I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this New York Times Magazine article by Edward L. Ayers didn't get much blog attention over the weekend -- Ayers compares the current Iraq occupation to what happened in the South after the Civil War, and the analogy (at least as he presents it) doesn't hold up. However, what he says about the South's reaction to Reconstruction is interesting for different reasons:
...Defeated people's memories collapse the suffering of war into the suffering of reconstruction. White Southerners have long conflated Sherman's march with an imagined devastation that Reconstruction, among the mildest of military occupations, did not in fact bring.
... In the South, Reconstruction rather than the Civil War became the true object of contempt and hatred by postwar whites, the object of self-righteousness and retribution. Reconstruction displaced any guilt white Southerners may have felt for secession and ameliorated the shame of losing the Civil War.
... Reconstructions foster steadfast defenders of the old order. A quest for purity, for return, for the respect of the fallen fathers, drives counter-reconstructions. When things go wrong, as they inevitably will, the opponents of reconstruction can always claim that things were better under the old regime. The "old South," an imagined land of gentility and paternalism, was invented by the new South to justify a rigid racial order in a region increasingly filled with towns, railroads and factories.
This may not explain Iraq in 2005, but it certainly helps to explain American politics in 2005. Southerns have harbored these feelings of resentment for 140 years -- and now the feelings exist almost independent of the war and Reconstruction (independent, even, of the civil rights era), so they can now be communicated to people all over the country. Legalized abortion and gay marriage and the theory of evolution and the end of public-school prayer are the new Reconstruction -- cruel impositions by heartless Yankee elites. The cure is a return to "an imagined land of gentility and paternalism" that allegedly existed before this era of liberal tyranny. That's what the Right says every day. It's a Southern message, tweaked only slightly.