Who really won the Civil War?

Sam Smith

The 150th anniversary for the Civil War will be heavily commemorated over the next four years, but one question will probably not be seriously asked: who really won?

We tend to view wars in the isolation of their military events. By such a standard, there is no doubt the North won. But what about the social, cultural and economic aftermath?

For example, while the Civil War ended slavery, it would take more than a hundred years to begin enforcing effectively the equality that was presumed to result in its wake.

Right into the present the South enjoys a disproportionate influence on our politics and values. When was the last time you saw a politician afraid of what New England might think?

Further, the increasingly hegemonic structure of our business, political and cultural life has far more in common with the southern past than with that of the anarchistic old west or more democratic early Northeast.

I’m a southerner by birth – yes, Washington was once clearly part of the South while also being a door into the north – and I was long aware of what was at times an almost triumphal southern influence over the capital and, by consequence, the rest of the nation. After all, one key reason DC is still effectively a colony of the U.S. is because powerful southerners long made sure that the city’s black population would remain under their control.

I recall, as a young reporter, northern friends coming to work on Capitol Hill and beginning to pick up a southern accent just by being there. It eventually took a southerner – Lyndon Johnson – to substantially change that culture through civil rights and other legislation.

But traditional southern values still strongly affect our economic and military policy. We wouldn’t, for example, be anywhere near as warlike were or not for southern culture.

But none of this gets discussed because we judge military triumphs on such a narrow basis, despite there being much more to it all.

Which is why we still negotiating with the North Koreans and why the Germany economy did so well after World War Ii.

Or consider this from New America Media:

|||| In the midst of the Great Recession, the United States is suffering through nearly 10 percent unemployment and 50 million people without health insurance. A new report has found over 14 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, including 20 percent of children and 23 percent of seniors. . . That is in addition to declining prospects for the middle class, and a general increase in economic insecurity.

How, then, should we regard a country that has 5 percent unemployment, health care for all its people, the lowest income inequality and is one of the world’s leading exporters? This country also scores high on life expectancy, low on infant mortality, is at the top in literacy, and is low on crime, incarceration, homicides, mental illness and drug abuse. It also has a low rate of carbon emissions, doing its part to reduce global warming. In all these categories, this particular country beats both the United States and China by a country mile.

Does that not sound like a country from which Americans might learn a thing or two about how to get out of the mud hole in which we are stuck?

Not if that place is Japan. ||||

If there is any moral that should be drawn from the commemoration of the Civil War – but almost certainly won’t be – it is this: just because your troops win doesn’t mean that you did.

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