Why We Need a New Civil War Documentary

This article by Smithsonian mag reached me at a very opportune time. I am a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary series, and had it running in the background for the umpteenth time last weekend as I worked. For some reason, after dozens of viewings, this was the first time that I really noticed the documentary’s conciliatory and controversial nature. In the 30 years since it was released, a lot more scholarship has been conducted, the Lost Cause myths have finally been seriously questioned, and society at large has started to push back against the traditional Southern narratives. I still love the series for its emotional core and excellent production values, but I agree with this author that we’re due for an updated look at the war and its aftermath.

By focusing on a type of military history wherein all sides can be seen as—in some way—heroic, “The Civil War” allows us, as white Americans, to forget about the reasons why we were fighting in the first place. It allows us to focus only on an antiseptic form of history that makes us feel good, on a narrative that emotionally relieves us of sins that should not be relieved. It allows us to convince ourselves that the dishonorable were in some way honorable; it reassures our sense of selves as inculpable white Americans; it allows us a psychological pass for the sins of our forefathers.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-we-need-new-civil-war-documentary-180971996/#oEY3EIpx2iTag2py.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

Leave a Reply