• Marc Johnson

Still Fighting the War


This just in: Civil War still rages. From nullification battles in Idaho and several other states to a Mississippi proposal to remember Confederate cavalry Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest with a new license plate, the Civil War – it began 150 years ago in April – is still with us.

For those who don’t understand why the Arabs and Israelis can’t get beyond their ancient disputes or scratch their heads over the “troubles” in Ireland, you need only look just below the surface of American politics and culture to appreciate that our old war is new again. We’re still fighting over the cause, meaning and memory.

In case you’re wondering about Forrest – that’s him in the uniform of a Lt. General – he rose from private to general officer during the course of the war, is generally regarded as a military genius, albeit a blood thirsty one, and was a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest notoriously presided over a massacre of black Union troops at Ft. Pillow in 1864. When a Forrest statute was erected in Nashville a while back, the debate began again over whether the man historian Shelby Foote called the one true military genius of that awful war deserved to be commemorated in his home state.

Now Forrest is back in the news. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a possible GOP presidential candidate, says he won’t “denounce” supporters of the license plate for the general. The Associated Press quoted the guv as saying, “I don’t go around denouncing people. That’s not going to happen.”

Strangely enough Idaho and Mississippi often show up in the same paragraph. The two states, worlds apart in so many ways, often compete for worst of show in educational spending or per capita income. Now, we’re competing for throwbacks to 1860. Or, as one wit said recently, Idaho has gone from being West of the Mississippi to being the Mississippi of the West. After all we do have our Secesh Creek and there is a town called Dixie. Perhaps we come by this nullificaiton impulse naturally.

As a truly famous Mississippian, William Faulkner, once famously said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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©2019 by Marc C Johnson