germans and the Japanese. An odd pair? No coincidence. He further told me that in Asia, Hitler is perceived as a big hero as he fought the colonial powers, and what he did in Germany, was rather minor. He also told me to marry a German to not to mix my superior blood with that of racially inferior ones. Sounded like Chamberlain, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Gobineau all over again, and I assure you, I'm not making this up.

All this talking of racial purity and "cultural" (i.e. racial) roots should be put back where it belongs - into the flawed and dangerous thinking of times past. The idea of "Black Pride" - if defined by setting it against "White society" - is doomed to fail. African Americans "arranging themselves" with WASP America, like Denzel Washington etc., are far better role types because they promote reconciliation rather than aggression. B/W conflicts are also very profoundly being dealt with in David E. Kelley's Picket Fences and The Practice, as of course in 1999's 'Bulworth'.

By all these, I, too, mean no disrespect.

July 3rd, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

9. Europe as a Construction

This one will be shorter. It has to be.

I agree with someone's saying that Europe is a construction. I don't agree with the "dangerous".

I indeed believe that the EU intends to incorporate every single European state that wants to join. There are just a few problems on the way.

Firstly, Russia. While I believe it should belong to the EU also, that seems to be too big a step. Also, in the past, Russia rather impeded the enlargement of NATO and EU, so a lot of what's going on in terms of enlargement has to be seen in the light of international politics.

Secondly, the foundation of Europe as a federation has to happen on a basis of equality. Equal partners can only be those possessing certain basic economic prerequisites. This may seem harsh, but every poor country entering the Union means somebody has to pay for it. The faster the process, the more economically unstable states enter, the larger the risk that the entire project is doomed to fail. Nobody profits from a EU which is unable to fulfill its economic promises.

Thirdly, the EU is also about the coming together of nations to somehow merge into a multicultural society in the centuries to come. The more nations enter, the larger the pressure on conservative, fundamentalist and nationalist circles within the countries. You cannot enforce tolerance and acceptance, but you can facilitate it by doing it gently. To the educated, this may seem Haideresque, but sometimes you just need time.

The Roman Empire broke down under the yoke of its size and disjoint diversity. For the EU, such a fate would be fatal.

July 3rd, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

10. Southern Identity

Yes, I see similarities in the way lifestyle is different in Northern and Southern areas both in America and Europe. A warmer climate seems to indeed create a different mentality - you just don't have to care about some kinds of things that much. And unlike you live in a desert, nature provides for you far more richer and easier.

Also, heat generates inertia. It is no coincidence that the industrial revolution happened in Northern Europe, while technological development had stopped in the South at a certain point. At the Mediterranean, you can be perfectly happy without fertilizer, heating etc.

There is the term "Dark Ages" for Medieval times. But only few recognize that this has nothing to do with philosophical nor religious contemplations. The Dark Ages were dark because people in Northern Europe were only able to survive harsh winters if they had heating and housing, but the ovens generally blackened and polluted the inside of the window-less houses; people were living together under incredibly unhealthy conditions. Cities were small, but still crowded and polluted, and only after some basic technical inventions in the course of the industrial revolution (which had its roots precisely in the Middle Ages - which was the most productive and inventive period of European evolution compared to what came before; and just because of necessity).

For America, I also see a difference in what colonists entered America where, and how the economy was structured. So a plantation colony had to develop a different societal structure, a rather aristocratic one compared to the industrial North. Slavery was the result of economic hardships, but the wrong cure, racism could (and can) be found in both places.

As the Southern society was basically rural, it is only logical that it was able to develop a different attitude towards life, a difficult concept of politeness and society etc., possibly also originating from the rather British ideal of the Lady and the Gentleman. Yankee hectic is surely an attribute of an industrious and industrial pragmatic society aiming for economic success rather than Southern Comfort.

July 3rd, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

11. Imperialism

In response to our colleague's mail raising the issue of "American Imperialism", I want to question some of the statements made.

First of all, what is "imperialism"? Perhaps this term has to count amongst the most misused terms ever. It is just as empty as "capitalism" or "socialism", but a nice tool in the propaganda war. I won't state the obvious here and thus spare you a remark relating the term "imperium" back to a certain historical entity. I'm not referring to Darth Vader either.

If imperialism means creating a physical empire and constantly expanding its boundaries to grow and dominate not only a region but the world, this to me seems rather un-American. Expansion tendencies on the American side in the 20th century have been different, they were focused on winning two world wars, and later, defying the Soviet threat. But during that time, the US didn't enlarge its territory like Russia did. Nor did she create a world-spanning empire like England, France, Spain or Portugal in the past. The wars she was involved in happened in response to Soviet expansion, like in Korea or Viet Nam. To call such wars imperialistic may be almost politically correct but utmost false.

