|Our ancestors must pity us
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Today is the day set aside by the US government for us to remember our war dead. Here at the Diary of a Rogue Economist we always do as we are told.
So, today, we will turn our thoughts back to Vicksburg...which gave the country enough corpses to remember...and from which we just returned.
We were born south of the Mason Dixon line. More importantly, we were born south of Pratt Street in Baltimore, giving us Southern tendencies from the beginning. Even as a child, we felt a sentimental attachment to the Old South, and a romantic softness for the underdog as a child. We rooted for General Lee at Gettysburg and General Jackson at the Wilderness. We wanted to sign up for Jeb Stuart's cavalry, but we were a century too late.
The Mason Dixon line is the official boundary separating North from South. It runs between Maryland and Pennsylvania. But the real dividing line - in terms of attitudes, culture and topography -- runs right through the heart of Baltimore. North of Pratt Street, the land rises under hills of granite. It was settled by Germans, mainly...farmers who raised cattle and wheat, traders who used their Baltimore Clippers to move goods all over the world, and entrepreneurs who built factories on the upland rivers.
South of Pratt Street the land flattens into tidewater immediately. There...stretching all the way from the sidewalk to Florida to the south and to the Appalachians in the west...the land is rich, mostly level, and good for tobacco and cotton. It is also warmer...and more suitable to slave labor. The English and Scotch-Irish settlers, such as my ancestors who built their houses in Maryland in the late 17th century, were used to slavery. They knew they would have to give it up some day but they didn't want the Yankees to tell them when.
We wondered: does Memorial Day apply south of Pratt Street...that is, to the people the Union Army tried to kill? To be more precise, does it apply to those who fought for the Confederacy against the United States of America. If not, we will have to stop remembering half our ancestors, those who fought under Lee and Jackson.
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We consulted the Wikipedia for guidance.
Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
There you have it. As we try to grill our hamburgers to perfection, we can remember all our ancestors, even those from south of Pratt Street. Years ago, our grandmother recalled:
"Yes, Uncles Rufus and Zacharia McCeney, used to live here. My grandmother told me about them. She raised me. I never knew my mother; she died when I was still a baby. Rufus and Zacharia were her uncles. I never met them. My grandmother, Mary Agnes McCeney, told me they left the farm never came back. They rode with Jeb Stuart's cavalry in the Army of Virginia. Presumed dead. But who knows?"
And now, with the permission of the federales, we wonder if Rufus or Zacharia made his way join poor General John Pemberton in the defense of Vicksburg. It was a lost cause from the get-go. By March 1863, "Fighting Joe" Johnston, commander of the southern forces in the West, had already given it up for lost. Vicksburg couldn't be re-supplied. The Yankees controlled the river...and the over-land routes. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, he recommended to Pemberton that he take his army and skedaddle. Vicksburg would be lost. But at least the army would be saved. But Pemberton was either stubborn or stupid. He stayed put with his army. And there he gave the worms plenty of meat; nearly 10,000 of his soldiers were planted there.
Vicksburg is remembered, heroically, by many southerners. It is said that the city didn't forget what had been done to it until 1910, when it first permitted public festivities for the 4th of July. And now, more than 100 years later, they fly the Stars & Stripes everyday of the year.
One of the features of a successful empire is that it is able to build on its successes and turn its victims into loyal supporters. The Romans brought in soldiers from all over the Empire. The British followed the same program. First, they conquered Scotland...making the Scots the backbone of the British Army. Later, the Irish too - another conquered people - were easily enlisted, partly because they had so few other career options (the English cut Irish Catholics off from many job opportunities). Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, Malays - all served the English cause.
The Yankees did the same thing. After the southern states were conquered their young men became the most enthusiastic soldiers in the volunteer army. Later, it signed up Hispanics from Texas and Navajos from the reservation in Arizona. Today, New Yorkers may have doubts about signing up for military service, but among middle-class southerners it is a family tradition. They have served their conquerors for generations.
We remember the dead. What do we think of them? We wonder. Now that the fever has gone, we remember both sides of the War Between the States equally. But if both sides were equal, what was the point? You might as well have died for one side as for the other. It seems hardly worth dying for a cause that didn't matter. One side wanted to tell the other side how to run its affairs. But the other side was running its affairs in an abominable way. One side held Black people in slavery. The other side wanted to boss around white people. We're all going to die, but neither cause seems worth advancing the schedule.
All wars are regretted when the fever has passed. But at least they were fighting in a real war. At least they had a cause worth they thought was worth fighting for...and at least they died at the hands of the enemy... or from disease while waiting for the enemy to kill them.
And what do the dead think of us? Those 10,000 boys at Vicksburg. Uncle Rufus and Uncle Zacharia. What would they think of their descendants...? Now, another fever on us, we fight a war against nobody in particular. It has already gone on for 10 years. Our government tells us will last at least 10 more.
Our own soldiers - those who fought in a real war - are ashamed of it. And our young soldiers, with no real enemy to fight against, find one...in themselves. Today's soldiers are more likely to by suicide than be felled by disease or by an enemy.
Our ancestors. They must pity us.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.
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