Wednesday, January 19, 2005

For the men who've gone before, for the men who will come after; we will wage this bloody war

I have this term another class in American History, this one covering from 1865-1945. It isn't, thankfully, taught by the same smugly anti-American prof I had for the 1776-1865 course. No, I've never taken a course from this instructor, Prof. Davis, before - and I have to say, I like him. He describes himself as a "right-wing Marxist" - someone who, as a self-admitted idiotically radical socialist student in the early 70s, left Kingston for Boston, because he thought Canada was too conservative. (The corollary, of course, being that he assumed socialism would take off in the US.) I can respect that kind of utterly insane idealism in someone who realizes, in hindsight, just how wrong they were; not just in conclusions, but in arguments as well. The first few lectures have focused, as one might expect, on Reconstruction. He's made a concerted and intelligent effort to compare the Civil War itself and subsequent nation-building (well, re-building) exercises to Iraq today - yes, brutal and expensive, but on the balance necessary, right, and good. I can tell this is making a large part of the class uncomfortable. They have no problem seeing Southerners as racists and redneck hicks, part of a political system so dedicated to evil in the antebellum period that its destruction was necessary - but start implying that maybe there are some parallels between the fates of American slaves and the vast masses of Iraqis subjugated by the former regime, and there's a lot of grimacing and nervous squirming about in the lecture hall. Significant, too, is the economic colonization by the North after the war itself. Prof. Davis' best line so far, I think, was this: "Whatever you think imperialism is, it was perpetrated on the South in the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction." I don't entirely agree with that, but I love the moral quandary it had to have put much of the class in. Imperialism...good? The imperialism of unilaterally-declared war and subsequent rebuilding helped to reform the South from a racist backwater to a functioning part of national society? Does not compute! They'd never be able to bear siding with the South against the encroachment of arguably more civilized (and more recognizably modern) society, yet imperialism is bad, mmmkay...what's a good campus Molson Patriot to think?


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