Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Thursday, June 23, 2005
The Fates reveal the destiny of a nation via bubble gum cards. It will be obvious from this story that ARC was fully literate quite early on in primary school.

ARC writes:
It has always helped my historical understanding that I first encountered the American Civil War when I was too young to know any history at all. During its centennial years, bubble gum cards on the American Civil War were popular: each pack had two cards describing battles, or occasionally other historical events, plus one Confederate dollar bill (and the gum, of course :-). Unlike the more recent U.S. TV series (Quote from friend who saw it while working in the States: "It was easy to tell who won.") the battle write-ups were not biased - this was early sixties, just before PC started to take off - and certainly did not reveal who won to my infant understanding. The 88 cards in the series were released more or less in historical order and when I first decided that I was backing the North, I had no idea whether 'my team' would win or not. Why I chose the North I can't remember; as I said, I don't think it was any special bias in the writing. Maybe I liked the colour blue better than the colour grey. Maybe my Scottish feelings made me assume that north was better than south. I can't recall.

It was many months of collecting, and of being downcast at cards describing victories of Lee or Jackson, before I began to wonder whether 'my team' mightn't win after all? An older child would have deduced something from the presence of Confederate, not Union, dollar bills with the cards, from the occasional mentions of slavery and so on, but I was very young, just starting school, trading cards only with others of my age who had no more idea than I did who won or what it was all about. When something is beyond their mental horizon, children don't even think of asking questions. Literally; the idea of asking my elders never occurred to me. I think I reached card 86 (Petersburg, if I recall correctly) before I felt sure of the outcome.

I had a great 'Aha' of recognition when I read Christine Wedgewood's account in Truth and Opinion of how she saw a play on the life of Lincoln when she was twelve years old. She was accustomed to good triumphing in plays and books, so, unlike me, she guessed well before the end that

"...the admirable ugly man in the funny top hat would ... win the war and liberate the slaves, but nothing had prepared me for the appearance and behaviour of John Wilkes Booth, and for me at least the dummy pistol shot in a London theatre ... came as a shock almost as horrifying as that experienced by spectators at Ford's Theatre in Washington on 14 April 1865.

In vain have I longed to recapture that blessed ignorance ..."

"In vain have I longed to recapture that blessed ignorance" - to see, for example, what the policy of William the Silent would look like without knowing that he would be assassinated, unlike Lincoln, with his work only half done. But her histories are better for having once known 'that blessed ignorance'. My historical thinking, likewise, is better from being able to remember what the American Civil War looked like to someone who, for months, cared about the outcome and did not know what it was.
I was particularly struck by the fact that ARC did not think to ask. It was as if the gradual release of information, in order, and and at a rate that, if not quite as agonisingly slow as the rate at which events really happened, was much closer to it than a two-hour film, made the long-dead conflict as real, and its outcome as unknowable, as the present.