Good morning, on this July 4, 2020. A date with very little to celebrate this year, I'm afraid.
We're not talking about Trump today, but I will note that his speech last night was roundly condemned as "divisive" by nearly every international news organization that I saw this morning. Hell of a speech to give for our nation's birthday, but I digress.
America is 244 years old today. But 157 years ago on this date, the country was licking its wounds from the largest battle fought on American soil
. The Army of Northern Virginia had just reached the "High water mark of the Confederacy" and was battered, beaten, and in retreat from Gettysburg, PA.
Personally, I'm not a civil war buff (with the sole exception of Gettysburg, actually.) My family didn't even get to the United States until the 20th century, so I have no familiar connection. A friend of mine here in Boston did have family there - his great-great grandfather was there at Culp's Hill, wearing the correct uniform. I suppose he has every right to celebrate his family heritage through the lens of the civil war.
But here's the great disconnect. In the north, at least in my experience, we have always called it war. There's "before the civil war", "reconstruction" and many other terms - but always couched in that sort of violence.
South of the Mason-Dixon line, they've adopted a different approach. The period before the civil war is called the "Antebellum". It sounds odd to American ears, and it's actually a simple latin term. Ante - before and Bellum - war. There's minor usage of "Postbellum" here and there, but the name "reformation" seems to have stuck for that particular time period.
But why "Antebellum"? Nobody else in the world uses this term. England does not lament the loss of their "Antebellum Colonies". The Soviet Union never once called it the "Great Patriotic Bellum". My forebears in the Philippines did not think of the "Spanish-American Bellum" in their days before becoming an American Colony.
Nay, it is only in the South. It is likely part of that intrinsic racism and romanticism that many South of the Mason-Dixon line like to hold up as their "heritage". It is another of those terms that needs to be swept away by the hand of God like the Jews of old. (No offence - it's a partial quote from the movie "Glory"
. I hope you get the point.)
If the south wishes to continue with their "Antebellum" references, it remains up to the rest of us to start correcting that at every turn. "I don't know what that is. Did you mean the Slavery-Era South?"
But indeed - it is our birthday today. (Maybe - see John Adams and July 2
). The Boston Globe annually prints the Declaration of Independence
as an editorial on this date. I do hope you have the chance to read it.
Stay safe out there!