Segment from Let’s Make Up

Breaking Up is Hard Enough

The hosts talk parallels between post-Civil War and post-Cold War reconciliations.

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***This transcript comes from an earlier broadcast of this show. There may be minor changes to the audio version you hear above.***

PETER: Now, stories about reconciliation– and its limits– in the wake of war.

BRIAN: Peter, Ed, we’re telling about reconciliation. And, of course, the big enchilada ofreconciliation is Reconstruction after the Civil War.

PETER: Right.

BRIAN: But frankly, being a 20th-century guy, I think about what happened after World War II.America’s mortal enemies seem reconciled with the American economy and American way oflife– buying Coca-Cola– and really, most importantly, American military protection. I mean,Germany becomes a key part of our alliance in Europe. And we depend on Japan as an ally,and East Asia.

And what really strikes me about all that, in contrast to the Civil War, is it happens seeminglyovernight.

PETER: Yeah.

ED: Right.

BRIAN: I mean, it’s quick. And then in Germany in 1989, the wall comes down. Oh my God.What are we going to do with these two different systems– East Germany, West Germany?Well, within a few years, really, they are relatively united as one country. That just seems sodifferent–

PETER: Yeah, and Brian,–

BRIAN: –than the Civil War.

PETER: –my only problem with this is that’s not reconciliation. That’s capitulation. (LAUGHS)That is, the reconciliation is–

BRIAN: Something you would never do, Peter.

PETER: (LAUGHS) No. It’s on American terms. You’re not reconciling with a people who madewar against you. You’ve purged Germany of the Nazis. And of course, the Nazis’ pervasivepower throughout German life means that this is a wrenching, profound change. That’s notwhat you have in America after the American Civil War.

BRIAN: So Peter, you’re saying that the problem in America is we were dealing with the samedarn people as before.

PETER: And we said, it’s OK to be the same darn people. Because we had this myth of anational wholeness. We’re one people.

Well, in these wars, you’re talking about our good war– World War II– and the war againstcommunist oppression. Well, we don’t think that we’re reconciling with those systems. We’vedestroyed them.

ED: And you’re exactly right. In the South, we have reconciliation. Because it is literally thesame people who were on the battlefields fighting against the Northern soldiers who arerunning everything–

PETER: Yes, exactly.

ED: –in the South after the war. Now here’s the interesting twist, of course. The North thinksthat it is reconstructing the South–

BRIAN: Yeah, we call it that, don’t we?

ED: –in what is called, of course, Reconstruction. And what we actually call Reconstruction isto do something not unlike what happened after World War II, and even after 1989, Brian–rewrite the constitutions so that it’s not the same people, right Peter?

PETER: Yeah.

ED: That you have the people who were enslaved.

PETER: Well, literally, yeah.

ED: Right? Enslaved men are now enfranchised voters. You see that nowhere else in themodern world. And so our Reconstruction had the capacity to be one of the greatreconstructions– the most thorough going– in world history. But it fails by the end ofReconstruction. That is rendered moot. They are not able to vote.

The Constitution says they can. But by basically terrorism on the ground, black men are notable to vote.

BRIAN: And Ed, doesn’t that underscore Peter’s point, that in fact, we literally end up with thesame people, or end up excluding the same people, now by disenfranchisement, rather thanslavery?

ED: Yes. And compared to the remarkably rapid transformation you’re talking about, Brian, thistakes decades to unfold. It’s not until around 1900 that the South actually comes up with waysin its constitutions to say, hey, yeah, we know we can’t preclude black men from voting. Buthey, you have to have literacy. You have to pay a poll tax.

And so, Brian, it’s painfully long in the South. And it’s never really reconstructed. The South hasslavery knocked out from underneath it. Black people are given nothing to rebuild new lives.The Southern economy’s given no support, and the South suffers in poverty for generations.

BRIAN: So Ed, what is reconciled, at least on the surface between North and South?

ED: Ah, they would’ve said, hey, what are you talking about? Brian, Peter, we’re reconciled.

PETER: Sure.

ED: Look at all these monuments. We get together for reunions. We shake hands.

You know, the soldiers on both sides are perfectly reconciled. Hey, good fight, guys.

PETER: Yeah.

ED: You fought really well. We fought really well. And you fought for what you thought wasright, and it turned out to be wrong. But, hey, what are you going to do?

PETER: Well, and we can all embrace this one great nation myth– we are a people. And thatcomes into clear focus when we go out across the world to make war–


PETER: –when there are enemies out there who are un-American. So there is a bond ofnational solidarity that’s based on sustaining the fiction that we became a great people in 1776,and we’ve been charging forward ever since. The Civil War was unfortunate.

I’m all with you, Ed. I think you needed a genuine transformation of Southern society if youwere going to achieve the promises of the Declaration of Independence and of theEmancipation Proclamation and the new constitutions.

ED: And the equivalent of the wall falling, Brian, are the Voting Rights Act and the Civil RightsAct of 1964 and ’65. And now, we are just seeing again in slow motion the same kind of socialtransformation that began with World War II, and the Marshall Plan, and then later, the fall of the Berlin Wall. You’re just now having the South being rebuilt on an inclusive basis.

Something I’ve said is Martin Luther King did more for the economic development of the Souththan anybody else ever did. By removing the burden of the equivalent of the Berlin Wall, whichwas segregation, from the South, it now has all these German and Japanese car companies–(LAUGHS)


ED: –are now setting up shop in the South.

BRIAN: Ah, but I’m going to push back a little, Ed.

ED: All right.

BRIAN: Because I would argue the rebuilding and true reconstruction of the South starts withWorld War II, when all of these federal defense plans begin going into the South. And the Northuses that as a lever to begin demanding, slow as it was, the kinds of changes that are going tolead to the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

ED: So I’m going to push back on you pushing back on me. Because you are exactly right. Theeconomic history of the South is transformed by World War II and that massive defensespending. But it is black Southerners, themselves, who take the opening provided by that.

The North never brings integration to the South. That is something that black Southerners,themselves, do.

BRIAN: We are agreed on that.

PETER: And it seems to me the sequence is important here. There’s a kind of reconciliationthat, as human beings respective of the rights of all peoples, we see taking place now in thewake of a belated transformation or reconstruction of Southern society.

ED: I think that’s great, Peter. And the reconciliation we see today is that now the South is themain magnet for black in-migration. You know that some kind of reconciliation is taking placewhen black Americans say, you know, I’m going back South. It is now our home again.