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John Gehl is one of the admirable WAISers whom I have never met personally, but whom I feel as if I had known all my life. I noticed that his contribution to the WAIS development fund came from a place called Kennesaw, so I naturally consulted my atlas and found that it is a suburb of Atlanta; nearby is a mountain of the same name which was the scene of a battle. I assumed that it was a battle connected with the fight for Atlanta. I thought John could tell me how people there thought about this sad business, but he replied:
"Yes, Kennesaw was a Civil War battleground ... and also the inspiration of three movies, including Buster Keaton's "The General." Yankee soldiers came down here in disguise, hijacked a locomotive, and ran it back up toward Tennessee, planning to blow up bridges behind them. They were caught and hung ... or at least most of them were. I'm not a Southerner, though I've lived in Atlanta for three decades. After twenty years we moved two years from the Emory University area to Kennesaw, and live on a golf course (but have no interest in golf). Before coming to Atlanta, my wife and I lived in the San Francisco area. And before that I was a New Yorker. (I grew up in the South Bronx, so I guess that DOES make me some sort of Southerner.)"
My comment: That leaves me wondering about many things. Firstly the attitude of real Southerners toward the Civil War. A weakness of the C-Span series about the U.S. Presidents is that in glosses over not only the foreign relations of the U.S. but the southern attitude toward the Civil War. Our posting on a debate in Shreveport LA. during the series made evident that, although muted, resentment of the defeat of the South is still there, and is a cause of the killing of blacks there. The fight over the Confederate flag in South Carolina is another proof. It would be enlightening if President Carter, whose library is in Atlanta, could tell us his innermost feelings on this. As a forgiving Christian, he is certainly not as bitter as others. More about that later in our posting on President Carter. I did not know that Buster Keaton fought the Civil War, and I am still mystified as to whether the film is pro- or anti-Southern. Probably Buster didn't know either, since his personal exploits were not intellectual. Can any WAISer who has seen any of the three films enlighten others as benighted as I?
This brings us back to the WAIS argument about the St. Patrick's Brigade in the War with Mexico, and the film about it. Some WAISers felt quite strongly about that. Probably many Americans got their view of the Civil War from the three movies. As a small boy, I got my view of it from Uncle Tom's Cabin and later from the movie "Birth of a Nation." I suppose the two balanced each other out. WAISers! Consider your own historical perspective. How far were you dazzled by movies, which made much more of an impact on you than your dull history teacher?
Ronald Hilton - 12/4/99