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Book Review: How the South Won the Civil War


Like a lot of folx I know, I follow historian and political analyst Heather Cox Richardson on social media. When her latest book came out, I knew I had to read it. I wasn't disappointed. At least, not in the book. How I feel about many of my fellow Americans is a different matter.


Everybody knows the South lost the Civil War. But what southerners did after the war ended was take their fight to a different battlefield, continuing their bid to oppress people of color and maintain white supremacy across the US. This fight is reflected in the way US politics, media, and daily lives played out from 1865 forward. For the first time, I understand how and why race and socioeconomic class became conflated in the US. Why our labor and immigration laws look the way they do (ugh). Even why we have the constitutional amendments that we have, in the order we have them (you might be surprised at what was proposed versus what actually passed in the 19th century, and why).


If, like me, you're struggling to understand the contradictory and often wildly inaccurate things right-wingers spout on a daily basis, this book is your answer key. It lays out, in gory detail, how white supremacists alternately blocked political action and twisted it for their own ends, using propaganda and Orwellian language to get what they wanted. Side effects of their endless battle to keep people of color beaten down include continued oppression of women, ever-increasing support of big business over individual workers, and a hideously tangled political system.


This is not a light or quick read, but HCR's writing is clear and direct, not high-flown "academese" - with just enough footnotes to follow up on the details for those who are inclined in that direction.


We're all up to our eyeballs these days, I know, but if you can carve out some time to read this book, I think you'll find it enlightening. The crazy, idiotic things the right-wingers say and do are pre-programmed from more than a century and a half of constant attempts to keep their worldview in power. This book can help us understand how that happened, and that's the first step toward being able to counteract it.

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Copyright © 2020 by Laura Perry