Upon further analysis and because Facebook comment threads suck, I thought I would do some further parsing of tangential things that keep coming up in relation to my thoughts on National Guilt:
First off, no matter how many good things your culture is responsible for, if there's something reprehensible attached to it, that's what you'll get remembered for.* The case of Nazi Germany is perhaps unique in this insofar as there's a clear line of demarcation as to when "Nazi Culture" began and when it ended and even a rather unique departure from "traditional" German culture as regards that, but a closer look isn't quite so black-and-white. I mean, it's not like Hitler invented antisemitism, the notion of eugenics or the concept of white supremacy... and as far as things like segregating Jews to ghettos goes, that sort of thing had been practiced in some form or another (in Germany and throughout Europe) for centuries before Hitler showed up on the scene. Hitler just took it from a nasty part of an estimable culture (much like it being a dark spot on of Martin Luther's noble character) and turned it into a defining feature of the culture.
I suppose that the same thing could be argued of Southern culture, with the pointed note that, as Wilson noted, while slavery didn't define Southern culture, it underpinned the society upon which it was based and created the very culture celebrated when people reflect upon the Antebellum South.
Now, in his long and rambling screed (and no, Spiff, looking at my original post I can't throw rocks), Mr. Camperman touches on the notion that a cultural touchstone (such as the Confederate Battle Flag) can be reclaimed and altered by future groups to mean a different thing, and I think I'm of two minds on that. On one hand, there are any number of Eastern Religions whose imagery was tainted by Hitler's co-opting of the swastika who would certainly like their imagery back and justifiably so... I mean, all of them were held in great contempt by Hitler and hold no truck with his party; why should he get to undermine a symbol of their religions. Also, some Eastern European noble families had it on their coats of arms, and they too would probably like to remove some of that ugly symbolism, unlikely though that seems. On the other hand, it's not exactly like anyone was using the Confederate Battle Flag for something inoffensive and peaceful before the Civil War. Due in no small part to the inextricable linking of slavery to the cause of the Confederacy, it seems very unlikely to me that attempts to reclaim it would be successful. Of course, this sort of thing is further complicated by the fact that those who would desire the Confederate Flag to be less controversial and more representative of some fictional idealized "Southern Culture" aren't the only party trying to utilize the flag to further an agenda and the other parties are perhaps more visible and likely to capture headlines what with their white hoods, robes and burning crosses.
Caleb touched on a point about this nagging need to revisit the Civil War that contrasts heavily with the perspective of Northerners and I think that it meshes well with Wheeler's notion that the Civil War is something of an anathema insofar as a great deal of the history written about it was dominated by the perspective of those who lost the war. In my stay in the North, the majority of those with whom I have interacted at an educational and cultural level seems to reflect a Lincolnesque mindset regarding the Civil War, that is, to the Northern mind, the Civil War needed to be fought to maintain the Union and it was a travesty that it needed to be fought at all. There was nothing grand or noble about it and certainly nothing to remain fixated upon... it was something more to be mourned than celebrated. By contrast, I think that in losing a war, I think there's a need to feel as though something was being fought for. Many have drawn parallels to Vietnam (which I cribbed shamelessly), and I think it's an apt comparison. In Vitenam, when that war is mentioned, according to the sources I've read, it's just the last in a series of repressive colonial actions that the Vietnamese felt they had to resist. This contrasts with the American account of the war where there is a memorial enshrining those same "colonial repressors" as heroes.** Now, getting back to the South, it is interesting how all of this washes with the fictionalized version of the Antebellum South and the whitewashed version of States' Rights that seems to reappear any time someone feels as though the Federal Government has gotten out of hand.
In the end I'm sure there's far more to talk about on the main notion of National Guilt, these asides notwithstanding. That said, I'm more than happy to discuss the actual details of the individual cases which could/should inspire National Guilt. And sadly, I think I've glossed over both the Inquisition and the French Revolution, but I guess we'll get to those some day.
*It's like that old joke: "I built most of the bridges in this town... spent years doing it and you never have to get your feet wet crossing a creek, but they don't call me Bjarn the Bridge-Builder. For that matter, I also placed at least half of the bricks in the city wall... never had an invasion since we finished it, but they don't call me Bjarn the Wall-Maker. I even saved a group of children from getting eaten by wolves, but they don't call me Bjarn Wolfsbane. But you get caught in flagrante delicto with one goat..."
** And I don't want to get into the "support our troops" argument, because I don't want to take anything away from the men and women who fought and died for their country, but at the same time, it's hard for me to respect something like Vietnam where American soldiers were asked to fight and die in a war whose very existence is cause for a debate of Just War Theory.Posted by Vengeful Cynic at April 9, 2010 01:39 AM | TrackBack