Monthly Archives: April 2011

The 150th Anniversary of the US Civil War

The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 —...

Antietam Creek, MD September 17, 1862. Image via Wikipedia

The horror of the Civil War is in the accounting—a terrifying piece of accounting.

Between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865 (the last shot was fired in June) almost 2.2 million Americans fought against each other—almost 40% of those eligible for military service. In that time, approximately 625,000 Americans were killed, either in action, in hospital or illness. Another 402,000 were wounded, with injuries as varied as a scratch and a severed limb. 10% of the North’s population of military age, and 30% of the South’s never came home.

We will never know for sure the total number of civilian casualties.

I bring out these numbers as a static, mathematical reminder of the costs of fanaticism, militaristic saber-rattling, authoritarian usurpation and a lack of compromise. The math can often resound decibels louder than any rhetoric.

Tomorrow, we mark the 150th anniversary of the greatest disaster in our history, and I mean “greatest” in all its senses. The Civil War has been written about to death. It has been the culprit of reams of academic pap, both useful and useless, often hashing and rehashing the debates about slavery, states’ rights, civil rights, Lincoln’s actions and inactions, as well as every slight movement of the battlefield in those little blue and red rectangles.

If that wasn’t enough, the unlettered masses have fistful of Hollywood movies, some good (Gettysburg, Glory, Gods and Generals) and some God awful (Sommersby –I threw up a little on saying its name). Then there’s documentaries, docu-movies, PBS documentaries, History Channel documentaries, even those weirdoes who dress up each weekend, playing ancestors with which they have a dubious family connection. There’s no way ALL you guys had a great uncle who fell at Shiloh, right?

In a sense, the sesquicentennial ruckus can be just as disturbing as the war itself. That’s pretty frightening, since the greatest effusion of blood in American history still hold lessons today—particularly in how we forget our past.

David Von Drehle, in a funny connection to two anniversaries this year (he wrote the book Triangle, about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire) wrote an interesting piece in this week’s Time Magazine about a collective amnesia Americans from both North and South have about our greatest conflict. In a nutshell, Von Drehle writes about how Americans have washed away the more distasteful or painful elements of the Civil War in the course of 150 years.

Some of these include:

The persistent need to push the slavery issue as secondary to the issue of states’ rights. Slavery, in fact, was the elephant in the room ever since the Revolution, and even Thomas Jefferson (himself a slave owner) prognosticated civil war over the issue.

The connivance of monied interests on both sides. Arms, munitions and logistics industries in the North were itching for a conflict to cash in on army contracts. Yet there were even more business to be lost by the South. Southern cotton not only greased the wheels of the mills in New England and the clothing factories in New York, but also buttressed the textile industries of Great Britain, France, even Germany. New York City, in fact, came close to “seceding” from the Union over the issue of lost revenue due to the lack of cotton.

The lack of enthusiasm—and outright rage—over fighting to free enslaved Africans. The 1862 Emancipation Proclamation was not met with resounding enthusiasm, even in the North. Many states began to question continuing the war. The Irish of New York rioted outright in the summer of 1863, fearing they would lose their jobs to free blacks. Even the arrival of black soldiers did not ease the racism and hatred that pervaded the North—a hatred well established in the South.

The burial of the events leading up to the shots on Fort Sumter. Events such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, “Bleeding Kansas,” the Pottowatamie Massacre, the 1857 Dred Scott decision, even so far back as the compromises of 1820, 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act.

Furthermore, the period after the war became a time when veterans of the Blue and Grey would meet in reunions as brothers to remember the old times—and to decry the Northern reformers and shiftless Blacks that sent them to fight in the first place. Ever since, according to Von Drehle, we have been struggling to find the complete story.

This anniversary, we at the Neighborhood implore our readers to look at the Civil War with open minds, with clear eyes and with an empty heart.

Take a new look at the war for yourself, filtering out the din of media and talking heads. Look at the photos. Read the letters. Hear the arguments. Examine the carnage. Let the war speak to you.

In fact, 625,000 soldiers speak to us everyday.

They speak whenever we debate about the government’s role in our lives, be it on the federal or state level. They speak whenever an American is slighted due to race, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status. They speak when moneyed classes suffer a severe disconnect from the reality of the American people.

Most importantly of all, they yell—they scream—when intransigent politicians, policymakers and ideologues entrench in their opinions with no room for compromise.

