Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Cartoon War and the US Civil War: The parallels

I was discussing the cartoon flap with a friend last night when some interesting parallels to the US Civil War came up. One of the flashpoints for our war came from the rhetoric during the 1850s uttered by both sides. More than ten years of trading insults culminated in our country's ultimate cultural bloodbath.

An interesting and sardonic example comes from D.H. Hill, who went on to serve as a solid general in the Confederate Army. In 1857 while teaching mathematics at Davidson College, Hill authored an algebra textbook with these quirky problems:

A Yankee mixes a certain number of wooden nutmegs, which cost him 1/4 cent apiece, with a quantity of real nutmegs, worth 4 cents apiece, and sells the whole assortment for $44; and gains $3.75 by the fraud. How many wooden nutmegs were there?

In the year 1692, the people of Massachusetts executed, imprisoned, or privately persecuted 469 persons, of both sexes, and all ages, for alleged crime of witchcraft. Of these, twice as many were privately persecuted as were imprisoned, and 7 17/19 times as many more were imprisoned than were executed. Required the number of sufferers of each kind?

In the year 1637, all the Pequod Indians that survived the slaughter on the Mystic River were either banished from Connecticut, or sold into slavery. The square root of twice the number of survivors is equal to 1/10 that number. What was the number?

Don't expect these puzzlers to show up on the NC end of course tests soon.

Prominent northerners also engaged in the loose talk. In a famous speech on the floor of the US Senate, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who had this to say about SC Senator Andrew Butler's choice of lovers:

...the Massachusetts senator charged him (Butler) with taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery."

The performance earned Sumner a beating at the end of the cane of Butler's nephew Preston Brooks, a congressman from SC. The beating rendered Sumner unconscious and left him incapacitated for a lenghty time. Brooks, 37 at the time of the incident, died soon there after.

How does this tie in with the current crisis? We have to confront an issue that we in the west have been trying to avoid from the outset. The struggle we face with radical Islam is culutural. The radicals do not fear our military might. However, as long as we show signs we are loath to use it, they will not back down. It's an ugly situation. We have to avoid a catastrophic war, but completely disavowing the use of force will only make that possibility more likely.


Blogger Joe Guarino said...

I agree that we stopped far short of a "total war" scenario, and left many of our adversaries untouched. It may prove to have been a mistake.

Blogger Glenn said...

While I'm very disappointed how US war opponents have tried to use Iraq to make political points and damaged the unity we need in the war, I also feel a great deal animosity toward the Europeans. It seems they believed their opposition to the war in Iraq would somehow heighten their image in the Muslim world. Instead, they showed their weakness and are now being treated contemptously by those they sought to appease. They didn't learn anything from the 1930s. They wanted to avoid what would have been a nasty war, but in doing so, they got an Armagedden-style showdown a few years later. However, I don't think it's too late to watch history repeat itself, but we don't have an unlimited amount of time to change the course.


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