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The U.S. Civil War continues

by Stephan Richter

A big hoax of American history is that the Civil War ended in 1865. Unfortunately it has not ended yet. What was achieved then was more of an armistice.

As the current logjam in the U.S. Congress makes plain, the Civil War is still present in today’s America — and with virulence that most other civilized nations find as breathtaking as it is irresponsible.

Plenty of U.S. commentators are trying to make light of the current situation. They argue that it is just a bunch of tea party Republicans who are causing the current mayhem. Such an interpretation underestimates the forces of history and the continuing deep divisions of American society.

The reason why the Civil War was declared finished was the military defeat of the South. But can anyone seriously doubt that, culturally, the same anti-Union spirit is still heard in the halls of the U.S. Congress today?

The fight against the Affordable Health Care Act — which Republicans have labeled “Obamacare” — is cast by Republicans as fighting the authoritarian — and, in the words of some conservative commentators, “fascist” — views of the Obama administration and the American “left.” In their eyes, the Republicans are staking out the democratic and libertarian political high ground, all in the defense of “freedom.”

This underscores that what is going on in Washington today is a replay of the Kulturkampf of 1870s Germany. That country’s modernizing forces resolved to fight back against the economically retarding influence of conservative religious forces, mainly the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church of mid-19th-century Germany, a very powerful economic force, resisted any suggestions of modernizing the social structures of society — just as many Republicans do now. It sought to preserve the economic power of the well established, largely feudal-era interests, much as Republicans do now.

The fight in Washington thus is not about any of the things in the headlines, the budget, debt or Obamacare. These are proxies in a fundamental battle over the structure of American society.

Democrats want that structure to create more economic opportunity for the underprivileged, so that the national economy can grow. To Republicans, any such investment is a net negative on what they see as their core mission — defending the interests of rich and middle-class Americans.

Thus, we are largely dealing with a battle over redistributing shares of economic power in the clothing of cultural values. That is why it is so bitterly fought.

The proper way to understand the underlying issue of the Civil War, slavery, as well as the health care law, is to see them as symbols of deeper conflicts.

The parallels in the legislative history bear that out. Slavery was formally abolished in the United States in 1865 and, for a few years, there seemed to be a will to move the country forward.

One step was setting up a bank that would grant loans to freed slaves, so that they could build a prosperous future for themselves and their families.

The so-called Freedman’s Bureau met a fate similar to what today’s Republicans have in mind for the health care law.

The Freedman’s Bureau lingered for a few years before it was allowed to fade away. The economic, social and cultural consequences of condemning freed slaves to a life of continued servitude, albeit of another kind, are well known. They are the root cause of the culture of dependence that sadly continues to this day — and that today’s Republicans are quick to use as a justification not to do more for African Americans.

The Affordable Health Care Act passed the U.S. Congress, just as the Freedman’s Bureau in 1865. With their countless defunding moves, the Republicans are now trying to keep nationwide access to health care from becoming a reality in the land. Amazing how history repeats itself.

Of course, there is one very important distinction that should make today’s Republicans squirm.

In the U.S. Civil War, it was the Republicans, mostly found in the North at the time, who were the political force aligned against slavery (President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican). It was Southern Democrats who fiercely resisted its abolition, as well as resisting the Civil Rights Act 100 years later.

The equivalent of politically and economically freeing the slaves back then is now granting health care to all Americans. The old order is about to be toppled and that leads Southerners and white conservatives everywhere to fear for the end of the United States, as they know it.

Now the South is once again rebelling against modernizing shifts of American society. In one of the great political realignments of modern politics, that region is the power base of Republicans.

Look at the list of state governors who refused to expand the medical program for low-income people (Medicaid) and compare that to the list of states that fought to preserve slavery. There is an amazing overlap.

Of the 11 states of the former Confederacy, only Arkansas has agreed to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have all refused, or are leaning in that direction.

One final irony should be pointed out in the historic context: It would be a great injustice to conservatives anywhere on the planet to agree with U.S. Republicans that opposing health insurance coverage for the entire population is “conservative” in any sense of the word.

One of the world’s greatest arch-conservatives, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, introduced health coverage for all Germans as far back as 1883. What is it about U.S. conservatives that, by 2013 — 130 years after Bismarck — they cannot muster the same degree of enlightenment as Bismarck?

