Saturday, February 04, 2006

C. Vann Woodward: The Burden of Southern History

C. Vann Woodward is my hero. I want to be an academic just like him one day. Reading The Burden of Southern History, a collection of essays written about various southern history issues ranging from John Brown to the Civil Rights Movement, was extremely enjoyable, especially since it was so well-written.

Instead of giving a synopsis of the whole collection, I'll include my favorite passage from the essay "A Second Look at the Theme of Irony." A response to his own essay included in the first edition of Burden, "A Second Look" ruminates upon the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement from the late '50s to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as the Vietnam conflict. His thesis is that Americans have suppressed the realization that they are invincible. He writes that Southerners, even after losing one war and barely coming through the first Reconstruction period, hopelessly cling onto several lost causes, both in the historical sense as well as the present.

This passage is eerily relevant for our present times:
"...[H]istory has begun to catch up with Americans. The fabled immunity from frustration and defeat has faltered its magic on several fronts, foreign as well as domestic. National security, traditionally perceived as free, a natural right of Americans, has been stripped away by revolutions in weaponry. Such security as remains, far from free, is purchased at frightful cost. With more power than ever before, more than any nation has ever had, we enjoy less security than we did in an era of national weakness. And we have found that all our power and fabulous weaponry can be ineffective in a war with a weak and undeveloped nation torn by a civil war of its own. In the meantime the innocence and virtue with which we assume American motives are natively endowed, especially in relations with other nations, had become a stock subject of jeers and ridicule even among our friends and allies. Not only were we threatened with failure and defeat in a commitment of national honor, but we were convicted of guilt and perfidy in the court of world opinion."



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