Tuesday, July 05, 2011


This report about Civil War reenactments, from yesterday's All Things Considered on NPR, might have been the only good news I came across all weekend:

... just about any diehard history buff will tell you there aren't nearly enough people getting into what they call the hobby....

... there's the cost of travel, the cost of gear. That runs into the thousands. And it's economic pressures like these that have some shying away from re-enacting. And the ones that are doing it are doing less of it.

An estimated 30,000 people nationwide re-enact the Civil War, but recently those numbers have dropped....

Also, there are so many more entertainment options now. Playing a historical computer game can give someone a battle fix from an easy chair....

I'd like to believe that maybe there's a decline in interest because fewer young people in the South love the Civil War. I know the reenactors want us to believe that reenacting is all about embracing our history and remembering the tragic events that made this country what it is today. But you know what? I live in New York. There are no 9/11 reenactors. No one would want to do that. That's because we find it genuinely horrifying. Civil War reenactors don't find the Civil War horrifying. They dig it. But maybe that feeling is passing.

(And yes, I know that there are reenactors of other wars, but this is the war that's most often reenacted by Americans.)

Is it possible that, apart from cost and time and the appeal of other distractions, the reason for the dropoff in interest in Civil War reennacting is that we're no longer fighting the Civil War? Or, at least, we won't be soon, because young people don't care?

Hard to know. Elsewhere on All Things Considered, we had an interview with National Journal's Ron Brownstein, who thinks our politics were actually becoming less racial until recent demographic changes reversed the trend:

Mr. RON BROWNSTEIN (National Journal): ... It's not only a phenomenon of Phoenix and Dallas and Miami. Iowa, Utah, Nebraska are seeing substantial increases in their minority population, particularly their Hispanic population. And all of these changes are most concentrated and forceful among the young.

... You have, as we've said before, an under 18 population, a giant millennial generation that is heavily non-white, soon to be majority non-white, and by and large, those families believe they need public investment, particularly in schools and health care, to help their kids ascend into the middle class.

On the other side, you have a aging baby boom generation that is preponderantly white. Eighty percent of American seniors are white.... That aging white baby boom has grown increasingly skeptical of government, increasingly resistant to paying taxes to fund government services.

And so you have each political coalition - I mean, this really is the core or the anchor of each political coalition now. The older white population is at the absolute center of the Republican coalition, especially the non-college, working-class part of it.

... I have felt, until recently, that in general, American politics today was less racialized than it was in the '70s and '80s. There were a series of very racially overt issues - affirmative action, bussing, crime, welfare - that really served to polarize the country along racial lines and lead to this realignment.

But in the '90s, under Bill Clinton, the welfare issue was largely taken off the table. The mend-it-don't-end-it reduced the toxicity of affirmative action as an issue. And crime went down nationally. George W. Bush did not really play in these waters, either. And so I kind of felt that, you know, roughly from say '92, post-Willie Horton, to 2008, we were in a less I think racially incendiary or explosive kind of political environment.

I think that is beginning to change again. It is moving or transmuting into this debate about the role of government, and I think many of these debates are now re-acquiring a kind of racial content to them, even if there is no racial language.

And I can point to one empirical fact on that. You know, we do a quarterly poll here called - at National Journal called the Heartland Monitor. The last one, we looked at how Americans feel about the changing diversity. And there is no question that whites who say they are troubled by the pace of racial change express conservative views on a whole series of other issues, particularly the role of government....

Of course, older right-wingers see racial changes and think "Government is evil!" because right-wing media propagandists for the rich -- who generally think government is evil, unless it's helping them -- make the connection between affirmative government and the rise of all those brown people.

So young people aren't sustaining interest in the Civil War. And old people are trying to finish fighting it once and for all, with a different ending.

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