I’ve always been fascinated by history. In fact, if not for a spiritual conversion in my early thirties, I probably would have become a historian. Even so, I studied church history so intently that I thought about becoming an Orthodox Christian. For a while, I even attended an “Evangelical Orthodox” church in Northern California. I think they considered themselves evangelical, because they held liturgical services and catechetical classes in English rather than Greek, Slavonic, or Russian, but that’s another story.
As bizarre as that sounds, consider that I sought out these bearded evangelicals after courting Zen Buddhism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mind you, this predates George Castanza’s conversion to the Latvian Church but occurred about the time I voted for Walter Mondale. I may have been confused but I was certainly open minded.
Of my many interests in history (e.g., Roman legions, the French Revolution, World War One, the JFK assassination), the American Civil War does not stand out for me. This, despite it being the bloodiest war in our nation’s history and splitting both nation and families apart. The family question couldn’t be more relevant today.
When I think of the Civil War, what strikes me most are the stories of brothers and cousins who fought against each other. It used to be inconceivable to me that family members would do such a thing. It’s not that I didn’t believe the stories. They are part of the historical record and can be found in newspaper reports and personal journals and letters. I just couldn’t understand what drove people to act that way, especially over mere political differences.
Now I know. There is no such thing as “mere” political difference, not then and not now. We live in a world like that of 1861 (or 1961, for that matter), that has become politicized. Back then the press did not feign objectivity, just as the media doesn’t now. Politicians and celebrities call for “resistance” which is code for violent conflict. This, in turn, stirs up those who resist the resistors. As a result, cities burn, people die, and hatred fills the air along with the smoke from brush fires, at least in California. Families, unfortunately, are not spared the resentment and hatred.
Part of the reason it took me so long to see the similarities between the Civil War and the current situation is cultural. My family is Italian. We approach relationships in a different way. We argue, yell, act out in operatic style, and then sit down together to share a meal. We would no more go to war with each other than wear socks with sandals. I exclude the Cosa Nostra, Camorra, and ‘Ndrangheta, all of which have their own codes of behavior and are not part of civil society.
Of course, having said that I must admit that some of the most heated arguments during my youth occurred at dinner. I remember two in particular. One had to do with Japan’s role in World War One; the other over whether ten pounds of human waste could fit into a five-pound bag. You may recognize the latter as a euphemism for a popular saying at the time. What caused the eruption was my literal interpretation of the saying and subsequent attempt to prove it “scientifically” using ice in place of excrement. I was in high school at the time.
If not exactly unscathed, the next generation has managed the current crisis well. Like other families, we represent nearly all sides of the debate, although no one has displayed the black banner of Antifa or expressed sympathy for Italian anarchists. We accept one another without wishing them eternal damnation, which I count as progress. And no one has stopped speaking for political reasons. Other reasons, yes. Political reasons, no.
Even though I have a better idea of how brother can murder brother (where have we heard this before?), I don’t see civil war breaking out. That’s not to say that resistance and counter-resistance won’t result in all kinds of damage to people and property. What it does say is that the republic will stand just as it did before. This, despite the threats spreading through social media of armed conflict if the President is reelected or a fascist coup if he isn’t.
Whatever happens, it surely will be uncivil. But it won’t be war.
Image credits: Feature by History in HD on Unsplash; window by Amber Kipp on Unsplash. For more, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”