Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, History, and Reconciliation

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Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, History, and Reconciliation

Long after the Civil War we are still fascinated by it. In some circles, the "War of Northern Agression" or the "Lost Cause" is thought of, discussed, brought to life daily. While every war has its fanbase, the Civil War has a special distinction for America. It was the war for the preservation of the Union in some classes, a violent and tyrranical putting-down of a justified rebellion in others. I have never been particularly interested in the war, or any war for that matter. I have also never been terribly entertained by professional sports or cowboy movies, either, so I blame my lack of enthusiasm for Civil War lore and history more on my general lack of manliness rather than any fault of the war’s. It was obviously a very moving conflict.

When I moved from Illinois to Arkansas and entered the eighth grade, I discovered my new school was approximately a year behind my old school in most subjects. I spent an additional nine months firming up my knowledge of "Earth Science," and relearning American History. For the most part, the entire academic year was simply a refresher – we even used some of the same textbooks I had used in the seventh gade. It was the same, that is, until we got to the Civil War. In Illinois the war was portrayed in fairly objective terms, something like this: "In the Civil War the North and South fought against each other. The South wanted to secede from the union, and the North wanted to keep the US together, oh and free the slaves. Illinois was part of the North." The instruction wasn’t necessarily complete or elevated, but I never felt like I was personally involved in the war. However, in Arkansas, in the South, I received an education much more like this: "During the Civil War, we fought against the North. They didn’t want to let us secede. We wanted to, and would have, but we lost. They freed the slaves."

Even at 13 I understood there was something very different about the way that people in the North and in the South view the war. Many writers, poets, and critics have pronounced that part of what makes the South so southern is the fact that it builds itself on its past. It cannot let go of the past.

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