The Mind of the South

Civil War veteran painting by Je'
Civil War veteran
painting by Je’

Commentators have often mentioned that the United States has never lost a war; as in it has never fought all-out and been defeated, invaded, occupied and forced to change its way of life to suit the invaders. But that is only true of half of the original states, the other half did fight all-out, was defeated, invaded, occupied and forced to change its way of life to suit the invaders. This region we call “the south.”

What affect does this defeat and occupation have on the mind of the south? They have not forgotten, let me assure you. Almost every courthouse, like ours, has a civil war memorial with an inscription along the lines of “Lest we forget.” The confederate flag is still a popular symbol-in fact, my neighbor has one flapping in their front yard. Never forget, is the message. Never forget what they did to us.

Who is “they” who did this to us? Yankees, of course, but more to the point, the federal government. The federal government did not acknowledge state’s rights, it bulldozed its way south in the War of Northern Aggression and pushed over the lovely mansions, burned the fertile farms, and stole their lawful property. You will get a good reception for the “taxes are theft” mantra in the south. It’s just another federal government tactic for doing what they have done in the past-steal our property.

The property, of course, was human beings-slaves. The monetary value of slaves was immense. To lose that much wealth was a death blow to the southern economy from which it has yet to recover. It tried to recover with a sharecropping system, which differed economically from slavery barely at all. The south still pays low wages and in general considers workers to be lazy louts who must be forced to produce by threats and discipline.

The south thought of northerners as greedy, mean-spirited, rushed and uncouth. There was some truth to that. The north thought of southerners as unambitious, undisciplined dandies with a penchant for gambling and horse racing. There was some truth to that too.

The plantation system was much more like the British feudal system than the industrial-mercantile system, supplemented by yeoman farmers, pursued in the north. The south is much less democratic than the north. That is, they accept that a certain aristocracy should rule, because they are best suited to do so. In New England, where I grew up, regular people would take their complaints directly to town meetings and tell off the town selectmen in public. In the south, few people even know where the county commissioners actually hold their meetings.

But, of course, all things change. Our south Georgia city now has a military base and a university. Yankees, and even foreigners are moving here. They are welcomed with southern hospitality and watched with southern suspicion. Things are changing, slowly. Slowly is the only way human beings can stand to change. Invasion and occupation only hardens a people in their worldview. Lest they forget.

Note: the painting “Civil War Veteran” is of a live oak tree in Savannah, Georgia. It was a little tree when the Civil War was fought and now it is old, twisted, wounded, rather  magnificent. And still alive.  

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