Bad history and the endless cycle of public discourse

Lincoln's novel trick of facilitating the votes of soldiers away from home is under attack by the Democrats - again.

Today, on the radio, I heard what (by radio-time standards) was an in-depth recitation of the various ways in which Union soldier votes were harvested in 1864. The fellow with the goods, informationally, was innocent of any other ACW history.

I had never seen these techniques in my ACW reading because for our nonfiction authors, Republican soldiers voting away from home was and remains a non-issue.

And so the ACW lives on today as the current Administration, under a Lincoln admirer, brings lawsuits to stop Ohio's manner of collecting soldier votes.

If history can be said to serve a purpose, it must be to alert us to historical problems and their enduring rational basis. It must facilitate ongoing discussion of historical issues. But this is not something our primitive Civil War historians can enable.

We, the public, struggle daily with controversies deemed to be easy choices for the talespinners on Mason Dixon Avenue.

Civil War controversies need to be raised to to the level of public discourse or society pays the price year after year when we have to revisit ACW-era issues without the background and preparation of respectable scholarship.

The ACW historians' cult of good general/bad general takes other evil forms: good policy/bad policy, good decision/bad decision, good politician/bad politician, ad nauseum.

And here we sit, in 2012, beset by a Civil War controversy that no one told us was a controversy.