Perhaps one could argue that US politics is imperial in regard to its dominating NATO policies. But the enlargement of NATO does not mean an enlargement of actual rule nor hegemony. This is different. As I see it, the term "imperialism" cannot be applied to today's American politics - as it means the dominance of military principles and military rule. After all, "imperium" means "military rule", "command", only late does it mean "empire". But today's democracies are not any more grounded on military rule, the military has been assigned to matters of security and defense.

Today it is en vogue to call the Gulf War and the war in Kosovo imperialist. Such denotations, however, are rather coined by certain pseudo-leftist parties with which I'd rather not associate.

>Is the 'American Imperialism' a way to calm 
>the inner political situation of the United States?

>Were the wars America was involved in a political act 
>which had the aim of uniting the US-citizens?

That would mean nothing else but a variation on the theme "panem et circenses" - which I would strongly reject, also for the above unmentioned historical entity. This is a Marxist over-simplification which has never worked to explain anything.

Especially with regard to America, her wars can be seen in a true pragmatic sense. Territories have been acquired not to appease a revolting populace but to create room for settlement. If America has ever fought an imperialist war, it was the war with Mexico, for this one was indeed aimed at enlarging home territory. But this was rather not due to any abstract "imperialist" agenda.

The term "imperialism" somehow assumes an aura of aggression. This is simply neither true for the above unmentioned historical empire nor for the US. The US - at her core - is basically defensive and isolationalist. Nothing outside matters until it threatens national security concerns. "Manifest Destiny" and Monroe Doctrine or NMD are also not about aggression or territory, rather about creating zones of control to ensure US safety. The motherland must not be harmed. But this is not imperialism, I would rather call it protectionism - for the motivation and result are both different.

>Is America united in exterior and divided within?

Yes and no. Yes, as there is something like a continuing thread in American foreign politics since the 2nd World War. No, as there have been massive protests within the country over foreign policy - let's just remember how difficult it had been for Wilson to motivate the country to assist the Entente Cordiale in WW1, and the most prominent example would be Viet Nam of course.

>Were the 'pursuit of happiness' for all, and the 'frontier' expansion 
>myth just a way to tame the population which was longing for 
>regional identification?

The frontier myth didn't exist in that way until coined by Frederick Jackson Turner in retrospect. What existed were immigrants longing for settling space. I wouldn't it call "taming" a population when they actually provided that space. Also do I consider the thinking behind the "pursuit of happiness" formula genuine, resulting from Humanist and Enlightenment thought at the time of the foundation of the US. It is formulaic and rather vague, granted, but that doesn't mean it has no substance.

July 17th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

12. Insurrection

For a successful insurrection, you need a lot of prerequisites

  1. The knowledge that you have rights as an individual and as a human being. This may seem simplistic, but on the contrary: It is only our modern Western identity that we take individual freedom for granted. If you have been raised in the belief that you are neither a complete human being nor that you have rights as an individual, you will rather serve than resist.

  2. Intellectual independence and a lack of bonds with your supressor. Blacks were in most cases integrated into the family. This created certain interdependencies and perhaps strange relations, and perhaps also some genuine bonds.

  3. The knowledge that there is a place where you can be free. Not only reading and writing have been withheld from slaves, but also knowledge about geography and also knowledge that something as a slave-free region even existed. If you know of no better place, why leave.

  4. Nothing to lose, i.e. no family bonds, no wife, no children, no siblings or parents or grandparents or other relatives and friends which could get punished or hurt when you revolt

  5. A feeling of unity. If we say "Blacks", we ignore the fact that there is nothing like a homogeneous ethnic group of "Black people". People from various tribes and cultures have been forced together, deliberately mixed so that they could not communicate easily.

  6. Organization and coordination. There is no use performing an insurrection on a small plantation. This can only work if you draw all surrounding resources together and join with other plantations. That seems rather difficult, if not impossible.

  7. Strength and determination. Slaves were divided by strength. Strong slaves would work the fields while physically weaker ones stayed at the house. Thus the strong were consequently weakened by hard labor, so that they had to be too tired to resist physically. If they did, they were punished.

  8. Weapons. Even if a group of slaves insurrected on a single farm, the whites pursuing them would easily outgun them.

  9. A leader. You would need a strong and educated individual, unbroke by slavery. Raving lunatics yearning for blood are no beginning but only the end. Spartacus, too, failed because he allowed such men to have influence in his slave army.

  10. Assistance from factions within the enemy to provide you with refuge, supply, directions, cover.

  11. Luck. I don't know if it's appropriate to mention Helsinki syndrome, something allowing for hostages developing feelings of understanding for their kidnapper.

Given the above points, I would conclude, Resistance is futile.

July 17th, 2000 / October 12th, 2000 [HTML Version]

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