Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Marking Time

I just finished watching The Shipping News again. I believe I've talked about that movie before. It's such a quiet movie that makes such a major point: it's possible to recover from incredible hurt. Kevin Spacey does such an excellent job of portraying Quoyle, the ultimate nebbish, a man whose childhood has left him with such low self-esteem that he practically becomes invisible to the people around him. Judi Dench plays his Aunt Agnis, a crusty old woman who herself has endured pain and found a way out. And Julianne Moore plays the woman who brings Quoyle happiness and helps him recover from his hurt, and in the process recovers from her own.

The real star of this movie is the director, Lasse Hallström. I've talked about his work before (see my February 27 post). The man just can't do bad work. The more I see of his work, the more impressed I am. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Picture of the Day

This is a pair of red-fronted mergansers. The black and white one is the male and the brown one is the female. This is most likely a mating pair, it being that time of year. Mergansers spend the winter in coastal salt water, the kind that doesn't freeze over. In a little bit they'll head back north to the lakes and ponds in the interior, where they spend the summer, just loke loons. They're gorgeous birds, aren't they?

Well, enjoy your day!

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Civil War

I watched Gods and Generals last night. It wasn't a movie I could find much to like in - pretentious, overdone, stilted and unnatural dialogue... Nope, not at all impressed. But it did get me thinking about the Civil War.

One of the comments made in the "Making of..." documentary on the DVD was that after Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's death the fortunes of the Confederacy's army went downhill, and suggested that maybe the South lost something important with Jackson. Well, I'm not sure I'd go that far. Jackson wasn't a major strategist, his value as a military man was that he followed orders without stinting. He was good at figuring out artillery problems, probably one of the best that West Point ever turned out, but as for planning major battles, he left that up to Lee and Lee's inner circle. The argument has been made that Jackson had become a legend in his own time and the effect of this on Confederate morale was tremendous, and that Jackson's death in 1863 demoralized the army. Far from it, it had the opposite effect - regiments would charge into battle shouting "Remember Stonewall!" and completely overrun Federal positions. So Jackson's death didn't cause the fall of the Confederacy.

Essentially, Lee lost the war when he turned North and crossed the Potomac. At that point he became the aggressive invader. To that point there were many in the North who felt for the South, people who felt that the South had gotten a raw deal and had suffered invasion by Federal troops on Lincoln's orders. Most people in the North didn't care squat about the slavery issue - the Abolitionists were a very small minority. They were very vocal and loud, but they were tiny. And northern whites were uncomfortable with blacks and didn't really like the ones they came across. Even Lincoln himself didn't go into the war planning to end slavery, and once he became committed to that path he thought the best solution would be to send all American blacks back to Africa - he didn't think that blacks belonged in America with whites. When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation his popularity dropped dramatically.

What Lee accomplished by crossing the Potomac and heading North was to alienate what sympathy the South had in the North, especially those farmers in Maryland and Pennsylvania who were in the path of his army. The South had been fighting a defensive war to that point, driving back the perceived invader. Now they themselves had assumed to role of invader, and the effect was electrifying. Enlistment in the North skyrocketed. Before Antietam enlistment had been dying off, but after that boys started rallying to drive off the invasion of their home ground.

This was exactly what had rallied men and boys to the Confederate regiments at the beginning of the war. Their home was being invaded by Lincoln and his bullies, and by God they were gonna show those Yankees what for! So it's no surprise that the North would react the same way when their home was invaded. You'd have thought that Lee and his circle, and Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet, would have seen that one coming. Apparently not.

And of course the rest is history. The Federal army fought the Confederates to a bloody halt at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and that was the beginning of the end. While more and more northerners joined the Federal forces, the Confederate forces started experiencing a drain in their own numbers. A lot of poor boys from the mountains and the swamps left their weapons and headed for home, sick of the constant death they were seeing, and finally realizing that what they were fighting for was the huge, slave-powered plantations of the ultra-rich landowners. The war had never had any advantage for them and they started to realize that finally after the bloody mess of Gettysburg. They went home in droves and Lee ended up trapped in Appomattox.

The Confederacy could have survived if they had followed their original strategy. If they had held to the aggrieved victim role, if they had pushed the Federal troops out of Virginia and held the borders, they could have held still and gathered support. England was certainly making supportive noises, and even certain promises. France was also exploring possibilities. And there was definitely feeling north of the Mason-Dixon line that Lincoln and the Republicans were pushing things a little too far. If they had held to the defensive stand for at least another year they would have gathered enough support to declare a cease-fire, start negotiations with Lincoln, and establish a new, independent nation to share the North American continent with the United States and Canada.

But their blood was up. All of a sudden they were winning major battles when they knew they were the underdogs. They were outnumbered in troop strength and outclassed in war materiél, but they succeeded in holding off the Yankee threat. Indeed, at Fredricksburg they handed the Federal forces a major and very bloody defeat. Nobody could believe it! Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet in Richmond started believing that their dream of a seperate, independant nation could come true. So they told Lee to go north, circle around the Federal troops into Pennsylvania, and approach Washington DC from the north and lay seige to it. And Lee agreed. And they lost the war with that decision.

Of course I'm enough of a moralist to believe that the Confederacy deserved to lose. After all, they seceeded from the Union and declared war. And for what? To preserve a feudal system that placed everybody, blacks and poor whites alike, under the total control of the plantation owners. All of the government of the Confederacy came from the landowner class, as did the majority of the officer corps of the army. They were all slave-owners. The "poor white trash" from the mountain hollers and the swamps had resented the landowner class for decades, but they joined the fight because the Federal army invaded Virginia and thus invaded their "home". Once that illusion was stripped from them at Gettysburg they went home and left the rich boys on their own.

And that's my take on the Civil War, nudged out of me from watching Gods and Generals.

Picture of the Day

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along! It's getting to be that time of year. Although to be honest, we had robins all winter this year. For that matter I seem to have noticed robins being around all winter for at least the last three years. Global warming anyone? Anyhow, this guy was sitting on the fence and playing coy with me, and I though he made a good composition sitting on that fence. If you click on the picture you'll get it in full size.