Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Today's Killer Angels

I just reread The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The film Gettysburg is an adaptation of the book. Both tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, although their scope is much more wide than the four days it describes. I first read the book as a summer reading for Mr. Donaldson's sophomore U.S. History class and it sparked a lifelong interest in war history (especially Civil War history). Last year my wife gave me a copy and I finally reread it and have a lot to think about.

An initial and superficial look at the Civil War says it came down to slavery. The North wanted to free the slaves, the South did not. That does not adequately tell the story. To begin with, Lincoln did not give the Gettysburg address (which freed the slaves) until after the Battle of Gettysburg. Up until that point the North fought the war for the sake of union and the South fought for the right to secede.

Characters from the Shaara version shed more light on each side's cause. Some captured Confederate soldiers claim to be fighting for their rights (pronounced "rats") and not for slavery. Pickett elaborates with a gentleman's club analogy. He claims that the southern states had joined a gentleman's club and now wanted to leave, but the northern states were refusing to let them. He says this much more eloquently than myself, but the South fought in order to avoid being dictated to by the northern majority voting block.

Kilrain (wearing blue) reiterates this position of the South, but puts a negative spin on it. He admits that the South fights to preserve its way of life, but that their way of life is not American and should be destroyed. He claims that the founding principles of this country assert that all are created equal and that each has an equal chance. The South had reformed aristocracy and English society. Kilrain fought for the idea that no man was better than him due to birth.

Why do I mention all this? I feel like there is a direct application to today's two major wedge issues: abortion and gay marriage. I'll only illustrate the relation to the gay marriage debate and leave the abortion debate for the reader.

The proponents of gay marriage talk about civil liberties and rights. Opponents of gay marriage talk about maintaining their way of life. In other words, proponents of gay marriage sound a lot like the North and opponents of gay marriage sound a lot like the South. It does not help matters that party and opinion lines split the same way still (some things never change).

The truly alarming thing about this is that I am an opponent of gay marriage. I see most of my arguments against its institutionalization sounding like Confederate soldiers. "It will destroy our way of life." "This can't be forced on us." Maybe this helps me have more empathy for the South. Maybe this helps me question my current position on this issue. I know/hope/believe that I would have been on the North's side 150 years ago. . .

2 comments:

vandy said...

Thought provoking Nate. Comparing the concepts from the Civil War to our current issues seems appropriate and important.

One of my biggest frustrations brought out by politics and elections is the tendency of people to leave unquestioned their motivations and positions. As much hope as I have of the goodness of (some) people, we are a stubborn bunch or protectionists that form an image of the way things should be and rarely open up ourselves to external or internal scrutiny.

Regardless of which side you would have found yourself during the Civil War, could you reasses your position as time went on and you (hopefully) learned more about the issues?

Nathan said...

I would like to think I could. Unfortunately it seems to be human nature to transition from "right vs. wrong" to "win vs. lose." I get grouchy when I lose, but I like to think that when it is "right" for me to "lose," then I will let it happen.