The present state of affairs runs counter to America’s global ideology. According to its self-promotion, the U.S. casts itself as the modernizing vanguard of humanity. In light of what’s going on in Washington today, it is evident that close to half of the U.S. Congress wants an America that is more conservative than Bismarck’s 1880s Germany.

Stephan Richter is publisher and editor in chief of The Globalist, where this article originally appeared. © The Globalist.

  • kyushuphil

    Apr 9, 1865, Lee surrendered, not the South, only the Army of Northern Virginia..
    Is anyone aware of other southern armies that also “surrendered”?

    • Ron NJ

      Plenty. General Joseph Johnston (with his army) was in North Carolina when informed of Lee’s surrender; Johnston moved from Smithfield to Greensboro to meet with President Davis. who was persuaded to end resistance and endorse a surrender. Johnston sent a letter to Tecumseh Sherman, who had just entered Raleigh, asking for a meeting on April 17th; they met just west of Durham. A comprehensive surrender, including all armies in the South, as well as numerous other non-military terms (including amnesty for Davis and the Southern cabinet), were preliminarily agreed upon, however when the terms were transmitted to Washington the government went into a rage and Grant himself went to Raleigh to take charge, arriving on the 24th, with instructions to offer a ‘military-only’ surrender as had been offered to Lee. Davis refused this offer and ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and make a getaway with the cavalry, but Johnston refused, and technically two military-only surrenders occurred: one of Johnston surrendering his (and most other Southern) armies, but also one of Johnston surrendering under supplementary terms to General Schofield in Greensboro. To quote Wikipedia: “Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee and all remaining Confederate forces still active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It was the largest surrender of the war, totaling 89,270 soldiers.”
      Following Johnston’s surrender to Sherman, General Taylor (commanding the Department of Alabama and Mississippi) surrendered to General Canby on May 8th, and on June 2nd General Kirby Smith surrendered the Trans-MIssissippi Department (and 43,000 men) to General Canby, which disbanded the last real army left in the South.
      There were a few more random (but quite interesting) surrenders: Mosby and his cavalry surrendering to Gregg in Virginia on June 17th, Lidell had surrendered his troops way back on April 9th (though technically like six hours after Lee had surrendered) after being captured, Maury surrendered his men on May 5th after abandoning Mobile, etc.
      So yeah there were plenty of instances of armies surrendering; at least four major ones, and numerous more if your definition of ‘army’ includes groups of men under 10,000.

      • kyushuphil

        Thank you for your time and good info, Ron.

        My copy of Shelby Foote’s three volume opus is back in the U.S. (I’m in Japan). I read this many years ago, and long after that, 20 years ago, I used to read another copy when I lived in Hungary. I remember many parts well, even now — but not these of the war’s military conclusion.

        I say “military,” as the deep divisions in American life from that time continue today, as I expect you agree, debatable though this may be.

  • Joachim

    This is preposterous drivel, another example of the demagogic demonization of all who oppose Obamacare or who question the false promises of the statist utopians.

    • Charlie Sommers

      Look at the available track record, number of deaths from cancer complications, cost to individuals for coverage, and the life expectancy, in countries that have universal healthcare, then come back here and apologize. Your comment was preposterous drivel

      • Toolonggone

        In case of that, Canada, Sweden, Finland, and Japan could be selected for the
        countries that adopt universal(or national) healthcare. These countries have a pretty good record of solid national healthcare system that keeps significant number of people from getting sick and malnourished. That will give ‘inconvenient truth’ to the people like you, when it comes to comparing the healthcare system of these countries to that of the US.

  • Toolonggone

    I’m not interested in author’s attitude toward ACA, but his slave analogy with healthcare is nothing more than a farce. Lincoln and Republicans were not willing to give up slavery based on humanitarian conscience, either. It’s the matter of political convenience.

    • Hillz

      Well Toolonggone? Glad someone here knows the truth.

      Did you guys also know that whites had nothing to do with the transatlantic slave trade? ALL 10,000,000 of the Africans taken to the Americas were actually forced onto the ships of Europeans by their fellow Africans who were eager to get rid of them. There were some instances when African kings even paid Europeans just to take them away. Whites were just trying to lend a helping hand, and this is the thanks we get?

      • Toolonggone

        Go ahead and spin your phony ‘white is just a by-stander’ narrative for the sake of historical revisionism. That’s just too dumb to take in.