Friday, August 21, 2009

Worse than terrorism: 680,000 Americans dead -- all killed by other Americans

Why are Americans so obsessively fixated with being afraid of a bunch of disorganized and poorly-armed terrorists living way off on the other side of the world when we have perfectly good reasons (based on historical fact) to be far more afraid of our fellow Americans?

According to everything that we all learned back in eighth grade history class, during the U.S. Civil War approximately 680,000 Americans were slaughtered in cold blood by their own fellow countrymen -- and in some cases by their own neighbors, relatives and (former) friends. More Americans were killed between 1860 and 1864 than the combined number of those killed in every other war ever fought by our country -- from the original Revolutionary War through Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. That's a hecka lot of dead Americans. And to achieve this horrifically amazing accomplishment, we didn't even need any help from no stinking terrorists. We killed all of these fellow Americans all by ourselves.

Remember all those stories we used to hear about our legendary Civil War? Slaughter on the battlefield. Gettysburg. Bull Run. Antietam. At Antietam alone, we had 22,719 casualties and 3,654 dead -- in only one day, by only 5 o'clock in the afternoon. My great-great grandfather was General Joseph Hooker, in charge of the Union Army at Antietam -- and therefore I have American-slaying genes in my blood. And you probably do too. In fact, most of us Americans have great-grand-fathers who committed enough horrors and atrocities upon their own fellow countrymen that they would probably have impressed even the notorious Khmer Rouge! So. Whenever the wingnut Right starts brewing up hatred and calling for violence again, I think that we should all be aware of just how ugly things can really get.

According to a 2008 Washington Post review of a book entitled "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," butchery had become America's pastime of choice back in the day. However, no one knew what to do with the leftover bodies. "[T]he unprecedented carnage of this first modern war overwhelmed society's traditional ways of dealing with death. The customs, religion, rhetoric, logistics -- even statistical methods -- of mid-19th century America were unequal to slaughter on such a scale." 620,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians died violently. So many people died that no one had any idea how to bury all those thousands of bodies. Often they just laid there and rotted where they fell. Even dogs ate some of them. Yuck.

And if grisly descriptions of the American Civil War slaughter doesn't give you enough creepy feelings about what would very likely happen here at home if birthers, tea-baggers and other violent haters get their way, then try to read Tracy Kidder's new book, "Strength in What Remains". It's the story of what one survivor of the Rwanda civil war massacre witnessed as he watched his neighbors slaughter other neighbors with machetes, clubs and even their bare hands -- while being passionately spurred on to new heights of violence and hatred by their local talk-radio show hosts.