Salt in the Wounds of History

Political divisions, real or perceived, continued from English Civil War to American Civil War.

“In both nations, interest was often fanned by resort to the common vocabulary of the previous civil wars. Even in the 186os, as we have seen, rhetorical assaults on cavaliers and Puritans still paraded across the U.S. political stage.”

I’ve written about this many times before, but it regularly surprises me how persistent the past can be. It is just mind-blowing that the American Civil War could be framed by the participants according to the rhetoric from two centuries earlier. The English Civil War had such a powerful impact on the very foundation of American society and politics, and yet few Americans know much if anything about it.

The regionalism that continues to this day, often in stark terms, originated from those seventeenth century conflicts. It is that regionalism that three centuries after the English Civil War allowed the GOP’s Southern Strategy. If we ever resolved these fundamental issues that keep playing out, we would lose our entire sense of identity as Americans.

I don’t know that it is wrong to repeat the past. We are all creatures born from past conditions. I’m fine with societal continuity in a basic sense.

The real problem isn’t repeating the past or even embracing old conflicts to fight them all over again. No, the more troubling issue is that we don’t understand what we are repeating. We are puppets on the strings of history to be manipulated by anyone who will twang those strings with rhetoric. We repeat mindlessly and ignorantly. I’d be fine with fighting old battles if it helped resolve those old issues, but instead it just reinforces the old problems and divisions, reopens old wounds to pour salt into them.

This is why knowledge is so important. Not just important, a moral responsibility to inform oneself and demand that others do the same.

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