The 625,000 are the warning of fanatical, unscrupulous, un-American partisanship. Their number, and their silence, is the loudest of all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Say it Ain’t So, Cathie! The 100 Days of Chancellor Cathie Black

Cathie Black Enters Tweed

“But what are kings, when regiment is gone,
But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?” ~ from Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe

As swiftly as it came, the reign of Cathie the First came crashing down today–and there’s plenty of blame to spread around.

At 11:30 am, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Cathie Black had resigned as New York City Schools Chancellor, to be replaced by longtime Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott.  According to the Mayor, the split was amicable, in that both agreed that they needed a new direction.  Yet privately, most believe that Bloomberg showed Cathie the door.

So what happened?  Obviously, Cathie never bothered to read the suggestions we gave her when she started.  She never had the support of the teaching corps, who saw her as a meddling interloper and empty vessel.  Furthermore, she never even tried to wade into the treacherous waters of negotiation and budget battles.

It was just that much easier to slug down appletinis with Graydon Carter and Anna Wintour under a tent during Fashion Week.

What followed through the next 100 days was an unqualified embarrassment.  A recent Marist poll showed an abysmal 17% approval rating.  After numerous faux pas and a series of bumbling media fiascos, the rats began to abandon the ship.  One by one the Deputy Chancellors, a veritable Praetorian Guard that shielded Black from the gathering storm, either resigned or were replaced.

It was only a matter of time.

So who was to blame for this 100-day nightmare?  Mayor Bloomberg, for one.  At least he cowboyed up and accepted “full responsibility.”   Like so many education reform bozos, Bloomberg thought that skirting certification and appointment protocols would produce a suitable Chancellor, only to fizzle in a sea of media flops and epileptic leadership.

The other ne’er do wells shouldn’t get a pass, though.   Joel Klein also gets some blame, since his insistence pushed Cathie Black into the Mayor’s eye, especially while he basked in Rupert Murdoch’s glow.  The City Council, who have been impotent for over a decade now, proved its rubber-stamp quality through a feeble attempt to block Black’s appointment.

Yet even the shenanigans of Bloomberg, et. al. would have gone for nought if it weren’t for the connivance of the New York State Education Department–acting with the blessing of the New York Board of Regents.  Predating our constitution, New York‘s education establishment was once one of the noblest, most august institutions of education in America.  That changed when the Education Commissioner, David Steiner, worked with Bloomberg to get Black a waiver from certification–since she had no qualifications whatsoever.

Our once great granite rock of education had become a filthy loofah, used by politicians and billionaire scum to scrape their underlings clean of hypocrisy and criminality.  Even though Commissioner Steiner’s job is now in jeopardy, Governor Cuomo should make a bold, radical decision and fire the entire Board of Regents in one blow.  Only thus would we have anything close to our education department’s former glory.

The Neighborhood’s last words are for our new Chancellor, Dennis Walcott.  You’ve been involved in public education for a fair amount of your life.  We look forward to working with you for the education of our students.  Please take a look at our suggestions we gave to Cathie–just avoid the sarcastic remarks.

Those remarks aren’t meant for you–yet.  You’ve been warned.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Videos for the Classroom: Dating Do’s and Dont’s (1949)

It’s time to shine those penny loafers and Bryllcreme those hairdos.  The Neighborhood is heading for the Fifties!

Nothing explains the intentions, the tensions and the goofiness of the era like the instructional films produced by Coronet.  Starting after World War II, Coronet Films, as many other distributors, created a series of films on morals, hygiene and national values to be shown in classrooms on 8-mm projectors–mostly to kill a Friday afternoon.  Through school-age actors, the films stressed the need for conformity, grooming, and patriotism, often at the expense of anything remotely considered unique or creative.

Today, these films have a mysterious antique silly quality.  Yet one can imagine the gravitas of a school marm in her bat-glasses showing a film on how heavy petting, rock music and consorting with Black people can lead to Communism.  Today’s film is the 1949 classic Dating Do’s and Dont’s, as a young boy ponders which perfectly coiffed Caucasian female of upper-middle class status he will take to the “keen wing-ding” of the night, the big carnival.  The film deftly guides our hero through the “right” choice of girl, how to set up the date, and the activities to follow…

…of course, not ALL the activities.  And our hero would never do that!  That’s only for pot-smoking, rock ‘n’ roll listening, Commie-loving, integration-pushing hipsters who beat on bongos and wear black all the time.

Sit back and enjoy the goofiness.  Of course, have students question the moral underpinnings of these films–though that may label them Communists!   God forbid!

Enjoy

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized