Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gettysburg 150 years later: Could it happen again?

Once again, America has political gridlock, sharp regional differences and anxiety over race. How will it work out this time?

Gettysburg 150 years later: Could it happen again?

We live in interesting times. In Egypt, there are tens of thousands of people in the streets right now, setting off fireworks and demanding the resignation of their president. Here in the United States, most of are too busy trying to figure how to get our hands on a cronut, but the folks who are getting off the couch and marching are doing so in crisp replicas of the blue and gray and moving to the ancient beat of a distant drummer -- re-enacting the Battle of Gettysburg on its 150th anniversary.

The American Civil War is a remarkable thing, one that's hard to grasp. One thing about America and this notion of American exceptionalism, which gets drilled into us from the day we walk into elementary school, is our pride in our continuous form of government, the "more perfect union" that was formed in 1776 (but really 1787) and, unlike so many banana republics, has stood tall. "Well...except for this one time when half the states left and hundreds of thousands of people killed each other."

OK, so the Civil War was pretty wild -- but c'mon, it was a one-off, right? Given my fascination with civil unrest, I've often wondered to myself, could it ever happen again?

Remember, the Civil War had two main ingredients. There was the political ineptitude and gridlock leading up to it. and then there was the four years of relentless bloodshed that followed. In 1861, you had two distinct georgraphic sections of the country with different philosophies that were talking past each other. You'd just come off a series of weal presidents, with a do-nothing Congress and some epically bad rulings by the Supreme Court. And the powderkeg that kicked things off was the explosive issue of race.

Any resemblance to 2013 is...all a little too real.

But the notion of inter-sectional warfare still sounds more than a tad silly, doesn't it? Would Massachusetts send a regiment to reclaim Virginia from the radical obstructionism of Ken Cuccinelli? Sounds like a bad sequel to Michael Moore's "Canadian Bacon." The mid-19th Century was a different era. Even in Abraham Lincoln's time there were draft riots, but it's impossible to imagine who would heed the call-up in 2013, unless Civil War II was fought with drones by kids using joysticks.

Still, you watch showdowns like the battle that's taking place over abortion right now in Texas and you wonder how the deadlock will ever be resolved. There are millions of people who believe in a God and millions who do not, millions who are terrified of global warming and millions who believe it's a hoax. In 1865, you had many whites who could not fathom a nation without slavery. In 2013, you have many whites who cannot fathom America with whites in the minority.

I cannot imagine today's woes resulting in anything like another Battle of Gettysburg. But I can't imagine things working out smoothly, either.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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