Friday, January 25, 2019

We will survive

Thirty years ago James McPherson's single volume history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, was published. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History. It is not only good history; it is a very enjoyable read. From a recent interview with James McPherson:
HM: A phrase that is frequently tossed about today is that “we have never been more divided than we are now.” As one of the nation’s most prominent Civil War historians, do you feel that statement is overused? Or are there some parallels in today’s climate to the Civil War era that should give Americans cause for alarm?

McPherson: There may be some parallels, but clearly the country was more divided in the late 1850s and first half of the 1860s than it is now. I do not think we are heading toward a civil war. The issues today are very divisive, and people are impassioned about them, but I do not think we are in as bad shape now as we were 160 years ago.

I would even say that the country was probably more divided, and the potential consequences or the potential dangers to the future of the United States may have been even greater in the 1890s and the 1930s than they are now. The labor violence, the divisive rhetoric, and the rise of the Populists of the 1890s are examples much greater than anything we are experiencing today. In the 1930s, people were really talking about the possibility of following Germany, Italy, and other countries toward fascism, while others advocated following the Soviet Union toward some form of communism. I would say there are several eras in the past that experienced far more divisiveness than we are going through right now, even as bad as things may appear. The use of the phrase bothers me some, so I lecture them about it. I say, “you know, if you really understood what happened in previous eras, you might not be so upset about what is going on right now. We survived those dangerous times, and I think we will survive these times too, because these times are maybe less dangerous than then.”

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