Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Musings on an Independent Confederacy, Part 2

Guest Post by Richard Small.

I just recently became aware of the Alternate History Weekly Update blog site because I discovered that it had mentioned my new alternate history novel, Confederate Star Rises. I was immediately drawn to the “Musings on an Independent Confederacy” post, naturally, because it fits right in with the subject of my book. I wanted to write a response to the post, but my response is much larger than the 4096 character limit. By reading that interesting post first, you will acquire the proper context from which the following is written …

I thought I might approach this subject from a little different viewpoint than what has been so far expressed. And I use the word “viewpoint” deliberately. Viewpoint does not mean truth or fact or belief or even opinion. One can, for example, examine a viewpoint without incorporating it as a belief or opinion. The holding of a viewpoint becomes an opinion. But viewpoint on its own is just that, a viewpoint.

Now this is just a personal evaluation on my part. But I believe that the earlier postings are approaching the subject matter from the “present-time” viewpoint. There is nothing wrong with that. But to really get to the heart of the matter, I believe it is necessary to look at it from a different viewpoint. That is, one should to try to transport himself back in time to that period of history in America when the great conflagration between North and South occurred, and having done so, transform our mindset to the mindset of the period. It’s really an attempt to see things through the eyes of those who actually lived during that time.

How do you do that? It seems really difficult when you think about it. My solution to this problem was to immerse myself in books and other data written by the actual actors in the Civil War drama. How did they think? What did they say? Since my book is called Confederate Star Rises, you might guess which side of the conflict I spent the most research time. And as the story unfolded in my mind, I decided to write it as if the author of the book was an actual General officer in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia -- even more important, therefore, to write the book from his viewpoint. I did this in order to give credibility to the story I was crafting, to make it more real from the perspective of the Southern mind of the time.

And so here is that viewpoint. The Northern and Southern culture was quite different during that time. Most Southerner never ventured to the North. Similarly, most Northerners never paid a visit to the South. Slavery - not slavery. Agricultural - industrial. You get the idea. From the very birth of the nation, differences existed between the southern and northern states. And over the next 80 years, the differences increased to the point of irreconciliation resulting in war.

Was the war fought over slavery? Well, yes. And well, no. Slavery was the overt issue that ultimately gave the North the moral high ground in the conflict. But is there not a deeper concept that motivated both North and South to fight, spilling the blood of over 600,000 American lives in the process? Was it not really fought over the right of a sovereign State to secede from the Union of sovereign States, if the majority will of the people of that State freely determined to do so? To the South, the compact documented in the original Constitution was ratified by the United States of America; to the North, it was approved by the United States of America. See the difference?

The previous postings take a rather dark view of an independent CSA. And it seems that this rather distressing historical what-if picture of their history is rooted in the modern mind’s distaste of the South due to its institution of slavery.

So let’s look at slavery. To the modern mind, the concept is abhorrent. And its segregation offshoot is just as repulsive. But what about the mind of the 1860’s? If you look at the whole spectrum of history, the prohibition of slavery was actually a rather new idea. Throughout the rather sad history of this planet, slavery had been an accepted part of life for thousands of years. It was a “normal” institution in most societies. Why even the biblical St. Paul urged the runaway Philemon to return to his master. It’s only in the last 200 years that the family of nations as a group agreed that slavery was a moral evil and should be illegal. Was the South slow to accept this? Yes, and if an independent CSA would have waited until after 1888 to emancipate their slaves, they would have been the last nation to do so.

But why was slavery so important to the South? Was it not the economics of slavery? Was not their entire economy dependent upon slave labor? Had not slave-holders invested significant monies in their slave property? Bottom line, it was the economics of slavery that cemented the institution of slavery to the South. And the threat of economic upheaval led to secession.

