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The Beam in Our Eye

It is appalling that the criminal justice system has devoured one out of three young African-Americans, to be sure, but the number must be too small, because the police will have failed to apprehend some who still commit crimes. I did not attempt to watch the film Get Rich or Die Tryin'. I want the police to incarcerate such people before they commit enough crimes to fill a screenplay.

Europeans are far more attuned to horror. They have had the opportunity to get used to it. Cannibalism was rampant in 17th-century Germany during the Thirty Years' War, and in the Ukraine during Joseph Stalin's 1931 starvation. Americans abandoned the horrors of the Old World. Terrible as the Civil War may have been, it spared civilians. Sherman burned his way from Atlanta to the sea in 1864, but the number of rapes and murders committed by his soldiers can be counted on one's fingers.

Nonetheless, there is no market for Hollywood epics about Sherman's March to the sea, arguably the most brilliant military campaign in the history of American arms, while the film industry still grinds out kitsch about the supposedly gallant losers. Perhaps one should feel sorry for the impoverished privates who bled for the Confederacy. Few had slaves, yet they fought stubbornly to preserve slavery, because they hoped that they, too, would obtain land and slaves as the victorious Confederacy became a hemispheric empire. I have expanded on this subject elsewhere (Happy birthday, Abe - pass the blood Asia Times Online, February 10, 2004).

The embittered fighters of the South sacrificed themselves in proportions unsurpassed in modern history, excepting the Serbs in World War I. But there was no honor, no gallantry, and no nobility in the blood-letting. They fought for empire and advancement, like Albrecht von Wallenstein's freebooters of the Thirty Years' War or Napoleon's ambitious Grande Armee. Sherman's belief that the war objective was not to occupy this or that piece of territory, but to kill 300,000 men, was almost exactly correct: the final total of Confederate dead was 289,000, just 11,000 short of Sherman's estimate. Perhaps the 11,000 men Sherman failed to kill were the founders of the Klu Klux Klan.