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Southern Identity and the Causes of the Civil War, German Identity and WWII

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By Edited Sep 22, 2016 0 0

AP US History (35783)

A true Southerner is classified by three distinct characteristics: a love of a fried food that people from the other regions of the country may respect, but will never understand; strong feelings about the superiority of their state university's football program; and finally, very certain beliefs about the true causes of the Civil War.

The common (and admittedly simplistic) belief is that the Civil War was over slavery: the racist, oppressive people in the South wanted to keep slavery legal, and the progressive freedom-loving Yankees knew that it was wrong and fought bravely for what was right.

But the issue isn't quite that, pardon the expression, black and white. Slavery did play a large role in the Civil War, but the reasons the North and South chose the sides they chose were more complex than simply loving slavery and believing that it's wrong. Slavery played a huge role in the burgeoning American economy, especially in the South. A lot of Southern landowners were not pleased with the election of President Abraham Lincoln, as they believed his beliefs (including his support of the emancipation of slaves) was in contrast to their economic interests. These beliefs lead to the South's desire to secede from the union.

The desire to secede and the belief that they were "rebels" is a crucial part of the Southern identity, even to this day. Much controversy has surrounded the flying of the Confederate in public places, including on top of state houses and other official buildings. Those who support the continued flying of the Confederate flag may argue that it's a crucial part of Southern history and identity and associate it strongly with the rebellious spirit that the South is known for. The counterargument is that, regardless of what other factors may have lead to the South's desire to secede and the war that would ensue because of it, slavery was a motivating factor, and that that part of this country's history should not be celebrated.

Just about any student studying for the AP US History exam will know something about the causes of the Civil War, as this major event in American history is a defining moment in the history of this country, and it unfortunately also entails an incredibly shameful portion of the collective American past.

Negotiating national pride with an awareness that the American past entails some truly incorrigible behavior is not uniquely American, Germans deal with similar issues of wanting to celebrate what is great about their country, while not giving the impression that they are proud of the Holocaust. Their dilemma is even more complicated as a strong sense of nationalism was a crucial part of the Nazi identity. As a result, many Germans are ashamed to fly their flag or publicly display pride in their country.

Any AP US Government student who's studied 20th and 21st century American foreign policy will know that the issue of loving one's country but disagreeing with one's government is something that is not limited to the Civil War era, or post-Hitler Germany. A lot of Americans felt uncomfortable displaying American flags in the wake of the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. Then again, a lot of other Americans felt incredibly comfortable displaying it, considering a strong sense of patriotism a necessity in the wake of September 11.

Issues of regional and nationality identity may be complex and changing, but studying them helps to understand the people around the world and how they feel about the places they live.

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