How can I describe something similar in today’s world that would help us see and feel what the Southerners felt when Abraham Lincoln of the abolitionist Republican Party was elected? I have been a software engineer for 30+ years. During that time I have seen millions of jobs eliminated from this country due to outsourcing while my own earning power has steadily diminished. My own economics are being threatened. Imagine what Southerners felt, rightly or wrongly thinking their economics were about to be turned on its head.

So they went to war to retain their declared independence and way of life. And it forced them to innovate and create like they never had before. For example, an armament industry sprang up seemingly overnight; they also were the first to invent and construct and launch a submarine. There are plenty of historical examples of Southern ingenuity that runs contrary to the country-bumpkin image popular in today’s world.

I have spent the majority of the time setting the table for my own take on a post-Civil War independent CSA. And I just don’t see this dark and dreary outlook that has been expressed in the other postings. I see them developing into a strong, viable nation among the family of nations, perhaps even a prominent one. I see them expanding westward as far as Arizona and gaining a western port to the Pacific at the Gulf of Cortez. I see them as a regional power in the Caribbean, perhaps incorporating the State of Cuba as part of the CSA. And certainly emancipation would be in their future. Would their slaves be freed before Brazil’s slaves? My guess is that they would, or shortly thereafter.

I do see the possibility of re-unification with the USA, perhaps around the early-to-mid-point of the 20th century.

But I could also see a CSA continuing to go its own way, further developing its own unique culture to the point where the differences between the CSA and USA would become too significant for re-unification to occur. Chief among the differences would be treatment of the African-American, although if nothing changed in the USA, it would take some time before the differences became really pronounced. I can’t see the African-Americans in the CSA ever becoming first-class citizens. But who knows? Even apartheid in South Africa finally came to an end. The sad thing is that the African-American of the South really would have nowhere to go. The North tried sending some of them to Liberia in Africa. I’m not sure that they would be welcomed in the USA. Not a pretty picture of CSA society, but plenty of bright, intelligent citizens to make it a viable, prosperous nation, albeit a segregated one.

I have painted just a few high-level brushstrokes on a complex and controversial topic. I hope you found it stimulating.

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Richard Small is the author of the newly published alternate history novel, Confederate Star Rises, first book of the Confederate Star trilogy. You can visit his website at RichardSmallAuthor.com.

4 comments:

  1. I have nothing against either Mr. Nuttal nor Mr. Small. However, I think that in this discussion, the latter falls into a frequent trap that plagues discussions of the Confederacy, its history, and related issues.

    My problem with confederate apologists, real or imaginary, is that they overlook the fact that the South started the war.

    It would be nice if, for once, these discussions did not start on a bogus premise. Indeed, such would allow for discussions on much broader notions of the CSA existing. Meanwhile, too seldom is the fate of the remaining United States handled realistically or well in "Southern victory" explorations.

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  2. Good point, James. Much time and thought go into what the South would be like had they won the war, but it seems little effort is expended on postulating the future of the remaining USA. Would be another interesting thread for the AHWP blog.

    As for who actually started the war, I am well familiar with both sides of the argument, and don't really have an opinion one way or the other. Many times in life apparency is not reality. I personally don't count it as a defining point regardless of which side of the aisle you are sitting on. I guess the USA started the Iraq war. Is it that important? Maybe, maybe not. It's not always bad to start a war; nor is it always good to not start one.

    Thanks for responding to my posting.

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  3. Excellent post, Richard. Congratulations on the publication of your book. You make a good point that the "reason" for the start of the war was the constitutional right of a sovereign state to secede from the union of sovereign states.

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  4. Debating the FACTS concerning who started the war is like debating the FACTS surrounding what many today call Obamacare. It cannot be done. People are too passionate about their "side" of the debate.

    Of course, aside from passion very few Americans of 2012 have ever read a word of the Constitution and have absolutely no idea what is legal and what is not according to that document.

    And I suppose that could bring us to a study of just whether or not a piece of paper drafted well over 200 years ago is worth squat in today's society.

    All of that aside, CSR is a great read!

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