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  • Writer's pictureLee Weaver

"A DISEASE IN THE PUBLIC MIND" - Book Review.

Dear Reader:


At least some of you have faithfully followed my ‘blogging’ and know that I’ve mostly written stories from my life, along with some history (‘Migrations”). I started out with the intent NOT to politicize but I have come to realize life is not apolitical. If I wander into that minefield and your politics differ from mine, indulge me for the content that does not offend you.


I learned to read at a very young age. In school it was not infrequent to get caught in class hiding a novel inside the textbook. Especially in my adult years I have typically read 40 to 50 books a year. Now that I live in a ‘retirement’ center (more on that later) I exceed that number. I read among many genre but have generally leaned toward historical novels. Many of the books I’m currently reading have led me to have an interest in political science. Though I had a fruitful career as an engineer, I fantasize about “when I retired from that world why did I not go back to school and pursue another career” perhaps in Political Science.


Recently I’ve gotten into the plethora of books being written about the state of the nation – on both sides of the aisle everyone has an opinion; some are more thoughtfully espoused than others. Some deal more explicitly with current considerations; in some the authors attempt to go back and point out how events 150 years or more ago set the stage for today. In literature and most other walks of life ‘cancel culture’ is eliminating most all expressions that are not “woke.” In many (perhaps most) purportedly non-fiction books one must read diligently to determine the authors’ biases. This seems contradictory to the term ‘non- fiction’ yet ‘facts’ are often seen (or reported) differently by different observers. Without too much generalization this seems particularly true in history books – my observation is that victors write books while vanquished just try to get their lives put back together. Thus, the books we read/study (including textbooks) promote the biases of the winning side. In this context most of the histories (especially including textbooks) of the American Civil War reflect the Union perspective, promoting the almost universally held view that the Civil War was entirely about slavery. Read on!


“A DISEASE IN THE PUBLIC MIND” sub-titled ‘A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War.’


Book by Thomas Fleming

This internal, infernal war has been referred to by many names: The Civil War; The War Between the States; The War of the Rebellion; The War of Northern Aggression; perhaps more. Whatever you call it a war by any name is a tragic thing. How exponentially more tragic when a nation’s people war against each other. I ran across this book in the Trinity Terrace library. I’ve long been a student of Civil War history and was curious to read this author’s take on ‘A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War’ (author’s cover note).


The inside fold of the dust cover further expresses the author’s theme:

THE ONLY NATION IN THE WORLD TO FIGHT A WAR TO END SLAVERY?

By the time John Brown’s body hung from the gallows for his crimes at Harper’s Ferry, Northern Abolitionists had made him a “holy martyr” in their paranoid campaign against “The Slave Power.” Their hatred for Southerners long predated their objections to slavery. Abolitionists were convinced that New England, whose spokesmen had begun the American Revolution, should have been the leaders of the new nation. Instead, they had been displaced by Southern “slavocrats” like Thomas Jefferson. (Of the first six presidents of the new nation four were from Virginia; of the first fifteen [before Lincoln, who was born in Kentucky] nine were from the South.)

This malevolent envy exacerbated the South’s deepest fear: a race war. Thomas Jefferson’s cry, “We are truly to be pitied!” summed up their irrational dread. For decades, Northern and Southern extremists flung insults and threats at each other, blinding both sides to the possibility of a peaceful solution, despite Abraham Lincoln’s best efforts to achieve one. Only a civil war that would kill a million men could save the Union.


In this riveting, character-driven history, one of our most respected historians traces the diseases in the public mind – the distortion of reality – that destroyed George Washington’s vision of a united America and inflicted the tragedy that still divides the nation’s soul. Like most major historic events, the causes of war are complex. If one today believes that the cause of the Civil War was simply “slavery” it will be easy to criticize Fleming. Going beyond the plethora of public-school history books, Fleming cites example after example of how extremist rhetoric in both North and South drove each toward violence and no-compromise political positioning. Additionally, Fleming presents much background on events troubling the ‘public mind’ – the Haitian Revolution, secession threats in both North and South, nullification threats in the South, actual nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act in the North, etc. etc. The book should prove to the honest student that the causes of the war were entirely complex and demand honest re-examination.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fleming, Thomas: A Disease in the Public Mind

Marche, Stephen: The Next Civil War: Dispatches from 7the American Future

Perry, Imani: South to America (Subtitle: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon Line to Understand the Soul of a Nation).

Richardson, Heather Cox: How the South Won the Civil War

Walters, Barbara F.: How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them

Walters: Civil Wars, Insecurity and Intervention

Walters: Reputation and Civil War

Walters: Committing to Peace

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