thoughts on politics

July 27, 2008

Race intrigue #1: The Confederate States of America

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 3:18 am
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I went for a bike ride tonight around UGA’s campus, and as I was going back into my dorm, I saw what looked like a historical documentary about the Civil War on the television. I stopped and sat down to watch for a second, and was soon a little baffled by what I was seeing. It kept referring to actions of the Confederate government after 1865, even though, as I understood it, that government was over and through with after the Civil War. It mentioned politicians I’d never heard of, including some family called the Fauntroys, and made some absurd historical claims, like referring to a group of radical abolitionists, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and my recent idol Henry Thoreau, who fled to Canada in the 1870’s (partly absurd because, according to the front page of my copy of Walden, Thoreau died in 1862).

I realized finally that it was not real, but was instead a movie called C.S.A. The movie, as wikipedia states, presents in a documentary style vivid imagining of what history might have been like if the South had won the Civil War, all the way from 1865 to the present day, a scenario I’ve thought about before. In fact, in this alternate history, not only did the South survive, but it actually took control of the entire country.

One of the things that I immediately liked about CSA was that it was a perfectly done-up copy of the style of historical documentaries teachers show in grade school classes. The less-than-perfect picture quality, the fife-and-drum background music, zooming and panning shots across old black and white photographs, and straight-faced interviews of scholars sitting in their libraries, the kinds of people that to a fifth grader are the reason history is boring. It even has “commercial breaks” throughout, with products that might be sold in a modern-day America where racism was one of the founding ideologies, and slavery was legal and prevalent. There are things like an electronic shackle with a tracking device in it, a chain of fast-food restaurants called “Coon Chicken Inn,” and a show called “Runaway,” which strongly resembles “Cops.”

But the history in this parallel universe was the real point of the movie, some parts obviously radically different from what really happened, but some parts surprisingly close. After winning the Civil War, the CSA sets out to build its own American Empire, with the deliberate goal of becoming the world’s superpower. It conquers Mexico and South America, forcing subservience on the populations there. Native American (Indian) populations are systematically obliterated, their cultural heritage muted (unthinkable, right?). Over on the West Coast, as the railroad develops, the government decrees one day that all Oriental railroad workers are now the property of their companies, thus “yellow slavery” becomes the standard on the west coast, as opposed to “black slavery” in the south.

Non-Christian religions are outlawed, but Roman Catholicism is allowed “after much debate.” Originally, Judaism is outlawed, but it is also eventually allowed because of the importance of real-life Confederate figure Judah P. Benjamin. A reservation for Jews is created on Long Island.

Canada acts as the foil to the CSA throughout, outlawing slavery and promoting equality. Because of their hostile ideology, the CSA builds a wall along the entire border (called the “Cotton Curtain”) to keep Canadians out (or perhaps to keep Americans in).

When Hitler comes to power, the CSA agrees not to stop him in his expansion in Europe. In fact, the two countries are sympathetic, and Hitler is invited to visit the CSA to see the American method of state racism. As the American pragmatists argue, it is better to enslave the undesirable peoples and harness their labor power than simply to exterminate them. CSA opens a war with Japan and defeats them with the atomic bomb. Hitler still loses in Europe.

In the 1960 election, Republican John F. Kennedy goes against the Democrat Richard Nixon. This switch is not actually so far-fetched. The “Solid South” was in fact solid for the Democrats up until Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and the Republican party was hated basically because of the Civil War–it being Lincoln’s party, the party of emancipation, and of Radical Reconstruction.

Finally, in present-day CSA, the politician John Fauntroy V, a descendant of a powerful Confederate political dynasty, is revealed by one of his slaves to have some “Negro blood.” The slave, a house servant of the Fauntroys, says it is a dark family secret that some cross-breeding with light-skinned slaves occurred generations ago. The scandal shocks the political world, and Fauntroy V denies it in a press conference, saying “My great-grandfather did not have sexual relations with that slave.” However, he doesn’t submit to a DNA test, his career is ruined, and he commits suicide. The end.

The movie, of course, is more than a fanciful pretend game. Some of the barbaric deeds of the CSA government seem uncomfortably similar to actions of the real US government, some of the traditionalist philosophies are a little too identifiable with things we are liable to hear today.

As the first movie review of this blog, I highly recommend this movie, and may one day buy it myself to see the whole thing.

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